Let’s leave speaking aside for a moment (or several long moments, considering I haven’t posted anything for months!) and instead dip into the written word. In science, our success depends on our writing, generally in the form of scientific papers that serve as the currency of our world. Often those papers are formulaic: the introduction says how the topic/question at hand isn’t fully understood, the methods expound in (often) boring, third-person detail what we did and how we did it, the results tick off our hypotheses as each is upheld (like we really know what would happen!), and the discussion tells people how brilliantly we’ve added to our field by finding something novel. Always “novel”…”new” just isn’t new enough. Someone once sent me a great tongue-in-cheek article about how to write a formulaic paper (like scientific Mad-Libs)-anyone out there in cyberspace have a copy?
A new book challenges the assertion that academic writing must be jargon-y and archaic. Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword showcases examples of bland, traditional academic prose and contrasts them with vivid, exciting writing from a variety of disciplines. I just ordered my copy-has anyone read it yet? What did you think?
Whether you plan to read her book or not, I think it highlights a divide in scientific writing: do we write to sound smart, or to engage? Can we do both in a single piece? How? And how do we change the culture of academic writing so it’s encouraged to both inform and entertain?