15

When writing a paper with a collaborator, they didn't like that I used the word "exciting" in the abstract since they said that they don't like when people use personal personal qualifiers in writing papers. In particular my sentence was

"With these exciting results in mind, we study..." 

(where the 'results' I am referring to are from a few recent experimental papers which I had nothing to do with). I initially wrote it in this way to emphasize that the recent results are interesting. Is this truly something that should be avoided?

Note: If it makes any difference I work in physics.

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    Let the reader judge! – Dave Clarke Jun 23 '15 at 9:29
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    With a fairly common expression on the SE sites, let's say that what is exciting in a paper is primarily opinion based... – Massimo Ortolano Jun 23 '15 at 11:56
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    Yes, it is bad form to call your own work "exciting". However, if you feel so inclined, you may use it for the work of others. – GEdgar Jun 23 '15 at 13:20
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    @GEdgar: While I probably should have emphasized this in the question, the "results" I was referring to were of other peoples. I was using their exciting results to motivate our study. – JDror Jun 23 '15 at 13:22
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    Another option is to describe how the results have been perceived by the field in general. "X's results created quite a bit of excitement in the Y community when they were published." – Jim Conant Jun 23 '15 at 17:26
30

An established rule on proper writing demands to "show, don't tell". This does not mean that your results can be left to "speak for themselves", but it suggests that rather than simply claiming that your results are exciting, you should demonstrate and argue why they are. The onus is on your interpretation.

Moreover, the attribute "exciting", just as "interesting", is particularly trite because it is over-used and terribly vague. It begs the question as to what it is that is so exciting.

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    Also, if you still feel for using the word, you can use for the question, not for the result, for instance: ... many people gave partial answers to this exciting question by Doe [Doe08]. We contribute by ... – yo' Jun 23 '15 at 14:49
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    Regarding your later comment on your question, the answer applies regardless of whether the results are yours or those of someone else. If you motivate your contribution by referring to a preexisting study, briefly explain the motivation further. For example, rather than saying that a previous study is "exciting", write "Previous results challenge the established notion that X always causes Y, and thereby invite the question when X does or does not cause Y. We investigate these boundary conditions." This clarifies what makes previous work exciting and explains how it motivates your work. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 24 '15 at 10:22
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    Actually I think it's useful for the author to highlight the important part of the work, including the most relevant preceding result. Most of the time when reading a paper one's attention drifts in at least one place, so when the author says "this is the exciting result" at least the reader knows he should pay attention and regard this part as important. If the author leaves it cut and dry then the reader might not even notice it. So when writing it is courtesy to have some sympathy for your reader and leave in a few sign posts. – Calchas Jun 24 '15 at 12:09
  • @Calchas. the point is to say this is the exciting result, not it is an exciting result. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 24 '15 at 12:19
9

In mathematics, it is not uncommon to attach emotionally charged adjectives to theorems. For example, nobody would raise an eyebrow at phrases such as "beautiful theorem". It goes without saying that such praise is only appropriate when truthful: it would be bad form to call a result "exciting" simply because you happend to be proving it's generalisation. Also, modesty requires that you should never say such things about your own work.

I personally find such language quite helpful. It is useful to know if a given result is something to get excited about or not. Sometimes, results speak for themselves, but this is not always the case (and there isn't always space to explain the reasons properly, especially if you just mention a result to provide context).

I'm not sure to what extent these rules extend to other fields.

  • Do you do it to your own theorems? True, Gauss named a result "Theorema Egregium" but do you do likewise? – GEdgar Jun 23 '15 at 18:45
  • @GEdgar: Of course I don't. Sorry if I wasn't very explicit about it, but (as far as I can tell) one whould try to avoid praising one's own work as far as possible. – Jakub Konieczny Jun 23 '15 at 18:49
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    @GEdgar And even if you are Gauss, this strategy may backfire when the connotation of your adjective shifts over time :-) – Trevor Wilson Jun 23 '15 at 22:37
  • +1 for the usefulness of emotional indicators. Although I guess this is more useful for the layman (in the field) than the expert. – gaborous Jun 24 '15 at 1:09
6

Describing your own work as "exciting" is crass and inappropriate. People do not appreciate being told how to feel and the reader will decide for themselves whether your work is exciting. If they think it's exciting, they didn't need you to tell them; if they don't, you look like an idiot for hyping it so much. Looking like an idiot hurts your credibility.

It may be appropriate to describe somebody else's work as "exciting": that comes across more as a very enthusiastic recommendation, rather than as telling the reader what to think. But it should be used sparingly: again, you lose credibility if you describe anything but the very best in such glowing terms.

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    i wouldn't go so far as to call the use of «exciting» «crass». it's not exactly a curse word, is it? – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 23 '15 at 21:00
  • @henning "crass" has nothing to do with being or not being a curse word. – David Richerby Jun 23 '15 at 21:50
  • I don't appreciate you telling me how to feel about the usage of the word "exciting" ;) – Calchas Jun 24 '15 at 12:13
  • @Calchas I'm not telling you how to feel; I'm pointing out how others feel. :-P – David Richerby Jun 24 '15 at 12:25
0

Absolutely not. Exciting, intriguing, etc. These are great terms that, when used in moderation, can add some enthusiasm to your writing. To give you a fake example, you could say in an abstract for a Review article something like this:

"This article summarizes some of the recent and exciting developments in the field of cardiovascular medicine, with a particular emphasis on animal models of coronary artery disease."

OR if you are forming your rational within the introduction of a research article, it could look something like this:

"While the latter findings from Jackson et al. are exciting in the context of biopharmaceutical research, there is still a significant gap in our understanding of X.....Y.....Z....etc. Therefore, this study sought to examine...."

In any case, I wouldn't worry too much about these minor details. Writing is important, but at the end of the day, the science (your data) should speak for itself.

-1

The word "exciting" is a bit too dramatic for my taste. How about: important, remarkable, noteworthy, worthwhile, beneficial?

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    I disagree. I think this is not about "drama" or such. All the words you propose are also personal judgements of the results. As many people here indicated: In scientific writing let the reader judge and just show and explain your results. – Dirk Jun 23 '15 at 12:13
  • I, on the other hand, agree. I think there are two problems with "exciting." 1. It is a personal judgment. 2. It is too dramatic. I think you can get away with a little personal judgment as long as it doesn't stand out too much. – Jim Conant Jun 23 '15 at 17:25
  • +1 Also, I'm not sure I agree with the first commenter about letting "the reader judge [...]"; if it is known a priori that there are some readers out there who may find "exciting" to be dramatic, then using generally more tolerable alternatives (such as those mentioned in the answer) seems like a good compromise to me. – Mad Jack Jun 23 '15 at 17:31
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    @MadJack I believe that "let the reader judge" means "let the reader judge whether the results are exciting", not "let the reader judge whether you should use the word 'exciting' in your papers." – David Richerby Jun 23 '15 at 18:23
  • @DavidRicherby Fair point. I admit my concern is primarily related to reviewers who might find "exciting" to be a tad off-putting. – Mad Jack Jun 23 '15 at 18:30

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