Posts Tagged 'science writing'

Where to stop?

One under appreciated feature of almost any paper is the incredibly difficult problem of where to draw line under the work and just stop. Every aspect of science is of course completely interconnected with other things and if you follow every possible tangent or lead everything you write will swell to dozens or even hundreds of papers.

Even something as simple as describing an isolated tooth or bone will have further implications for other branches of work. It could be the first record of something in a formation / time / place, extending the range of a group, or may be in association with another species, or have a pathology with implications for diagnosis of the species or clade or, or, or….. When you’re doing a more complex paper that integrates a number of major lines of evidence then this gets harder and harder as more and more important things have to be cut off somewhere, or at least not followed up to the depth you want.

This means inevitably that the paper will to a certain degree have a truncated feel. If you have an interest in a particular area it’s frustrating to see a paper that leads up to a significant point and then shies away and leaves it unsaid or doesn’t explore things, or give you quite the depth you wanted. Or of course, fails to make the link with something you have said in another paper or work you are very familiar with.

This can on occasion be a real issue with referees on papers. It’s very annoying when they demand you remove what they consider a tangent to the main work, and you consider an important extension of the thesis. It’s even more annoying when they do they opposite and demand you massively expand one section you don’t want to (or can’t if it lies beyond your expertise). Indeed, following up from yesterday’s post and the first half of this paragraph, there are few things more annoying than people complaining that basically you didn’t write the paper they wanted you to write. It’s your paper and you’re probably already compromising on a page length limit from the journal, desires from co-authors, and your own limitations of what you want to write about now and what you have brewing further down the line.

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