Writing a paper represents the ultimate step of our work, the jewel on top of our scientific crown. We condense years of experiments, failures, hypothesis and models in a few-page-long manuscript and the impact of our research depends on how good we write it.
Unfortunately, I will admit I’ve always been intimidated by writing.
Whether it was for school, for my diary or lines I was writing for a high school crush, I always found it difficult to deliver my message. I convinced myself I was a poor writer but that it wouldn’t affect my future since I had already decided to become a scientist. Obviously during my high school time, I didn’t know anything about science and the academic world (and life I guess).
Only during my first years as a graduate student, did I realize how fundamental good writing is in science, and how conveying and disseminating ideas is a major task in a scientist’s career.
Recently I followed a free web course -highly recommended- on how to write in the sciences.
The course started with a very direct question: what makes a good writer?
I always assumed -wrongly- that having an innate talent and mastering the language would be key points. I would never have imagined that there would be rules and tricks that could help anyone improve their communications and writing skills. I learned that it’s possible to be a good writer even though many of us don’t possess the talent or vocabulary of Wilde or Rowling.
Writing in science is not about using overly complicated terms to impress the audience or compose a modern master piece but is about communicating an idea in the most simple and effective way.
Because at the end of the day, we want people to understand our message, whether those people are peers reviewers or a longtime secret high-school crush.
William Zinsser, “On writing well”, 1976.