Sorry about not posting for a while, I needed to fly home for a few days and am only back in college today.
An interesting discussion has started up around the science blogosphere about science writing techniques and whether the usual conventions are necessary or even useful. Chad Orzel started off by listing his pet peeves, some of which I agree with, especially
Myth 4: Scientific results are supposed to be a surprise. This one is more structural than the others, and I think it’s a result of unduly rigid adherence to the artificial Abstract-Introduction-Procedure-Results-Conclusion format. I get tons of reports in which students tie themselves in knots in the Abstract and Introduction trying to avoid presenting any hint of what their results were.
This isn’t just confined to student reports of course. There are lots of examples on the arXiv of abstracts that contain little to no useful information about the result, instead blandly announcing “an investigation into the properties…” Not only does this not encourage me to stop and open the paper on my daily trawl through the long list of new papers, it also often stops these papers being picked up by the keyword filter I use on CosmoCoffee
Some of Chad’s other “myths” I don’t particularly mind, including Myth 1, not using first person pronouns. Using the passive voice can seem impersonal at times, but at the other extreme you could have “I filled the pipette and then I added the mixture and then I …” I take the view that procedures and instructions should be passive or at least first person plural, whereas speculations, observations and conclusions should be more personalized, using “I” or “we” as appropriate. Sean Carroll talks more about the origins of these “myths” at length, suggesting that Bacon intentionally tried to depersonalize scientific writing in order to emphasize the objectivity needed.
In a similar vein the denialism blog links to an article about “How to write consistently boring scientific literature”. Basically one should dehumanize all aspects of the text, remove any further insights or speculation, sanitize the prose of humour and originality and write extremely long treatises filled with irrelevant exposition.
On that note I will quickly end this post!