On whimsy, jokes, and beauty: can scientific writing be enjoyed?

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Stephen B. Heard


While scientists are often exhorted to write better, it isn’t entirely obvious what “better” means. It’s uncontroversial that good scientific writing is clear, with the reader’s understanding as effortless as possible. Unsettled, and largely undiscussed, is the question of whether our goal of clarity precludes us from making our writing enjoyable by incorporating touches of whimsy, humanity, humour, and beauty. I offer examples of scientific writing that offers pleasure, drawing from ecology and evolution and from other natural sciences, and I argue that enjoyable writing can help recruit readers to a paper and retain them as they read. I document resistance to this idea in the scientific community, and consider the objections (well grounded and not) that may lie behind this resistance. I close by recommending that we include touches of whimsy and beauty in our own writing, and also that we work to encourage such touches in the writing of others.

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How to Cite
HEARD, Stephen B.. On whimsy, jokes, and beauty: can scientific writing be enjoyed?. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution, [S.l.], v. 7, n. 1, sep. 2014. ISSN 1918-3178. Available at: <https://ojs.library.queensu.ca/index.php/IEE/article/view/5310>. Date accessed: 19 oct. 2017.
writing; humour; beauty
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