Write It Up
Paul J. Silvia
We want our research to have impact. Practicing exceptional science helps achieve that goal, but only if we write it as exciting, readable, citable journal papers. Write it Up helps us succeed in that writing process.
Write it Up gives researchers advice to help us turn our scientific output into quality journal articles. It is, more-or-less, a collection of Paul J. Silvia’s journal writing advice. That advice, animated by Silvia’s humor, forms a loose working structure that guides the reader step-by-step through a somewhat linear process.
Silvia covers the expected topics: how to write, for example, a journal article’s Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion. Each of these chapters balances motivation, context, and practical advice. What is the purpose of each section? What writing tactics achieve that purpose? What additional guidance can improve the quality?
Unexpectedly, we find fresh hints on writing style, the revision process, writing a good title. The advice merges into a helpful book that will improve your journal writing skill and increase your scientific work’s impact.
I found this book a mixture of good and bad advice. Maybe because I don’t work in the author’s field of psychology, or maybe because Silvia primarily defers to his personal wisdom, which, like each of our wisdom, has its weaknesses.
The bad advice, fortunately, won’t lead you far astray: two of the worst examples have minimal consequences:
For Results, Silvia supports the unrestrained use of Figures and Tables. Saramäki’s How to Write a Scientific Paper in contrast would argue for the fewest Figures and Tables needed to communicate your central point. Any excess distracts to the reader and loosens your story’s central arc.
For Discussion, Silvia suggests following the herd’s advice on outline structure—poor justification since the same herd’s average journal paper suffers from poor quality. He supports, for example, ending the discussion with Limitations. This structure, according to Schimel’s Writing Science, deflates your story. You should end rather on a high note that reconnects your results with the broader impact in your Introduction.
Enough criticism. Silvia’s limited bad advice is outweighed by his helpful instruction, which spans from commonplace to uniquely insightful. The chapters on Methods and Revision are particularly potent, giving us encouraging context and tactics to handle those difficult writing tasks. Write it Up will improve your journal writing skill. Read it—just not exclusively.
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