Tag Archives: style

The Disco Era of scientific writing

Image: Saturday Night Fever. If you were alive in the 1970s, you probably owned this album.  Acme401 CC BY-SA 2.0 via flickr.com

From doo-wop to hip-hop, popular music has always evolved.  Styles shift, and when a song you don’t know comes on the radio* you can often place it, temporally, without much trouble.  Rock & roll, punk, new wave, indie folk, and dozens of other styles have come (and mostly gone); similarly, the styles that dominate airplay now will surely fade and be replaced. (Sorry, Taylor.) Occasionally, popular music has had a really bad idea, and we’ve all piled onto it, only to shake our heads ruefully a decade later.  Yes, disco, I’m talking about you**.

Scientific writing has also evolved.  Continue reading

Advertisements

Scientific writing, style, and the trolley problem

Image: Trolley by McGeddon CC BY-SA 4.0 via wikimedia.org

Our scientific literature has a reputation for being not much fun to read: colourless, tedious, and turgid.  By and large, it deserves that reputation (and I would include my own papers in that assessment).  There are exceptions, of course, but they’re few and far between.  I’ve speculated before about some of the reasons for this.  But there’s a possibility I think I’ve been missing, and I’m going to use this post to think through it.

One thing I see fairly often is early-career writers struggling because they think there’s a single best way to write a given piece of text. Continue reading

The tyranny of reader expectations

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a sentence I was tempted to be proud of.  It’s part of the Introduction to a paper* about how the impact of insect herbivores on their host plants might evolve over time.  We’d pointed out that insects frequently acquire new host plants and plants frequently acquire new herbivores, and to build on that, I wrote:

That herbivore-host associations are frequently reassorted means that some herbivore-host pairs are evolutionarily well acquainted, while others are strangers recently met. 

And then I had second thoughts. Continue reading