Let’s talk about scientific writing. The need to master this skill in a thesis or a scientific paper is pretty much self-explanatory. Mastering writing is mastering an effective technique for communicating what you would like to share with your supervisor(s), all the people involved in your thesis, and fellow members of the scientific community. In this article you will find a collection of talks that will help you reflect on the topic.

On Scientific Writing: Classic, Postmodern and Self Conscious style

The first 2 talks are given by Larry McEnerney from the University of Chicago. He advocates a reader centric approach where the main goal of the writer is to deliver value for the reader.

Practical actionable advice is based on viewing the scientific community as a collection of groups of individuals that speak a particular language and have agreed to advance the field into a particular direction. Taking into account this situation, you may want to consider the following advice:

  • Learn the jargon of the community and use it in your writing.
  • Learn the goals of the community and write from the point of view of how your work can help them (your readers!) advancing their understanding of the topic.
  • Before pointing out a particular fallacy, consider praising the work done by other members of the scientific community.

This first talk targets young scholars such as Master and PhD students:

This second talk addresses the writing needs and styles of practitioners in their particular field of expertise. You will find some degree of repetition here, but also new opportunities for reflecting.

This last talk is given by Steven Pinker on December 9th, 2014 at Harvard, together with and Jill Abramson. The title is “Mastering Style: The Learning and Teaching of Writing”, and the talk is based on Pinker’s book: “The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century“.

Especially this last talk can serve as an excellent inspiration for high-quality writing. It presents interesting reflections on the way we cognitively process reading and writing.

It also outlines two different styles:

  • the Classic style
  • the Postmodern/Self-Conscious style

The first (Classic Style) focuses on helping the reader in seeing the objective reality. This goal can be accomplished by focusing on “the thing being shown” instead of presenting “the activity that happens when studying it”. With this style, it is important to avoid clichés and “metaconcepts” (concepts about concepts), among other recommendations. If you feel lost by now, just listen to the talk -it will clarify all these aspects.

On the other hand, academic papers are frequently written in a postmodern or self-conscious style. These approaches encourage techniques like apologizing and hedging.

In summary:

As a final remark, please remember that writing is supposed to bring value for the readers. It is fundamental to adopt this mindset as well as the point of view of the readers. This task looks intuitive and simple. However, it is far from easy. A proper internalization of this core message can serve as a starting point for increasing the quality of your writing.

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