Tag Archives: brevity

Nuancing brevity: less isn’t always more

Image: something I wrote recently. If you’re a sharp-eyed reader of the blog and think you know what it is, make a guess in the Replies. Although the only prize is my admiration.

Nearly every source of writing advice agrees on one thing: brevity is good.  My own book, The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, is no exception; I devote an entire chapter to brevity.  There are good reasons for this. Longer papers ask more of their readers’ limited time budgets and seem, likely as a direct result, to have less citation impact.  Journals have limited space and would rather publish more papers than longer ones*.  In general, shorter texts and simpler sentences are easier to understand.  And most writers need to shorten their first drafts – and most find this a challenge (as Blaise Pascal noted in his famous letter, “I’ve made this letter longer than usual; I haven’t had time to make it shorter**).

But just in the last year or two, I’ve backed off my fanaticism about brevity just a bit.  Continue reading

Can a scientific paper be too short? Part II

It was really fun to post Part I yesterday, but if you read it, perhaps you found it somewhat unsatisfying. Which is more or less my point, but here in Part II I’ll give myself enough room to develop the argument. The convergence of two things spurred me to write this post – one (at least on the surface) just fun; the other, a recent conversation I had about trends in modern publishing.

First, the fun thing: I came across what seems to be a competition to write the shortest possible abstract, and then to one-up that one, the shortest possible paper. Continue reading