How to Write Like a Scientist

Sometimes, satire really hits the nail on the head. After spending quite a few weeks now adventuring in thesis land, I really needed to read this one: An article hosted by entitled;

How to Write Like a Scientist


(As if talking like a scientist isn’t bad enough.)

Written by Adam Ruben, who also wrote the slightly hilariously entitled “Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to go to Grab School” (a book which I feel I really must read), it’s a rather scathing article about all of the clichés in formal science writing which we’re all trained to follow blindly. Well. Mostly. I did actually get comments on my first year progress report that it was “Good, but rather unusually written.”

Some of my favourite bits…

4. The more references you include, the more scholarly your reader will assume you are. Thus, if you write a sentence like, “Much work has been done in this field,” you should plan to spend the next 9 hours tracking down papers so that your article ultimately reads, “Much work has been done in this field1,3,6-27,29-50,58,61,62-65,78-315,952-Avogadro’s Number.” If you ever write a review article, EndNote might explode.

Seriously, if not for BibTeX, I would have gone insane by now. Completely insane. Banana. Sorry, what…?

7. Always write “we” instead of “I,” even if you performed the research yourself; the plural ensures that no feelings will be hurt when credit is attributed. For example, “We investigated these results, but then we had to use the bathroom, which is where we sat when our spouse called.”

You do start to feel a little like Queen Victoria sometimes. It actually becomes so habitual that I’ve had to be reminded on at least one occasion recently that I shouldn’t use “we” in a thesis, because I’m the only author. Frankly, I try and avoid pronouns wherever possible anyway.

Humour is necessary to maintain sanity. If anyone finds any more of these, please send them my way!

“Mad props” go to Asronomnomy for posting this gem!

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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