Guide to translating scientific papers into plain English.

It seems that some people missed the point of my previous post [Anatomy of a bad science story], which used irony as a rhetorical device to get an important point across. It also was meant to be funny, with the assumption that good science writers would find it as amusing and therapeutic as scientists would.

But just to show that we scientists a) have a sense of humour, and b) can laugh at ourselves, here is one of my favourite lists:

Guide to Translating Scientific
Papers Into Plain English


Really means

It has long been known… I haven’t bothered to look up the reference.

It is thought that… I think so.

It is generally thought that… A couple of other guys think
so, too.

It is not unreasonable to assume… If you believe this, you’ll believe anything.

Of great theoretical importance…

I find it interesting.
Of great practical importance…

I can get some good mileage out of it.

Typical results are shown.

The best results are shown.

Three samples were chosen for further study. The others didn’t make sense, so we ignored them.

The second sample was not used. I dropped it on the floor.

Results obtained using the second sample must be interpreted with caution.

I dropped it on the floor, but managed to scoop most of it up.
Correct within an order of

Much additional work will be required.

This paper isn’t very good, but neither is anyone else’s.

These investigations provided highly rewarding results.

My grant will be renewed.
This research was supported by a grant from… Can you believe they pay me to do this?

A line of best fit was generated using least-squares regression.

I drew it by hand.
A non-linear relationship was found…

I drew it by hand and I didn’t use a ruler.

Stringent controls were implemented…

My advisor was watching.

I thank X for assistance with the experiments and Y for useful discussions on the interpretation of the data. X did the experiment and Y explained it to me.

8 comments to Guide to translating scientific papers into plain English.

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