Top 10 tips for writing boring papers

Our good friend Nando Boero, to whom thanks are due for introducing us to Ray Troll, has evaluated another paper. This one is four years old and hidden away in Oikos, and has the intriguing title How to write consistently boring scientific literature1.

Kaj Sand-Jensen of the University of Copenhagen has ten key tips for writing boring scientific literature:

  • Avoid focus
  • Avoid originality and personality
  • Write l o n g contributions
  • Remove implications and speculations
  • Leave out illustrations
  • Omit necessary steps of reasoning
  • Use many abbreviations and terms
  • Suppress humor and flowery language
  • Degrade biology to statistics
  • Quote numerous papers for trivial statements

Nando gets all philosophical in his evaluation, waxing lyrical on Frank Zappa, chemistry and fun (three terms I never thought I’d ever concatenate), with the provocative conclusion,

And then we end up with economic catastrophes and in societies made by sick old people who refuse to die. Science can do wonders, but it needs some more humor, and art, and beauty.

Compare that with Kent Berridge‘s 2007 evaluation of the same paper, which in its entirety reads

A charming paper that lays out a simple set of easy-to-follow rules for the scientist who aspires to write boring papers.

Now anyone can do it (or not — as you choose)!

User discretion advised.

Two very different evaluations, but neither of them boring. Why can’t all scientific literature be like this?

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Filed under Editor's Choice, Literature at Large.


  1. Dr J Mehrishi, PhD, FRCPath says:

    How many have (i) known about

    Jim Watson’s book, entitled,

    “Avoid BORING People”- boring as a verb or an ADJECTIVE-

    (ii) read it, (iii) started reading and stopped half way-

    I HAD BEEN reading the to he point -describing this book borrowed* from my University library ( until one day he poked his head through the always open door of Perutz’s office at the Cavendish Labs ( I was in the next bld) and without preliminaries, asked ” Can I come and work here?” and that was that.
    I have not been able to resume reading it because I had been called away to Cologne for a seminar and I got an e-mail from the library that some one had recalled it and according to the rules, I had to return it at once!
    I do not know who the person recalling it was!

    Jim was asked once about it- to make the readers curious, I suggest looking up the INTERNET.

  2. Ed Rybicki says:

    I recall hearing someone tell a story about how he and friends used to compete to get the most obscure English words or phrases into their papers – on immunology, as it happens. He won with “eclectic gallimaufry”. I Googled it: he really did…B-)

    I think I’m daring saying “I”.

  3. Actually, I’m now reminded of a colleague/friend downunder who squeezed “molecular merkin” into a manuscript. doi: 10.2174/138955707779802561 if you want to check it out yourself.

  4. Richard Patrock says:

    Did it go like this:

    I used to wear a merkin
    whenever I ate a gerkin
    it was always a thrill
    to gorge on a small dill
    or to squeeze it molecular thin

  5. vishal kalel says:

    apart from scientific papers, organisms are also known to be boring… albeit in a contradistinct sense..! doi:10.1016/j.tim.2007.12.007

  6. Pingback: On writing papers | Confessions of a (former) Lab Rat

  7. I am most inspired by the 9th point-“Degrade biology to statistics”. Nowadays using a lot of incomprehensible statistics has become a fashion with authors and is seen in some high profile journals also. Of course most scientists loose interest in such papers.

  8. nando boero says:

    Well, folks, nothing can beat this:
    The name of the third author is Stronzo Bestiale. Stronzo, in current italian, means “piece of s…t”, and bestiale literally means “coming from a beast” or “beastly”. The name is obviously fake. The article is probably serious, but I am not knowledgeable enough to understand the statistical density of the Journal of Statistical Physics.

  9. Por Que says:

    When I was in grad school and was laboring over my first research report, my advisor wisely told me “Take normal writing, what you have been taught in English classes for your entire life, and beat the life out of it – then you have scientific writing”. Too true.