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Nick Higham Talks Mathematical Writing and Publishing with SIAM

SIAM chatted with Nick Higham about the third edition of his bestseller, Handbook of Writing for the Mathematical Scienceshow writing for the mathematical sciences has changed, and publishing with SIAM. 

Handbook of Writing for the Mathematical Sciences, Third Edition. By Nick Higham.
It’s been about 20 years since the second edition of Handbook of Writing for the Mathematical Sciences published. When did you know it was time to write a third edition?

It's been clear for some time that a new edition was needed. The publishing landscape has changed a lot since 1998, with open access publishing, DOIs, ORCID, and so on. The web is now deeply integrated into everything we do. The LaTeX ecosystem contains a much a wider range of packages and supporting tools. And my own writing practices have changed, especially as regards workflow (all the tasks involved in writing except the actual research, including using a text editor, organizing files, spellchecking, and exploiting markup languages). 

However, I've been busy with other writing projects, as well as being president of SIAM, and have only now had time to revise the book.

As you know from your professional life, “writing” now means blog posts, journal articles, books, and even popular websites and social media. How do all of these types of writing work together to help those in STEM share their research and ideas?

To promote mathematics we need, collectively, to use all of the above outlets. I think this is one of the big changes in the last couple of decades. Previously, after publishing a paper and giving a talk about it there was not much more to do. Now we have the opportunity to disseminate results through multiple channels and gain feedback from a much wider audience.

What advice would you give for writing in the mathematical sciences?

1. Get started (this is often the hardest part); lower your quality threshold and write something, indeed anything.
2. Repeat until converged: write, then revise what you've written.
3. Make your work available in some appropriate form, whether through a journal submission, a blog post, or a note on your web page.

Why do you choose to publish with SIAM?

My first book was the first edition of Handbook of Writing for the Mathematical Sciences, published in 1993. I chose SIAM because I was a SIAM member and I thought that the SIAM book program would be the ideal place for my book to be published. SIAM did an excellent job of producing and marketing the book and I've stayed with them ever since, apart from a five-year excursion to edit The Princeton Companion to Applied Mathematics (2015).

It's a pleasure working with the people involved in SIAM's book program. For this latest edition of Handbook of Writing for the Mathematical Sciences, graphic designer Doug Smock produced a wonderful reworking of the original cover, and copy editor Sam Clark (T&T Productions Ltd.) found improvements on every page of my submitted manuscript, resulting in a significantly better book.

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