I came into the world of scientific research because of two things: 1) I like science and 2) I like writing. Some teacher in high school suggested I should consider doing scientific research instead of going the pre-med route as I had intended, and somewhere down the line I decided that it would be a good idea. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that scientific writing and English/creative writing were so different that it is hard to draw a good comparison between the two.
Let me say that I was a chemistry major in undergraduate, and that creative writing was a strong interest on the side (so I picked up a minor in it), and that it was an experience to be that student who liked science in an advanced English course and vice versa. But as I progressed toward my degree, I began to wonder why those areas of study were so frequently mutually exclusive. Even now, I find that so many people in science will shamelessly speak the words, “I do science because I hate writing.” But then, isn’t part of advancing scientific research the goal of communicating your findings for the betterment of the general public? And so then why do we a) not emphasize the development of skills pertaining to putting our research into the proper rhetoric and b) exclude the general public from understanding our findings by not only limiting access to our publications, but also by using scientific vernacular that cannot be understood by the lay?
I do ultimately like scientific writing, but I do think that many scientists use the words “it’s important to tell a complete story” and then frequently don’t. And I don’t mean to sound snobbish here, since I know first-hand that it’s really hard to tell a complete scientific story, and I still struggle with it to this day. But I think the same train of thought—where do I begin (read: background), what events develop (methods), what characters (materials) play a part in my story, and how does it end (conclusion)—still apply. If we use workshops in creative writing to improve our stories on each of these points, could we use workshops in scientific writing to improve our scientific stories as well? I’d love to discuss my scientific writing with hopes of improving it.
Anyway, I guess I’ll end this entry by referring back to the quote in the title—“The medium is the message” by Marshall McLuhan. If writing is our medium, our message needs to emphasize the importance and validity of our experimental pursuits. And if the author can’t convey this meaning through his or her writing, how does one convince their reader to accept the findings presented within?
About the Author
Hong Tran, Ph.D. Student, Chemical Biology
Published in: Student Voices