Embrace kindergarten level

I had an interesting conversation this afternoon about how it sometimes feels like you’re writing an absolute abomination of a scientific paper, especially after you’ve been at it for a while. This is often how things develop in your head when you work on them a lot, and especially if you think about processes long enough. The longer you think, the simpler your story will feel to you (!), until at some point it reaches the level where it seems like Kindergarten level crap. A person I admire a lot in the scientific sense once told me: your paper is getting ready to submit when the story feels so simple to you, a child could have (seemingly) written it. I think they were totally right.

As scientists, we tend to work on complex stuff, and in my view it’s our challenge and goal to synthesize the complex stuff, and mold it into a simple, bite-sized story. The best papers, in my view, are those where the title already tells the story, the abstract has all details you need, and the rest of the paper is only there for the truest of nerds. (I am not sure if my own papers all meet those criteria; I have a lot to improve.) If you ask me, a paper is truly awesome if you can explain its essence in two or three sentences, and if it has one overwhelmingly clear figure. And yet, there’s this tendency in science to present complex stuff in countless complex graphs, and using an even more complex lingo. I’m gonna be honest here. Quite often I have no clue what authors are on about in their papers. Some have the tendency to explain things in difficult words that add little value to the paper. (Full disclosure: I was accused of this myself recently by a collaborator, which may have made me even more aware of it.) I wonder if this is to make them sound smarter, or whether they really think in expensive words. (In my case it felt like more words were needed to make a methods section reproducible, but I had clearly overdone it.)

I always say: if your paper is not clear for a medium-smart scientist like me, you’ll probably lose half your readership, because they can’t follow the point you’re trying to make. So if your manuscript starts feeling like a kindergarten manuscript, accept it as a good thing. Don’t ‘beef it up’ by making it more complex than it needs to be.

Can we just keep things simple? Life is difficult enough as it is already.

Thanks 🙏

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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