20 myths about academic and scientific writing
In the academic and scientific university environment there are various myths about the scripturality that, when they are created and disseminated, affect the performance of teachers and students, such as the following:
1. The research professor is the only one who has issues about what to write and publish.
There has been a belief in the Mexican university environment that teachers who are dedicated exclusively to teaching do not have what or why to write. The only writable (and publishable) are the results of the research of the research professors.
2. The research professor who writes and publishes is not a writer.
In almost all university media in any country you have the idea that the scientist writes his articles and presentations because he must do so, not because he is a writer.
3. The researcher does not write scientific divulgation
The editorial director of Crítica y Ariel Universitaria, Carmen Esteban, reported, in the event of the 50th anniversary of The Two Cultures of C.P. Snow, celebrated in Cádiz, when he invited Spanish scientists to write popular science books to spread his ideas among the Spanish-speaking public, he found no echo in his call. The answers he got from the scientists contacted were two: (1) “I do not have time,” and (2) “I would not know how to do it.”
4. Science is written with elaborate formulas, words and thoughts.
There is a false belief that scientific knowledge must be communicated using the most technical, sophisticated or complex language possible, full of formulas, graphs, and illustrations only understandable to the expert. Who does not do it should not be taken seriously.
5. The article, the conference or the book, are written in a single stroke.
Academics and researchers often think that to make any kind of document, the work is done in a single attempt, what Gray calls “scriptural parranda.” Some researchers say that they do so because they only work under pressure when the delivery time runs out. This is the result of not organizing the writing of the documents that are planned to produce, and pouncing to write them, working day and night, when the delivery date is over.
6. Researchers only write for other researchers.
The audience that manages to distinguish around him the researcher who writes and publishes, is that of his colleagues. What is left out of that territory does not enter into its considerations. The habit of looking at things like this inhibits the eventuality that they address or write for another audience that is not their own (which is also tiny).
7. The research of the graduate student (master’s or doctorate) must be completed so that you can sit down to write the thesis or the dissertation.
Commonly, graduate students do not write anything related to their final report during their thesis research. They keep neat notes of the progress of their work, but leave for the last moment, until they have the complete and analyzed results, the writing of the thesis.
8. The works of ‘prewriting’ are the same writing of the thesis, article, book or presentation.
Many people consider that to write down thoughts and occurrences about the investigations they carry out, write notes, draw sketches, fill out forms, keep a field diary, or elaborate hundreds of research files and classify them, is to write the thesis or the article or the book, but it’s not like that, they’re wrong. These activities, among others, are part of the first phase of writing, which is known as ‘prewriting’, but they do not reflect, much less are the final product.
9. The scholar who writes works solitary when he writes his texts, and he should not show anything of the elaborated thing until after his writing is finished.
There is a belief that if another person sees what you write, the article or book can be spoiled. In addition, it is overlooked that on many occasions the preparation of an article or a presentation is a collaborative work.
The dynamics of the writing workshops, especially those of scientific articles, is to read and correct drafts of the participants. Mutually support each other to read them, listen to them carefully, improve them and increase the chances that publishers accept it.
10. The first draft of the text is the final text finished and ready to be published.
Those who are learning to write articles or reports, usually think that the ideas are written in a single stroke and they are ready. They sit, they are inspired, they write, and they finish. But it is not like that, the truth is that they do not have the slightest idea of the revision and editing work that the text should receive, and that, in order to prepare a good document, the final draft can take several drafts.
To mention one case, Nobel Laureate Ernst Hemingway wrote the last chapter of his book Farewell to arms 119 times, until he was satisfied with his work. Even the best revise and edit their work accounts times as necessary.
11. Writing is a linear process from A to Z.
There is the mistaken impression that in the elaboration of any type of text, the sentences arise chained one after the other, linearly. There is no idea of iterative writing essay – error, going back and forth, turning paragraphs, amending them, etc .; that is, writing as a systemic process with unlimited possibilities and routes of progression.
12. Writing is a matter of downloading ideas from the head to the paper or the computer screen.
They overlook the fact that writing is an organized and not disheveled matter of papers, notes, files, etc.
13. “If it’s clear to me, it’s clear to others.”
This myth is universal. This is because researchers write only thinking: (1) in themselves, (2) in those who will dictate the article, (3) in their peers, in that order.
14. There is a strange idea that the office of writing represents the same for everyone.
There are not two equal behaviors to write. In reality, each person develops their own strategies, and learns to use different techniques and tools to elaborate their writings. It helps to know how others write, but each one must undertake this task as best suits them.
15. The Mexican academic thinks of the exercise of writing as a painful path to achieve a product, be it an article or presentation, and not as a process that can be improved through routine practices.
Particularly, graduate students ignore that the scriptural process is a set of activities, such as thinking, selecting readings and reading (not only what has to be studied), reflecting on what has been read, planning what you want to write, preparing notes – that will not necessarily be used during the writing-, compose, revise, edit, re-compose, consult, etc.
16. Academic or scientific writing (read the scientific author) is not responsible for the effect of the published content.
The repercussions of this way of thinking can have serious consequences in the short, medium or long term, because if a certain issue is investigated by a personal obsession or by the scientistic desire of a government or a private corporation, and aspects of the nature whose management represents a high risk (such as the chain reaction that brought the development of the nuclear bomb), or invent things that can put life in trance as we know it (as the synthetic biology scientists who designed two new molecular letters that added to the DNA of a bacterium), and if the systemic relationship of this type of activities with the global environment is not taken into account, the safety of nature can be compromised. Researchers working at that level tend to defend themselves by saying that they are not to blame for what they find and communicate, that this is the responsibility of those who make use of their knowledge.
17. Research articles should be prepared by teams and not by individuals.
The systems of evaluation and certification of researchers have established at the global level, almost legalized, without saying it openly and formally, that scientific articles and other academic texts must be of choral authorship, that is, of several co-authors. Multiauthority, at least in the environment of higher research institutions and research centers, has become the modus operandi of the generation and dissemination of knowledge.
18. You do not pay for publishing, you do not charge for writing.
Graduate students are amazed when they learn that in the scientific environment you have to pay to publish, it is strange that after all the effort made during the research, they still have to spend for the dissemination of their results. In most scientific journals the authors, or the institution that supports them, pay to publish. The costs can range from one to several hundred dollars, depending on the quality of the magazine.
But few researchers think that there are also colleagues or laboratories or companies that pay for others to write for them. In the biomedical area it is very common for pharmacological laboratories to hire researchers to write articles based on their results. In these cases the researchers do not investigate, they use their skills to write texts based on the data they provide; others are those who sign the articles.
19. It is the editor of the journal – or my thesis advisor – who has to adjust to my grammar and style.
Graduate students and even young professors come to have the idea that it is not their responsibility to correctly prepare an article or a thesis, as the case may be; that is, without grammatical errors, syntax, style, etc. In his view, that is the job of the editor or advisor.
20. I wrote this article, you should read it
The academic who is a beginner in writing, and very often also the advanced, regularly thinks that everything he writes will have to be read by all his peers and that, consequently, his work will be a success. The truth is that if the work is very local or superficial and no novelty is discussed, very few will take the trouble to read it. There are many factors that influence the work to see and attract attention.
We must also take into account that given the rapid evolution of science, the useful life of a border scientific work can be from a few weeks to months.