Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Writing Matters!

Avast! Calling all up and coming science hopefuls! Listen up! Writing is important!!

In undergrad, there was always a sense of English majors are over there in humanities and we're in the sciences so we don't need to know all that stuff.  Or I hate English, I'm more of a science person. Or it doesn't matter if I know proper grammar, this is science. I want to clear this up once and for all. It's crap.

Seriously, utter crap. 

Writing is a huge part of being a successful scientist. And not just writing down your results but effectively communicating those results to large audiences that do not know as much about your project as you do. When you look at the yardsticks used to measure scientists, papers instantly spring to mind. Especially, first-author papers.. which means you are the author, AKA the writer. Another is grants received, which again must be written. And while the style is different than novel writing, for example, the grammatical rules you are taught in English courses still apply.

But, science writing is not as far from novel writing as you might think. Both tell stories. Novels, of course, are more imaginative and create their own plot points, where grants/articles deal with facts and data. The language is different, more complicated and specialized vocabulary goes into scientific writing.  However, they both have a beginning, middle, and an end, plus they have a moral, aka a take home message.

A well crafted novel will have a beginning where the characters are introduced and why they are important. In the middle, something will be discovered and how the characters will work with in the discovery. At the end, everything is tied together and the take home message of the story is realized. Good novels have engaging characters, enjoyable story lines and tell a story that is impactful on the reader in a broad context.

A well crafted article will have an introduction that summarizes the previous research that relates to the project which sets up what has been known and why it it is important. Then in the middle, the results/materials and methods sections will tell what they discovered and how they did the work. At the end will be a discussion which ties everything together and provides the take home message of this is our story and this is why it is important. Good articles have engaging figures, accurate information and place the research into a broad context.

The trick to putting together such an article is having an understanding of the story! What are you trying to convey, how does it enhance our understanding, what is the take home point?

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