Daniel Lemire pointed to an article on bad writing in science (here if you care to see, not CS-specific), which got me to thinking: do we (in whatever subcommunity you think of yourself being in) value good writing? Should we?
One question is what qualifies as good writing in science. I'm not sure there's any consensus here -- although that's true for writing more generally as well. While colorful word choice and usage can garner some attention* (and, generally, wouldn't hurt), unlike what some people may think, good writing in science is not a vocabulary exercise. I find that two key features cover most of what I mean by good writing:
1) Be clear.
2) Tell a story.
The two actually tend to go hand in hand. It helps clarify things for the reader if you have a natural progression -- a story to tell -- and if in advance you find and lay out your story -- what is it that is important that you want to convey to your reader -- your writing will naturally become more clear. The simple exercise I try to follow (when I'm writing well) is
1) look at each paragraph
2) make sure I can state to myself what the point of that paragraph is
3) make sure that point fits in with the story I'm trying to tell
4) make sure that point is what is coming out from what I wrote
For really good papers, my co-authors and I do the same thing at a more detailed level, looking at each sentence within a paragraph to that it assists in making the point of of the paragraph. And yes, this all is easier to do with co-authors; it's much harder to look critically at your own writing at this level.
I like to think good writing matters. I am happy to say that I have received reviews saying that my submission was well written, so clearly some subset of people notice. (Of course this happens much more often with co-authored papers -- thank you co-authors!) I certainly think I notice good writing in a paper.
I'd like to believe that good writing increases the chances that one's paper is accepted... but I admit, my perspective both as a reviewer and an author is that the effect is probably small. Bad writing can kill a paper, but my impression is that good writing is just a minor delta over passable writing in conference reviews. I can understand the perspective. Conferences are about getting good, interesting work out in a very timely fashion. The level of writing, one might expect, is secondary. (Hence the paper reviews saying "Well written, but not deep/novel/exciting enough...")
There is one caveat to the above. I believe that trying to write clearly forces a researcher to refine and think more carefully about their own work, giving one more insight, and thereby making the work better. It's said that you haven't really learned something until you've had to teach it to someone else. The very act of having to "teach" your work, through writing it well, can improve your work. I've often had interesting ideas arise in the act of writing a paper, when confronted with what felt like holes that needed to be filled.
I also think the value in the writing is longer term. I believe that well written papers are more likely to pass the test of time, although I admit to having no particular evidence to back that conception. Similarly, I believe that writing well is good for one's standing in the community longer-term: if your papers are more pleasurable to read, more people will read and remember them. Of course ideas are primary, but innovative ideas can have a larger impact based on the quality of the writing explaining them.
Do you find writing quality matters? Do you think it should? We give "Best Paper" awards at (some) conferences. Perhaps there should be a specific award for "Best Written Paper", to encourage quality writing. Of course, then we'd have to find people to judge writing for such an award, and we all know scientists can't write.
* Some authors like to choose a catchy title, or an amusing acronym for their system. Nothing wrong with that, but I think the emphasis on these hooks is easily overstated.