Friday, July 10, 2020

The discipline of scientific writing

Writing a paper is hard work. Writing a paper that is clear, engaging, and accurate is even harder. After you have written a draft or are reading a draft of a colleague or co-author I think the following discipline is important and worthwhile.

Go through every sentence and ask, is this true? Is it precise and accurate?

Let me illustrate with a concrete example. Consider the following different claims.

The experiments of Jones et al. proved that GaAs quantum wires are Luttinger liquids.

Jones et al. interpreted their experimental results on GaAs quantum wires in terms of the framework of Luttinger liquid theory.

Jones et al. fit their experimental data for the temperature dependence of the resistivity of a GaAs quantum wire to a power law, such as predicted by Luttinger liquid theory.

Jones et al. showed that their experimental data was inconsistent with Fermi liquid theory, but consistent with Luttinger theory.

Hopefully, the differences between these claims are clear.

This discipline becomes even more important when reporting one's own research. For example, just replace ``Jones et al." in the sentences above with "We".

Unfortunately, the rush to publish in luxury journals has increased the tendency of authors to not exercise the appropriate restraint and discipline required by scientific integrity.

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