Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Writing Style

Researchers do a lot of writing as part of their work. For example, the time a Computer Science researcher spends on writing is almost equal to the time he/she spends watching YouTube videos.

However, researchers have a different writing style from the other professionals who publish regularly. Let me explain:

1. They give long titles to their work, and believe that "{Catchy Phrase}{colon}{Lengthy Boring Phrase}" is the best format for a nice title. For example, a researcher would rephrase the title "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" with "PotStone: a Study on Harry Potter's Experiences Related to the Sorcerer's Rock Specimen."

2. They use passive voice to write most, if not all, of the sentences.

3. When they write in active voice, "We" is used even if there is only one author to a research article. So, if a researcher writes "We sat on the toilet seat," that doesn't mean he has Schizophrenia. It's just the way of writing.

4. They write very long sentences. The longest I have read so far had 52 words. I am a junior researcher, so I guess I will be able to see longer ones in years to come.

5. They use rarely-used, difficult words to describe even the simple things. An example from a paper that I read is:

"It is assumed that the motion of the object follows first order Newtonian dynamics"

Meaning: the object moves along a straight line without changing speed.

6. Their articles start with an "Abstract", which most readers fail to go beyond without a yawn:



A collection of supernatural activities performed by Harry Potter, a wizard-candidate at Hogwartz Institute of Low Probability Phenomena Technology[1] who also seeks a relationship with a female colleague named Hermione, is presented. The candidate...."


Because of this writing style, reading a research article requires a real lot of attention, and some times a few cups of coffee. This also explains why graduate student can fall asleep so easily. They read a real lot of research papers. Some researchers even argue that it is alright for research articles to be boring. I am not sure if they are sponsored by coffee traders.

Just one more thing before I finish. I am a researcher too, but I will follow only one of the above traditions. From the next post, I will write "we" instead of "I".

If you are still awake, it's time for coffee now :o)


  1. Just an update: I read (okay, made it to the end) a 119-word sentence in a research paper. This betters (should I say worsens) my previous record of 52 by a huge margin!