208 votes
Accepted

Can one or two emoticons be used in a PhD Thesis?

I highly value humor and love to entertain whenever I can. In formal writing, I would encourage you to go ahead and write something that you think would be funny. Then reread it. Then reread it again. ...
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  • 21.1k
167 votes

Is "flowery language" frowned upon in engineering and STEM related research?

There's nothing wrong with long words. The real issue with your writing is that it is redundant. "these related works are germane to our present discussion." In this sentence, "...
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  • 3,739
122 votes

Co-authors request that others do not use "he" as a pronoun - is this reasonable?

This is an entirely reasonable request and you should honour it. It is very easy to write English in a manner that avoids the unfortunate use of 'he' as a placeholder for either gender, and doing so ...
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  • 10.6k
113 votes

Should I simplify my writing in a foreign country?

Thou shalt not dumb down thy writing, but don't make it a vain exercise of style I'm a non-native English speaker, and let me put it straight: I may write in simple English, because limited are my ...
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  • 52.4k
111 votes
Accepted

Is using the phrase "... is left as an exercise for the reader" considered good style in academic papers/theses?

I believe it's only appropriate in the type of writing where you are in a position to give the reader excercises. That is, in course books or other learning material. There, I think it's fine, ...
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105 votes

Can one or two emoticons be used in a PhD Thesis?

Many writers make very effective use of humor in their writing, and this extends to technical and scientific writing as well. Donald Knuth is one author I can think of who does this extremely well, ...
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  • 169k
103 votes

Why do researchers sometimes use extremely complicated English sentences to convey their meaning?

I've run into variations of this a lot in economics, and have a few observations. Being good at research in your field is an entirely separate skill from being able to communicate ideas clearly. Two ...
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  • 16.2k
102 votes

Is being a poor writer a serious impediment as a researcher?

Yes, you need to be able to write to be successful in academia, as in many things. But it is a skill that can be learned. You can take courses and you can practice. And, as with most learning, ...
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  • 263k
98 votes

Co-authors request that others do not use "he" as a pronoun - is this reasonable?

Certainly there are many people in the world who prefer to avoid using gendered pronouns for persons of unspecified gender, so your co-authors' view is not particularly unusual. But there are others ...
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90 votes
Accepted

How to handle swear words in quote / transcription?

If you're quoting someone, quote them as they said it. We're all adults. In the literature world, we quote swear words and other potentially offensive things all the time and no one bats an eye. I've ...
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86 votes

How can I obfuscate my writing style when I review papers?

It's not worth it. Few waste time trying to unblind their reviewers to take retribution for bad reviews. It's just not worth it. The average journal submitter doesn't have enough power to do damage to ...
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  • 48.1k
81 votes

Is there any good reason to write "it is easy to see"?

Mathematical papers, especially, and many others, are not written for the complete novice with no understanding of the field. One tries to tailor the explanation of a new concept to the general level ...
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  • 263k
77 votes
Accepted

Does it make sense to let a colleague know about his repeated misspelling?

Let it go, while the typo is limited to emails. Emails are frequently written hastily and certain typos can be common or made on purpose to type less, or even for fun (I do sometimes this in my ...
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  • 52.4k
74 votes

Is it accepted to refer to your own published result by your own name?

This is, unfortunately, a case where English grammar can be tricky and exactly how you phrase things is going to matter. It is often seen a presumptuous to name something after yourself: "Newton's ...
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  • 181k
73 votes
Accepted

Do Asian authors have a different style of academic writing from European authors?

No, this is absolutely not just your problem! I am also an ESL and this very comment has been given to me numerous times: Your writing is weird, but I can't really tell how. After many years of ...
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70 votes

How can I obfuscate my writing style when I review papers?

Assuming that you really want to do this, here are some strategies that should not strongly diminish the readability of your review: If you are from an English-speaking country: Use the spelling ...
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  • 51.3k
69 votes
Accepted

What's the purpose of writing one's academic biography in the third person?

When I wrote a biography of myself, it was because someone in administration asked me to so they could put it into a prospectus, where there would be lots of biographies in a row all in the same ...
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68 votes

Dullness vs. going overboard: Should I be calling people 'enfants terribles' in an academic paper?

If I understand correctly, you are supposed to be evaluating the work and/or ideas of some other academic or writer. You are wondering whether it will be funny and/or more efficient to, in lieu of a ...
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66 votes
Accepted

Contractions ("can't", "don't") in a mathematical paper

My experience has typically been that the more formal mode, with no contractions, is preferred for most scientific publications. It is not a terribly strong or important custom, however, and in one ...
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  • 181k
65 votes

Is there any good reason to write "it is easy to see"?

Several times during seminars I heard the following exchange, which sounds like a joke but actually isn't: Audience member: Why is X true? Speaker: Oh, it's obvious. Audience member: OK, thanks! [...
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64 votes

Is it wrong to start your abstract with a question?

As an author, you can choose different styles for abstracts. As far as I know, the most interesting and shortest abstract ever was written in this paper, Can apparent superluminal neutrino speeds be ...
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  • 2,883
64 votes

Is "flowery language" frowned upon in engineering and STEM related research?

The rule is: Never use an uncommon word where a common word can do the job just as well. This is to make it easier to read your work. You said My intention is merely for the writing to be ...
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61 votes

What can professors do to encourage properly written email messages from students?

hey. i was wondering of your students write like this Alas, yes, they do (however, I'm a non-native English speaker who teaches international students whose level of English is extremely varied, and ...
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  • 52.4k
59 votes
Accepted

Why do papers not have a table of contents?

The purpose of an overview paragraph and a table of contents are different: The table of contents serves to quickly find a specific section of a document so you can start reading there or extract a ...
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  • 51.3k
57 votes
Accepted

Is it standard for a math research paper to include less detail in proofs than a typical textbook would?

Yes, it's normal. Homeworks and exams are written to prove that the writer has certain skills; papers are written to prove something new. The reader's skills are not under question, so a different ...
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57 votes

How can I make the introduction of a paper more "scientific" and less "popular"?

This is a common issue when inexperienced people write their first papers. It's tempting to write down everything that went into your personal understanding of a subject, rather than just starting ...
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  • 3,739
57 votes

Do people intentionally make papers shorter in order to avoid grammar or reference errors?

If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter. What you are proposing is way more difficult than avoiding, detecting and correcting grammar and reference mistakes. Proof-reading is ...
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  • 7,283
56 votes

Reviewer of PhD thesis doesn't allow me to write in the first person singular

There is an annoying truth here: What's OK in a PhD thesis and what not largely depends on the reviewers. Some people in academia have a huge inflated ego and prefer things to be done as they suggest, ...
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55 votes
Accepted

What is a 'classic paper', and when do we refer to a work as a 'classic work'?

This isn't something that is decided based on objective measures - it's a statement of the author's opinion that history has shown the paper to be very important. If you, in your professional opinion,...
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55 votes
Accepted

Is using "iff" appropriate?

The abbreviation iff is generally understood in several fields outside logic, and in my experience it is well understood by physicists, but the golden rule is to define every abbreviation at its first ...
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  • 52.4k

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