Blog Posts Francoise Martz Forestry, General

Writing scientific articles is not always an easy task; we have seen evidence of this in numerous articles, courses and webinars which are held to support scientists in this essential dissemination task.

English has become the universal language of science. As Dubrin and Kellog point out, the adoption of English as a universal language of science has had a huge effect on scientific communication and helped international scientists to communicate andto have access to the vast scientific literature.

However, formulating our research topics, objectives, hypothesis, methods, results and conclusions with clarity may represent a challenge, especially for those who are not native speakers of English.

In addition to this first-level challenge, a second-level challenge appears: the style of writing. A recent research highlight published in Nature, A call for beautiful prose in papers, reports an online discussion that appeals to scientists for more elegant writing in scientific articles. Of course native English speakers have all our sympathy when they are hearing us mistreating their language. In the discussion, beautiful writing was recognised as potentially making a paper more accessible to wider audiences such as undergraduates, science writers, politicians and the public.

However, this call for style and beauty appears to have faced quite a lot of resistance. Indeed, scientific dissemination starts with writing and ends with reading; understanding too stylish English may in turn represent a challenge for non-native speakers of English and therefore it may hamper the primary goal of scientific writing.

“In scientific writing, pleasure for the reader tends to come from small things: playful touches, deft turns of phrase, whimsical allusions, and sparkling metaphors that ornament the text but don’t dominate it”, says Heard (2014).

Isn’t it that reading a good scientific article written with clarity is fascinating enough to make a scientist happy? This is probably an issue closely related to native or non-native English speaking – native speakers would appreciate beautiful language more than non-native speakers. Or is it necessary to admit that in addition to Einstein’s, we need writing genes from Shakespeare as well?

Dubrin and Kellog, 2012. Mol Biol Cell. 23(8): 1399. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E12-02-0108

Heard, 2014. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution 7: 64–72. doi:10.4033/iee.2014.7.14.f.

Woolston 2015. Nature 517, 531(29 January 2015) doi:10.1038/517531f.

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