*In presenting a mathematical argument the great thing is to give the educated reader the chance to catch on at once to the momentary point and take details for granted: his successive mouthfuls should be such as can be swallowed at sight; in case of accidents, or in case he wishes for once to check in detail, he should have only a clearly circumscribed little problem to solve (e.g. to check an identity: two trivialities omitted can add up to an impasse). The unpractised writer, even after the dawn of a conscience, gives him no such chance; before he can spot the point he has to tease his way through a maze of symbols of which not the tiniest suffix can be skipped.* (John Littlewood, “A Mathematician’s Miscellany”)

A paper should dwell at length (using plenty of English) on the most important, innovative, and crucial components of the paper, and be brief on the routine, expected, and standard components of the paper.

In particular, a paper should identify which of its components are the most interesting. Note that this means interesting to *experts in the field*, and not just interesting to *yourself*; for instance, if you have just learnt how to prove a standard lemma which is well known to the experts and already in the literature, this does not mean that you should provide the standard proof of this standard lemma, unless this serves some greater purpose in the paper (e.g. by motivating a less standard lemma).

Conversely, some computations, definitions, or notational conventions which you are very familiar with, but are not widely known in the field, should be expounded on in detail, even if these details are “obvious” to you due to your extensive work in this area. Even a brief sentence of explanation is much better than none at all.

For a similar reason, if you are using a relatively obscure lemma from, say, one of your own papers, you should not assume that every reader of your current article is intimately familiar with your previous paper. In such cases it is worth stating the lemma in full, with a precise citation (as opposed to casually using phrases such as “by a lemma in [my previous 100-page paper], we have …”). When the lemma is particularly crucial, it is sometimes also worth spending a paragraph to sketch out a proof, or to otherwise remark on the significance of this lemma and its connections to other, more well known results.

See also “Describe the results accurately“.

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22 November, 2009 at 6:29 am

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16 June, 2011 at 7:38 am

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