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I'm a technical writer and editor with a couple of blogs. Occasionally I dabble in fiction or poetry, and I read a ridiculous amount of science fiction and urban fantasy.
Are contractions antithetical to academic writing?
You might be able to find the specific journal's style guide, either on the journal's website or by asking the journal's editor what style guide they follow.
What resources will teach me about the state of the art in technical writing?
You may want to clarify what is meant by "modern." Are you supposed to be converting print manuals to IETMs or to a help system? I know the Society for Technical Communication has an annual contest for documentation. Contest winners might be good examples. Reading a few recent issues might also be a good overview of best practices.