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Scientific Paper Writing

Writing a scientific Thesis

Suggestions for writing science well abound - we have a couple of sources cited in the Readings. What these sources have in common are certain approaches to writing with which not all scientists readily agree. First is that science is a "narrative". Second is that scientific prose should be clear, concise, and comprehensible (the 3 Cs - some add a fourth: compelling).

Is science a narrative? Let's start with science as an activity. Most would agree that we experience science while we are conducting it as a kind of story: strings of actions have consequences to which people react some more. This is the basis of a story: something happened -> something was done about it -> more things happened. When a scientist looks back on a project and talks about it, it usually has this narrative form because we humans are largely driven by narrative structure (okay, this is my personal belief based on years of studying language: sentence grammar seems to be a cognitively hard-wired system for communicating strings of actions and consequences).

But is writing a science paper like writing a narrative? At this point, we really must say "NO". Why? Because all the stylistic decisions that make narrative compelling are exactly the decisions that would get a paper rejected immediately! Can you imagine the editors of Nature happily passing the following abstract to reviewers...

It was a dark and stormy day outside, but the lab was alight with the phosphorescent glow of particles XYZ, twinkly merrily from the mashed brains on the slide like tiny LED bulbs on the family Christmas tree. Through weary hours spent mincing maternal mouse hyppocampi, tortured by months of no-glow-at-all, the lab had finally triumphed! Cool as the plate we'd used to freeze the rats toes, our long hours of drinking alone in the dark, waiting for the hopped-up mamas to do their crazy dance, had rewarded us with positive images of brains gone wild as girls on Spring Break.

Source: users.clas.ufl.edu
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