Image: © (claimed) Terrance Heath, CC BY-NC 2.0
“How good a manuscript”, I’m sometimes asked, “is good enough to submit”? It’s a natural enough question. A manuscript heading for peer review isn’t the finished product. It’s virtually certain that reviewers will ask for changes, often very substantial ones – so why waste time perfecting material that’s going to end up in the wastebasket anyway? Continue reading
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
Image: Once Upon a Time, CC-0 via pixabay.com
We often tell ourselves that a good Methods section allows someone else to replicate our experiments. I’ve argued, among other places in The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, that we needn’t and shouldn’t expect this function of most Methods sections. Rather, a good Methods section gives readers what they need to ascribe authority to you as a scientist, and to understand the Results you’ll present.
I get frequent pushback against this idea, usually in connection with prominent hand-wringing over the so-called “replication crisis”. But a couple of weeks ago I gave a talk about writing at Saint Mary’s University (the one in Halifax, Nova Scotia) and I got a different and very convincing kind of pushback. Continue reading