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10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly

September 11, 2010 Filed under Blog, Featured, Resources, Writing 

I was recently in Norman, Oklahoma, to present an Eloquent Science workshop, hosted by J.J. Gourley of the NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory. It was a lively and enthusiastic group in attendance, and I thank everyone who participated, bought books, and talked to me afterward. It’s great to know that there’s such interest.

Yesterday, J.J. sent me the article “10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly” from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

I agreed with much of what was written. One item in particular that I hadn’t seen in any scientific writing book before was the following:

3. Find a voice; don’t just “get published.” James Buchanan won a Nobel in economics in 1986. One of the questions he asks job candidates is: “What are you writing that will be read 10 years from now? What about 100 years from now?” Someone once asked me that question, and it is pretty intimidating. And embarrassing, because most of us don’t think that way.

I think this is an excellent pair of questions to think about for your own writing. Much of what we do as scientists is incremental science. We tackle small bits of research that add incrementally to our knowledge. Not much is ground-breaking material. And, we may not get the ground-breaking thoughts that can lead to the paradigm shifts all the time either. Publishing incremental science is a perfectly acceptable way to proceed. But, I think it also behooves us as scientists to think occasionally about the bigger picture and go after the tougher nuts to crack—the ones that will lead us to work that changes people’s thinking about our science.

So, what do you want to write that will be read 10 years from now? What about 100 years from now?

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