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    « Lake Huron | Main | promart »

    August 13, 2008



    Use whatever amount of words and space to answer this, please: Why is creative/personalized writing rejected in scientific literature journal writing? Why does it matter if, as a hypothetical example, an author can plainly provide the results and interpretations, but also describe them with a personal touch? Justin told me once that researchers have little time on their hands, and so, just want to be able to fly through articles. This reason I don't buy, but is it true? There must be more..?


    Danny, I think your friend is essentially correct, though there is a little more to it than simple lack of time. Technical writing for the professional literature is a very specialized form where particular types of things have to appear in particular places and there's very little room for the personal. I think that this form must be guarded jealously so that the standards for what constitute scientific evidence and interpretation can be made as uniform as possible - to level the playing field in a way.

    On the other hand, I think that there's an important place for personal reflections, informal writing, "literary" scientific writing, and so on. There's a long tradition of such writing (have you ever read Stephen Jay Gould's essays? Aldo Leopold? Rachel Carson?). It isn't just a place for scientists to convey thoughts about their work to the unspecialized (though that is incredibly important these days) but also so that, freed from the strictures of technical writing, we can let our hair down a bit, be somewhat speculative, and throw out some ideas that may sprout into something more substantial down the road. A great scientist (now passed to the great beyond) once told me that he thought the only science worth reading was being written in the trade arena for precisely these reasons. Of course, he had a tremendous grasp of the technical literature as well, having shaped most of it in his field.

    These were all the kinds of thoughts that prompted me to begin writing for a general audience. I thought people would like to know about the wider implications of what was happening in my lab and in many others like it but I also thought it would be a boatload of fun. It is.

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