30 January 2013

On science writing and boredom.

I'm trying to finish up revisions for a manuscript and I'm kind of bored.

The research I'm writing up is a pet project from my dissertation. It's a molecular phylogeny of a group of plants which I particularly fancy, and I enjoyed the background on pollinators and inflorescence structure I learned while finishing up the project. For all intents and purposes, I should be eager to finish it.

The problem, it seems, is that I'm stuck in a writing rut. I write frequently, for various personal and professional purposes, and feel very comfortable expressing myself in a written format. I completed minors in history and communication studies, and in the process, finely honed my tone and ability to express arguments. My writing errs on the side of informality, sometimes even to the chagrin of my colleagues, but I enjoy and embrace it.

Writing academic scientific articles, however, leaves me feeling lackluster at best. I started the introductory writing for this paper over five years ago, during the early years of my dissertation, and I find myself wholly sick of it now. I struggle to find balance between clarity necessary for academic publication and the verbosity to which I've grown accustomed for other types of writing. I want to edit the paragraphs that are plaguing my revisions so that they actually sound like me. However, I'm also eager to be rid of the damn thing for awhile, so I may move on to fresher projects, and I fear putting off reviewers with my modified tone.

So I wallow in writerly despair, blogging and whining. Perhaps it's time to suck it up and be a big adult scientist...boredom be damned.

2 comments:

Jared said...

Perhaps you could see it as a personal challenge to write clearly and concisely in the appropriate scientific style. Did you see the opinion piece in The Scientist? Opinion: Communication Crisis in Research

Andrew said...

Scientific writing is drudgery! In one of my papers I wrote something like, "We lost data at 10 nests because of field technician (and first author) error."

"(and author)" was struck. Three f-ing words, added to blend in a bit of humility and dry humor. Three words!

That said, each day I set out to write one kickass intro or discussion paragraph that conforms to accepted standards. It is a modest goal, that repeated across a couple of weeks, finishes off whole sections of manuscripts.

Good luck!