Writing a scientific paper

Like software engineering, or playing a game of the Dark Souls series, writing scientific papers is a challenging activity that blends multiple goals and pitfalls. As in software engineering, one way to learn the tricks of the trade is to look and comment upon harmful behaviors, known as anti-patterns.

The We-Need-To

This one applies to both scientific writing and presentations.

Description: the solution to a problem is presented as necessary.

  • Oral: "And so, to do this, we needed to measure..."
  • Writen: "To achieve this, one needs to update..."
  • Writen: "The next step is to compute X such that..."

Necessity has a precise meaning: a solution is necessary when there is no other way. While it is reassuring to think that your method emerged as "the" logical response to your problem, truth is, it bundles a natural chain of contingencies, and there are most likely other ways to solve the same problem.

Doubt is a crucial practice in science. The mistake in this anti-pattern is to shun it out.

Remedy: cut to the point.

  • Oral:" And so, to do this, we measured..."
  • Writen: "To achieve this, we updated..."
  • Writen: "We then compute X such that..."

In the next section...

Description: the paper digresses describing its own structure.

"The rest of the manuscript is organized as follows. In Section II, we do this. In Section III, we show that..."

Keep in mind that reading, like watching a movie, is not a fully conscious process. To be receptive to the ideas conveyed by your writing, you want to keep your reader in a state of flow. Linear storytelling is a common strategy to realize this, using temporal or logical connectives to stitch paragraphs one after the other. Breaking the storyline to describe the structure of yet-to-come points is a way to achieve the opposite.

Remedy: use logical connectors to keep the reading flow linear.

To go further

Are you repetitively hit by other anti-patterns in scientific papers? Do you have other patterns in your quiver? Feel free to let me know about it.

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