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Workshop: I’m a scientist, not a writer!

Asking whether writing style changes the impact of research in the natural sciences
2 December 2020




The measure of science is citations. Whether experimental results get called significant or whether new lines of research get taken up depends on the number of citations an article receives. And it’s always articles. The primary outlet of scientific research is the journal, and a journal’s Impact Factor (its index for frequency of article citation) is for the submitter of a manuscript a stand-in for that journal’s name.

Presumably all citations are citations of the science reported in articles, but what if there is more? It pays to know, because the Impact Factor decides more than just the standing of journals and the advance of science, the Impact Factor can decide people’s careers. The dictum “Publish or perish!” is directed at junior scientists, funding applicants, and research project managers, whose personal successes or failures may hang in the citational balance.

Our workshop I’m a scientist, not a writer! wants to know whether writing style impacts the Impact Factor. How truthful is the claim that the better the writing, the wider the recognition granted a research article? Contributors to the workshop suggest the hypothesis that this claim is much truer than is currently recognized. When an article presents a clear and straightforward read and when the writing style draws readers’ attentions, then that article is likelier to be cited than an article lacking precisely these variables, and this holds, our contributors argue, even after controlling for both significance of findings and soundness of methods.

Here are the contributors to our workshop I’m a scientist, not a writer!

Kathryn Cochran (Writing Program, University of Chicago)

Simon DeDeo (Social Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University; Santa Fe Institute)

Frauke Gräter (Biophysics, Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies / Heidelberg University)

Ken Hyland (Applied Linguistics, University of East Anglia)

Vera Nünning (English Philology, Heidelberg University) – Organizer

Dan Oppenheimer (Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University)

Daniel Shea (Writing Program, Heidelberg University)

Michael Strube (Computational Linguistics, Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies)

I’m a scientist, not a writer! invites scientists and all academics, writing specialists and the interested public to an informed discussion about the impact of writing style on the broader success of research articles.

The Workshop will take place online, 2nd December 2020. You can find the program including the abstracts here.

If you want to participate, write an email to Aurora Natella (aurora.natella@h-its.org); we’ll then send you the program and the link for participating in the discussion.


10.30 – 10.45 Frauke Gräter: Introduction
10.45 – 11.15 Vera Nünning: “On the Importance of Style for the Communication of Scientific Research”
11.15 – 11.30 Coffee Break
11.30 – 12.00 Michael Strube: “Re(de)fining Readability: A Quantitative Approach”
12.00 – 13.00 Daniel Shea: “Edit Your Doctoral Thesis”
13.00 – 14.00 Lunch Break
14.00 – 14.45 Ken Hyland: “Writing Is Researching, Not Something We Do When It’s Finished”
14.45 – 15.00 Coffee Break
15.00 – 15.45 Danny Oppenheimer: “Contagious Academic Writing: Lessons From Viral Media, Urban Legends, and the Marketplace of Ideas”
15.45 – 16.30 Kathryn Cochran: “Writing, Readers, and the Functions of Text: The Link between Analysis and Revision”
16.30 – 16.45 Final Discussion

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