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How to bore people – the academic’s guide May 18, 2007

Posted by Johan in Off Topic.

The Improbable Research blog has posted a story on an amusing abstract, named “how to write consistently boring scientific literature,” which has been making the rounds. It’s published in an obscure journal, but I just noticed that some kind soul has put the article in a public location. Grab it while it’s still there.

The article is basically a list of the author’s pet peeves in the Biology literature. The complaints are organised under the following sub-headings:

Avoid focus
Avoid originality and personality
Write l o n g contributions
Remove implications and speculations
Leave out illustrations
Omit necessary steps of reasoning
Use many abbreviations and terms
Suppress humor and flowery language
Degrade biology to statistics
Quote numerous papers for trivial statements

Some quotes:

Excessive quotation can be developed to perfection such that the meaning of whole paragraphs is veiled in the limited space between references. This technique maintains the boring quality of scientific publications by slowing down the reader, hiding any interesting
information, and taking up valuable space. When authors are unsure of which paper to cite, they should always resort to citing their own work regardless of its relevance.

Note that Sand-Jensen is not just poking fun. His message has some pathos:

[…] science ought to be fun and attractive, particularly when many months of hard work with grant applications, data collections and calculations are over and everything is ready for publishing the wonderful results, it is most unfortunate that the final reading and writing phases are so tiresome.

Finally, I have to quote this quote, no matter how meta it is:

‘‘A doctoral thesis is 300 pages reporting something really important and well reasoned out — or 600 pages’’
Erik Ursin

While we’re on the topic, you might as well learn how not to lecture as well.

Sand-Jensen, K. (2007). How to write consistently boring scientific literature. Oikos, 116, 723-727.



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