Writing science notes

My co-advisor Dr. Bodong Chen recommended me this book last year: Writing science – how to write papers that get cited and proposal that get funded, by Joshua Schimel. I got it and put in my shelf for several months. Everytime I opened this book, I could find something else to do instead. Recently, facing a big dissertation fellowship proposal, I am eager to improve my change to get funded. So I opened this book again. I really hoped I could read it before I submitted all my manuscripts so far. Sorry editors and reviewers. I will get them better very soon. What a learning and unlearning process.

chapter 1 scientist is a professional writer: core writing principle is: it is the author’s job to make the reader’s job easy.

chapter 2 science writing as storytelling: draw simple story out of your data, let the story grow from data, don’t impose story on data; overinterpret your data widely, explore all possibilities, then find the simple core, don’t be afraid to abandon your first story.

chapter 3 making a story sticky: SUCCES principle (simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, story). Simple: find the core of the problem, propose a simple idea; unexpected: find knowledge gap not matter how small it is, make it clear, highlight the novel and new element; concrete: use specific examples and languages; credible: avoid buzzy words, make them concrete; emotional: ask a novel question, engage readers, trigger their curiosity; story: think about internal structure, make small units into a coherence.

chapter 4 story structure: four kinds of structures: OCAR, ABDCE, LD, LDR. OCAR: open with setting the stage, no argument or leading point -> frame questions -> what you did -> what are results, conclusions; ABDCE: open with a challenge -> introduce background -> develop climax (what you did, what is the result) -> ending resolution/ conclusion; LD: open with opening, challenge and resolution (strong at opening) -> develop; LDR: open with argument and challenge -> develop -> end with resolution/synthesis (strong at both opening and ending).

chapter 5 opening (O): three goals: identify problems, introduce characters, target audiences. most you can use OCAR or ABDCE/LDR. using OCAR: two-step strategy (engage audience with a broader topic/question -> transition to a specific question; using ABDCE/LDR, open with challenge and problem, or action.

chapter 6 funnel, connecting O and C: opening a large problem – tunnel – challenge (a specific question). define a specific/concrete problem, identify a small knowledge gap, don’t dump info (don’t tell everything you know), make logic connection between info and knowledge, don’t sell a solution before you identify a problem.

chapter 7 challenge (C): to do X, we did Y, do not reverse the two. (1) explicitly state knowledge gap you want to gain, clearly pose the question, must come first, must be clear, clean and straightforward; (2) tell us how you approach it, what data you collected, what method you use

chapter 8 action (A): method, result, discussion. Let the story guide you, don’t just present data/info, your goal is to present knowledge/understanding. every section (method, result, discussion) is a mini-story, choose one structure for each section. method: LD; result: LD; discussion: LDR or OCAR.

chapter 9 resolution (R): can use a step-backward structure of OCAR. overall conclusion/accomplishment -> results -> expanding/widening to a big picture, general application -> close the circle or pose a new question. ending is a powerful position, end strong and positive, don’t tell us what you don’t achieve at the end, don’t introduce new info, show how the starting point moved, how you explicitly answer/widen the questions.

chapter 10 internal structure: create flow and arc, arcless writings 1) lack thematic coherence, 2) story is unclear, 3) put down every thoughts, no logics. how to fix them? go over paragraph by paragraph and section by section and ask these questions: 1) does each unit make a single clear point? 2) when several paragraphs together form a section, are the linkage among them clear? 3) has every extraneous thought that breaks the serial arc structure been removed? 4) when you introduce a topic, do you resolve that discussion before introducing a new topic? 5) is every major unit of the work defined by either a subhead or clear opening text?

chapter 11 paragraphs: a paragraph is a unit of composition when it tells a complete story with a coherent structure, a story that fits into and contributes to the larger work; paragraphs usually use topic sentence-development (TS-D) structure (like LD structure; point-first structure); or you can use point-last structure, that is LDR or OCAR. a paper usually has 70% point-first paragraphs and 30% point-last paragraphs. short is better than long. three-step strategy to fix long and rambling paragraphs: 1) identify the real story, 2) decide whether this needs a point-first or point-last structure, 3) pull apart different threads of the story to clarify their relationships.

chapter 12 sentences: a sentence = a subject (opening: “topic”) + verb (challenge/action) + object (resolution: “stress”);weighting of words in a sentence follows an order: the stress carries the greatest emphasis, the topic is the next, the middle carries the least (2-3-1 principle). it follows OCAR structure, open with subject topic, action should immediately follow the subject, key message comes at the end as stress, add nuance if needed. if it is a long sentence, use sub-clauses, the ending of each clause is a minor stress position.  how to fix bad sentences: 1) find the topic, make it the subject, move it toward the beginning, 2) find the action verb and connect it closely to the subject, 3)find the stress and move it to the end of the main clause. if you have additional material to add, move it to the right so that it modifies rather than intrudes in the main story

chapter 13 flow: make a relay: sentence 2’s topic is sentence 1’s stress, don’t introduce new info/topic and break the arc; this principle is the same for flow between two paragraphs. so core is to identify topic and stress. by linking stress and topic, resolution and opening, you can tie together sentences and paragraphs and make the sweep of your arguments compelling.

chapter 14 energizing writing: principles: 1) most of the time, use active voice over passive voice, 2) find the action and use clear and concrete action verb, show what happened not just something happened, put verb early in the sentence, 3) don’t transfer concrete verb or adj into noun. why nominalizations are not good? 1) lose the power of using verbs, 2) a nomialization can easily become a jargon. when to use passive voice: 1) make the acted-on the subject of the sentence, 2) avoid mentioning the actor’s names

chapter 15 words: three principles: 1) avoid jargon (undefined terms, nouns), if you can use a plain and simple language equivalent, use it, don’t use the jargon! you can use 2-3-1 rule here: open with something people are familiar with + technical terms + explain of the technical terms in more details 2) use common words, instead of unnecessary technical words, this can increase clear understanding and engage a stronger schema 3) pay attention to prepositional phrases, don’t use noun train!

chapter 16 condensing: avoid 1) redundancies: use several words where one does all the work that needs doing, 2) obvious: obvious ideas are well known or implied and so don’t need to be said anywhere, e.g., “there is evidence that …” 3) modifiers: don’t use unnecessary adj, and adv when you can use clear and concrete noun and verb 4) metadiscourse e.g., “we found, we argue, the data may indicate, to conclude..” 5) verbosity: show authors’ mental processes from the story they are trying to tell

chapter 17 putting it all together: 1) structure: get the structure of the story into shape, 2) clarity: ensure that your idea are clear and concrete 3) flow: make the idea flow, linking one thought to the next, 4) language: make it sound good

chapter 18 dealing with limitations: principle: but, yes. open about limits and highlight strength/resolution/conclusion. 1) introduction: many problems arise not from inherent limitation but from a mismatch between the question and methods. go back to introduction, find the knowledge gap and what is your research question? what the story is? 2) methods: discuss limitation of analytical methods immediately to lay any concerns to rest, you are much better off if you can address readers’ concerns as soon as they arise, if you avoid mentioning the negatives, readers will find them and criticize you for them 3) discussion: limitations affect how you interpret data, you should avoid the power positions of the discussion’s opening and resolution, early in the body of the discussion to discuss the work’s limitation and constraint.

chapter 19 writing global science, data-info-knowledge-understanding-applicaiton, we are offering knowledge/understanding/application, not just present data and info

chapter 20 writing for the public: A and B: issue and audience -> problem? -> so what? -> solution -? benefits

chapter 21 resolution: I prefer to focus on success strategies instead of survival strategies; you don’t succeed by getting papers published but by getting them cited; quality ultimately trumps quantity and it will stand out in a crowded scientific universe; simply remember who your real peers are;


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