Finding Common Mistakes in “Common Mistakes”

The article “How to avoid common mistakes in science writing” serves as an aid for scientists publishing their work. It’s a quick checklist of dos and don’ts in order to complete a successful written scientific piece.

The format of the article was a list- an easy, legible way for readers to quickly skim through a piece. I found the format appropriate for the content.

Though this article brings up many points that seem helpful at first glance, the author tends to make largely assumptive statements. It feels more opinion driven than anything else without much to back it up. With proclamations such as “take a good night’s sleep after writing your first draft” or “a fresh pair of eyes will catch those (mistakes),” the content lacks insight and feels offhandedly produced.

I had a few questions while reading this article. Mainly, does the overall informal voice of this journalist help or distract from the content? Where is this content coming from?Personal experience? How could this author add more legitimacy to this piece?

Additionally, who is the target audience, specifically? Science bloggers? Researchers? What kind of work is this information best tailored for? Please comment your thoughts on the professionalism and legitimacy of this article. 

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5 Responses to “Finding Common Mistakes in “Common Mistakes””

  1. This article will be extremely helpful for any science writing that I do in the future! I agree that the format is fitting for the content of the article, since it provides an easy list of the “do’s” and “don’ts” of science writing.

    While there isn’t much hard evidence to back up the author’s advice for avoiding common mistakes that many make when writing for science, I don’t think this detracts from the content. The author, Akshat Rathi, is the science and data editor of “The Conversation UK” and it seems that he has a lot of practice in science writing. In this way, his credentials help to legitimate his suggestions. Although some of the tips may come from personal experience, he explains the reasoning for each of his tips in detail to back up his advice. While some readers may disagree with parts of Akshat’s advice, most of it seems like reasonable suggestions.

  2. I actually found this article very helpful and well organized. It was a quick and easy read, and got right to the point. The target audience appears to be journalists or bloggers writing about scientific studies and scientific news. Given this audience, I think the structure of the article is appropriate. It’s meant to be a quick guide for writers, so the brevity of the piece and the short recap of Do’s and Don’t’s at the end of the piece make the “meat” of the article easily accessible for journalists who read countless articles every day. I think the informal voice of the article also makes the article effective. It makes the article very easy to read and it makes it easy for the reader to comprehend the information.

    Finally, I agree with Jenny that the author’s credentials and experience make him a legitimate source. To back up his experience, the author could have linked to specific scientific articles to illustrate his points. For example, when explaining an effective vs. ineffective use of metaphors, the author could have linked to articles demonstrating a good and bad use of metaphors. Overall though, I trusted his opinions and suggestions.

  3. I did really enjoy this article, and agree with the other commenters that it’s really helpful and this list format actually benefits it massively – any other format would likely have been an arduous read.

    I also enjoyed the informal tone, it makes the article almost feel like a friendly conversation, and as the reporter talks about, it doesn’t feel condescending in any way at all. I think although some of the points may seem trivial, they are quite valid, and this is a list that is talking about the basics of science writing. It may seem obvious to take a step away and sleep on it, but to some people in a time of pressure these basic points might be useful.

    I enjoyed how the points made were questions and not just “make sure you do this”, as I think this made it more insightful and a better learning experience, as it had you thinking about whether or not you had done it.

  4. Like the other commenters, I felt like the informal attitude of the piece was the best way to communicate about a topic that is most of them time very formal. The simple list format was very effective for relaying the author’s message and I felt like I mostly agreed with the points. It seemed like the author was trying to discuss common mistakes in science writing that influence the reader’s perspective of the article or journal. However, I do agree that there was no clear audience. From what it seems it could be written for journalists who are covering science publications. However if this was intended for journalists, the choice of publication is a bit peculiar.

    I also thought that while the author was encouraging other writers to be thorough and not to generalize, he was not taking the advice himself. As a reader, there was no way to tell if he was a credible source besides if you saw at the end that he was an science writer for The Guardian. A larger introduction could have made the reader feel like they could trust the source from the beginning.

  5. I think that the informal tone and easy to follow check list format and bullet points aided the writer in starting a conversation about science writing. The checklist format could even possibly make it easier to remember the points later on.

    I would assume that the main target audience is journalists covering science. While reading it, I realized I should be more conscience of these things while reading articles about science. So, I think that the audience could be extended to generally people reading journalism covering science. People could use these tips to validate what they are reading as over exaggerations and factual errors in journalism are common.

    I would agree with the other commenters that he could have brought more legitimacy into his own writing by giving specific examples of poor journalism. I also judged his own credibility until his credentials at the end of the piece. Overall, it was a fun yet informative article that brought out important things to keep in mind while writing about science.

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