Saturday, September 22, 2012

They call it a defense for a reason

In a turn of what can only be called irony, I have conditionally passed my PhD defense. They said my talk was fantastic. They told me that the science is great. They said that my understanding of the subject is sufficient. Then they said my writing was really pathetic.

As it turns out, in science writing there is an epidemic of terrible writing (don't believe me? I could give you some links to cure insomnia). This might be a philosophical issue, but I think the root of the problem is the washing away of all active verbs. The problem with active verbs is that someone has to do them. The scientist analyzed data; the researchers collected samples; the rocks formed in an acidic environment.

Now, those first two examples are almost okay, but use something that direct in a science paper and watch the fireworks. The third one? That will make peoples heads explode.

Instead of all this responsibility taking language I've been laboriously trying to craft (you know, from writing novels and stuff), I'm supposed to cleanse my work of active everything.

What I'd like to write:

CAIs altered on the parent body.

What they want me to write:

CAIs were altered on the parent body.

What I want to write:

We analyzed the data.

What they want:

Data were analyzed.

There were other problems too (some I even agree with), but I thought you writers might get a kick out of the difference between academic writing and fictional writing. And for me, it's back to a mountain of revisions. Man I hope this works.


  1. I could go on and on about this topic... If you want to write "academic," take a fascinating subject and throw a bunch of prepositions and be verbs at it until it's truly yawn-inducing. Why do they do that?

    1. Because it is not our fear of failure that holds us back. It is their fear that they are powerful beyond measure. That's why they water down all their work until it is completely without form.

      That and they are trying to represent everything as an unarguable fact, and that's how it's been done in the past.

  2. That's kind of funny. :) Congratulations on passing! Now just get to work making that thing as boring as possible! ;)

  3. Wow -- I'd do great with science writing since I'm the passive queen. Unfortunately, I'm not the science queen. :( Congrats.

  4. So interesting! Congrats on passing, and good luck making everything as formal as possible!! :-p

  5. seriously! so you have to be fluent in another language as well? sciencese? ha!! congrats! you have been congratulated =)


I love comments! Let me know what's on your mind.