168 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, "...
knzhou's user avatar
  • 3,818
159 votes

Is humor unacceptable in referee reports?

You were right to change it. The worst thing that could happen is that the authors feel like you are trying to make a dig at their ability. The best thing is that.. someone might find the comment ...
user438383's user avatar
  • 3,169
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 ...
Jack Aidley's user avatar
  • 11.9k
115 votes

Scientific writing: attributing actions to inanimate objects

Your premise that inanimate objects are not capable of action is false. Does the Earth not revolve around the sun? Do leaves not fall on the ground? Is the book “Crime and Punishment” not a thought-...
Dan Romik's user avatar
  • 190k
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 ...
Massimo Ortolano's user avatar
102 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 ...
Jeff's user avatar
  • 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, ...
Buffy's user avatar
  • 365k
99 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 ...
Nate Eldredge's user avatar
91 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 ...
user0721090601's user avatar
89 votes
Accepted

Is there a rule to rather use points and not commas as decimal separators in academic writing?

(You did not specify the language of the paper, so I am going to assume that it is written in English.) There is no rule that in academia points must be used instead of commas. There is, however, a ...
Adam Přenosil's user avatar
88 votes

Is humor unacceptable in referee reports?

The idea was to use a humorously gentle style to jokingly portray the authors as stuck in the old era, especially given that they are now professors in their 60s or 70s Humor is fine. The problem is ...
Adam Přenosil's user avatar
85 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 ...
Bill Barth's user avatar
  • 48.7k
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 ...
Buffy's user avatar
  • 365k
80 votes

Is humor unacceptable in referee reports?

The reviewer of a paper is in a privileged position. It's their prerogative to advise the editor whether the author of the paper should have a good day or a crappy day, and while their power isn't ...
Sneftel's user avatar
  • 2,020
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 ...
Massimo Ortolano's user avatar
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 ...
jakebeal's user avatar
  • 188k
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 ...
Wrzlprmft's user avatar
  • 61.2k
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 ...
Michael Homer's user avatar
66 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! [...
Jakub Konieczny's user avatar
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 ...
Nikey Mike's user avatar
  • 2,933
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 ...
Anonymous Physicist's user avatar
63 votes
Accepted

Convention on embedding three pairs of items in a single sentence using parentheses

I wouldn't use parenthesis for this at all, but rather use 'respectively': When using A, B or C to estimate the upper limit, the best fit result is D, E or F respectively. This becomes a bit harder ...
Stephen McMahon's user avatar
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 ...
Wrzlprmft's user avatar
  • 61.2k
59 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 ...
David Richerby's user avatar
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 ...
knzhou's user avatar
  • 3,818
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,...
Nate Eldredge's user avatar
55 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, ...
lighthouse keeper's user avatar
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 ...
Massimo Ortolano's user avatar
54 votes

How to handle swear words in quote / transcription?

In research, you should quote them verbatim. Editing, or censoring, swearing is wrongly representing your research subjects and is thus a form of scientific misconduct. If you need to edit the quote ...
Jack Aidley's user avatar
  • 11.9k

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