What Grinds our Gears: Poorly constructed scientific papers

Sometimes the hardest part of research is writing it down

Bacteria on a petri dish
PHOTO: Michael Schiffer / Unsplash

By: Daniel Salcedo Rubio, Features Editor

I’m a grad student in STEM. I know — it’s my own doing, and there’s no one to blame but myself for having to read overly complicated scientific papers every week. What annoys me is not the act of reading, nor the extra mental resources I invest in understanding complex analysis, but how frequently I come across poorly constructed papers.

I’ll begin with a bit of clarification: the complexity of the analysis or methods does not equal poor construction. Unless you have some experience in that paper’s specific knowledge area, it’s likely you’re going to find some hard-to-understand terms or relatively complicated concepts here and there. By poorly constructed papers, I mean papers with three very pretty figures that are the equivalent of wedding centrepieces — pretty, but completely useless. I’m talking about papers so poorly constructed you have to re-read them time and time again because there’s no cohesion or order to them.

A little tip to my dear scientist et al.: if your “supplemental” information is so essential to the core understanding of your paper — to the point where you reference it more than the actual figures in your paper — it really isn’t supplemental at all, is it? I know fitting all your research into a single paper is hard, and it’s even harder to determine what to keep in the paper itself and what to leave as supplemental information, but some of you really need to hire an editor.

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