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scientific writing

Ellen Wijsman wijsman at u.washington.edu
Tue Feb 25 11:58:23 EST 1997

In my experience as a reviewer and member of editorial boards, a lot of
papers ARE rejected on the basis of poor writing.  There is, however, a
difference between a review that states that the science is lousy vs. the
writing is lousy.  Poor writing can be fixed, so the editor may reconsider
a drastically rewritten manuscript, but poor science is probably
irredeemable so there is a lower probability that a resubmission will be
considered.  However, if a paper comes in so badly written that the
reviewers have a horrible time determining what the point is of the paper,
and if it doesn't become sufficiently clear on the second go-around, the
editors of the better journals generally won't waste time on a third
review.  (Good thing, too.  Reviewing badly written papers, even with good
science, is a very hard and time-consuming job.)  

It is easy to focus on the incomprehensible writing (and let us not forget
speaking skills also!!).  But don't forget that there are also some
fantastic communicators in most scientific fields, and many of these
people do very well in science.  Is that because they are better
scientists than many non-communicators?  Perhaps their clear ideas of what
is important and interesting is both the root of their scientific focus
and their ability to communicate the ideas.  Certainly clarity in both
writing and speaking is an important goal to shoot for; if achieved, it
will definitely improve ones chances at getting somewhere in a scientific

Ellen M. Wijsman		
Div. of Medical Genetics and		
Dept. Biostatistics 		
BOX 357720, University of Washington 
Seattle, WA   98195-7720		
email:  wijsman at u.washington.edu

On 25 Feb 1997, muriel lederman wrote:

> >
> >        The fault, dear Muriel,
> >        lies not with the editors,
> >        but with ourselves,
> >        that we are unintelligible...
> I stand corrected! but still maintain that there is a level of quality
> control missing at the publication level. If a journal sent rejected a
> paper that was poorly written, even though the data were fine, people might
> shape up real fast. Muriel
> >
> Muriel Lederman           lederman at vt.edu     540.231.5702 (phone)
> Department of Biology                         540.231.9307 (fax)
> Interim Coordinator, Biological Sciences
>    Initiative
> Virginia Tech
> Blacksburg VA 24061-0406

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