科学网[转载]Skillful writing of an awful research paper
As a Editor, I have from time to time in this column oﬀered
advice to authors on the desirable elements of a good
research report. Like contrary children, for some authors
such advice seems to vanish like smoke in a wind. So I take here
a diﬀerent approach, based on the idea that some folks have
a knack for doing the opposite of what is recommended to them
(like contrary children). I present some guidelines for how
to prepare a research report that is variously boring, confusing,
misleading, or generally uninformative. Whether the author’s
project is imaginative (or not) and the experiments are done
with skill (or not) and the data are scientiﬁcally meaningful
(or not) is irrelevant. My advice is solely based on principles of
presenting the objectives, experiments, results, and conclusion
in a fashion that as such no one will ﬁnish reading them or, if
they do, readers will have little chance of understanding or
remembering them. Like any form of skillful writing, following
the rules below for awful writing requires practice and a lack of
Rule 1. Never explain the objectives of the paper in a single
sentence or paragraph and in particular never at the
beginning of the paper.
Rule 2. Similarly, never describe the experiment(s) in a single
sentence or paragraph and never at the beginning.
Instead, to enhance the reader’s pleasure of discovery,
treat your experiment as a mystery, in which you
divulge one essential detail on this page and a hint of
one on the next and complete the last details only after
a few results have been presented. It’s also really fun to
divulge the reason that the experiment should suc-
cessfully provide the information sought only at the
very end of the paper, as any good mystery writer
Rule 3. Diagrams are worth a thousand words, so in the
interest of writing a concise paper, omit all words
that explain the diagram, including labels. Let the
reader use his/her fertile imagination.
Rule 4. Great writers invent abbreviations for complex topics,
which also saves a lot of words. Really short abbrevia-
tions should be used for very complex topics, and
more complicated ones for simple ideas.
Rule 5. In referring to the previous literature, be careful to cite
only the papers that make claims that would support
your own, especially those that contain little evidence
for the claim, so that your paper shines in comparison.
Rule 6. It should be anathema to use any original phrasing or
humor in your language, so as to adhere to the principle
that scientiﬁc writing must be stiﬀ and formal and
Rule 7. Your readers are intelligent folks, so don’t bother to
explain your reasoning in the interpretation of the
results. Especially don’t bother to point out their
impact on or consistency with other authors’ resultsand interpretation,
so that your paper can be an island
of original thinking.
So these are a few simple rules for poor scientiﬁc writing. If you
follow them faithfully and your paper is rejected or never cited,
irrespective of your native brilliance, you have nonetheless been
successful as a poor writer.