Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How to get your paper accepted: Our results are very awesome!

In today's installment of how to get your paper accepted, I'd very, very much like to discuss intensifiers. And exclamations! So I will.

Scientific writing is first and foremost about clear, careful communication. You can have the most amazing results in the world, but if you can't clearly walk your reader through your science, you're going to run into problems. Furthermore, I said "careful" because in scientific writing it is also important to be humble, and not take your conclusions too far.*

By using intensifiers, which are adverbs that elevate the word following it, you not only run the risk of over-generalizing, but you also risk angering your reviewers/readers. It is highly unlikely most authors can make claims like: "Our work makes a very important contribution", "We present really groundbreaking work on embedded rubber ducks", or "This work is extremely revolutionary".

Exclamations, too, rarely have place in scientific prose. Sometimes if you are trying to write something that catches the reader's attention, exclamations may be appropriate. For example, if you were writing a technical article on cellular phone use in rural India and wished to point out some fact about how people are more likely to have phones than shoes, say, that might make sense.

An editorial or book review is a fine place to use qualifiers, and possibly also exclamations. These are publication venues that expect authors to state opinions and generalizations, as well as to catch a reader's attention.

But for your standard journal or conference article, keep the intensifiers (and exclamations!) at home. 

* This is important for many reasons, not least of which is making a generalization or prediction about the future that is entirely wrong and/or taken out of context, and having to relive it for decades. See also, "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home."

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