4

I recently read an article suggesting that you should write in the same way that you would talk. I agree with the ideas but I wonder how much it applies to formal venues like journal publications where you would very rarely find colloquial language (I'm not talking about using humour as in this question: How much informal writing should there be in a research article?)

When writing research papers I try to stick to the science and keep it as simple to read/understand as possible. I often use simple sentences in my writing. However, I often come across papers that are overly verbose and use complex compounded sentences that, for me, are difficult to follow. I've come to associate complex sentence structure with "correct" scientific reporting, and anything less complex as too informal/colloquial

I'm beginning to wonder whether I'm just a bad writer and if its just something I need to spend time working on.

How do you figure out the correct balance? Is there room for "writing like you talk" in journal publications?

My worry is that colloquial language would come across as unprofessional, leading either to a rejection (or at least a much lengthier review process), and/or a dent in my reputation as a researcher

I'm in the field of (cognitive) psychology if that makes a difference

6

I've come to associate complex sentence structure with "correct" scientific reporting, and anything less complex as too informal/colloquial

For science to be correct it has to pass the review process. The reviewers are usually experienced and native to the narrow field that is covered in the paper, so however complex the language, they can handle it and gauge the science behind (unless we are talking about extremely obfuscated writing, of course). From that standpoint, the language complexity doesn't matter.

The degree of colloquialism that is found in papers usually depends on the field. As an example, when computer science began to shift towards personal narrative ("we did...", "our research..." vs. "if x is done...", "one can deduce...") a number of years (or decades) back, the new papers gradually became more colloquial. Compare that to a typical mathematical or physical paper.

You should also consider that there are a lot of non-native English speakers out there, who struggle to express their thought in a foreign language.

Finally, inexperienced scientists and students tend to "overdo" the writing, using complex structures to convey maturity and confidence. Judging importance of information and expressing it eloquently are skills that are acquired well beyond grad school.

Is there room for "writing like you talk" in journal publications?

Sure there is, as long as it is professional, i.e. avoid jargon, jokes, etc.

How do you figure out the correct balance?

That comes with experience, every subsequent paper you write will be an improvement. It is important for you to strive to become better. Experience in writing is not the only thing that will benefit you, but experience while reading as well. The more papers you read, the more patterns of good and bad style you will encounter. Reflecting that on your own style will improve it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.