Monday, August 20, 2007

Today's Epiphany

Just so you know, I finally have a legitimate excuse for horribly erratic posting habits, as I'm currently simultaneously preparing to move across the country and writing my first paper for publication.

So I'm taking a break from the latter to finish revising my poster for SfN (since I realized that the standard turnaround for posters is 5 days, which would mean that if I turn it in today it'll be back the day before we load up our PODS), and I had an epiphany about the difference between writing for a scientific audience and well, pretty much any other kind of writing I've done.

A key element of writing for a general audience is to have a host of synonyms at your disposal, so you can always insert whatever word sounds best into a given sentence. Also, you need to be able to avoid using the same words in consecutive sentences when possible as your sentences will sounds homogeneous and monotonous. But in science writing, you need to choose a some word and stick with it. Use the same term to describe the same thing every. Single. Time. Otherwise, your audience will just get confused and wonder if you're talking about different phenomena. I realize this is not a major grand epiphany for most people, and is probably a bit obvious. But it's part and parcel of explaining all of the writing problems I've had when working on things in the lab. My secret to good writing has always been to write for the ear; I just get the text out there and then revise and revise until the prose has some flow to it. But when I try to do that on my poster or in my paper, it's actually counter-productive since I'm just messing things up when I try to liven up the words.

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