Jul 15, 2011

How not to write a Scientific Paper

The biologist Kaj Sand-Jensen wrote in 2007 an entertaining and ironic little (scientific) paper on How not to write a Scientific article, where he gave advice to scientists on how to write consistently boring scientific literature.

We highlight the 10 recommendations he gave:

(1) Avoid focus. Try to hide the aim of the research by asking a multitude of questions and introducing several ideas scattered around the text.

(2) Avoid originality and personality. Do not include the experimental conditions and avoid showing any enthusiasm or excitement about the results.

(3) Write long contributions. Always avoid short and concise papers. You are the expert. Length equals the scientist’s insight in and knowledge on the topic, so as many trivial details as possible should be included.

(4) Remove most implications and every speculation. Avoid to imply or to speculate upon what the research can be used to or the avenues the research opens. That way the researcher ensures that no interested in the field is generated and thus secure the field for the researcher alone.

(5) Leave out illustrations, particularly good ones. Good illustrations are, as we know, worth more than 1000 words, but remember recommendation 3 and only use very complicated illustrations, which require long explanations in the text.

(6) Omit necessary steps of reasoning. Avoid including the necessary steps of reasoning in the arguments. In this way the logic behind the conclusions will only be understood by a small minority of colleagues and it will effective prevent communication with ordinary people.

(7) Use many abbreviations and technical terms. Scientists should always use complex terminology and complicated abbreviations to avoid that scientists from other disciplines understand the paper. This way interdisciplinary understanding and breakthroughs will be prevented.

(8) Suppress humour and flowery language. Avoid to invent funny names for new species or mechanisms and never use poetic language, otherwise there is the potential risk that people will enjoy reading the paper.

(9) Degrade species and biology to statistical elements. The use of excessive statistics is a good way to hide interesting results and is a powerful way of making papers even more difficult and boring to read.

(10) Quote numerous papers for self-evident statements. A large number of references to other papers (preferably the author’s own disregarding their relevance), especially after well-established statements, is a good way of destroying the flow of the text. Ideally the actual text should be almost hidden in between the citations.

Most scientists probably in one way or the other are guilty of following some of these recommendations. However, as Sand-Jensen also mentions, it is not always the scientists’ fault that scientific papers end up being difficult and boring to read. Many journals reject or require revisions when the structure and language do not follow the norms.

David Alcantara for The All Results Journals

1 comment:

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