Well said, David. I agree with almost all you have written.
I'd like to drop in one or two other bits of general advice, if I may.
The first is that writing is just as much a craft as making a pot, creating furniture or tuning a Chevvy. Nobody is born with the talent, and as with any other skill, you have to put in the hours and the apparently interminable failure before it all comes together. The process is the same too. You get, and read, a decent manual. I always recommend Stephen Leacock's book; 'How to Write'. It is very old, but Stephen Leacock http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Leacock (a great influence on a generation of American comic writers) was very successful, and a master of a number of different forms including academic papers. You then observe, and study, how really successful writers work their craft skills.
Where you can, develop your own unique voice. We tend to accommodate, or copy, other writers styles rather than assimilate them, or to use the good ideas. The great creative people are very aware of this difference. In the late sixties, Jimi Hendrix picked up all sorts of ideas from Jeff Back, Eric Clapton and a host of other young guitarists in the London Blues circuit in the late 1960s. However, he didn't copy them but assimilated these ideas into a new and wildly creative form. If he had copied the licks slavishly, rather than adapt them into his own lyrical style, we'd never have had that unique period of creativity. A lot of budding writers make the mistake of repressing their own unique voice in order to copy a different style. Bad idea. Use all the tricks and techniques you can get hold of, but bend them to your own requirements. Most often, helping a writer involved helping him/her unlearn the awful habits and literary mannerisms that university lecturers misguidedly insist on in academic papers. (Stephen Leacock, who was head of the political economy department at McGill University, gives a very good, amusing, account of the awfulness of academic writing)
I feel compelled to make the point that writing is like a conversation, or rather a monologue, to a real person. If you can hold someone's attention whilst explaining a technical matter, it is likely that it will make a good article. If, on the contrary, you tend to clear the room by launching into your speech, it is time to think again. I like to try out ideas out in conversation, before considering anything written. Because writing is just an extension or substitute for speech, written style should be as close as possible to it. You shouldn't adopt a different, more formal, written style.
The last thing I'd say, in agreement with David, that writing a good article is hard work. the delete key is your greatest friend. Some of my articles have taken days of toil, spread out over months. They've involved a lot of research and double-checking (and still I get things wrong!). They are constantly re-worked until they seem to read smoothly and logically. It is best to realize this from the start, so that when an occasional article just trips off the keyboard as if by magic, it will be an agreeable surprise.
Phil FactorSimple Talk