Saturday, 9 June



Charles Frink, Disrupting the inheritance of poor writing habits: An alternative approach to editing and teaching writing (in the health-related sciences)


In the health-related-sciences, about 500,000 manuscripts are published each year. Unfortunately, the authors of many of these manuscripts, and many more that were rejected for publication, tend to use language to impress their peers rather than to communicate to an increasingly multidisciplinary readership. This problem has been acknowledged for decades, but journal editors continue to complain that many submissions are so poorly written that the point of the manuscript is unclear. According to Amin Bredan, scientist and journal editor, this tendency to write ‘complex, exaggerated and often pompous prose’ is transmitted by senior scientists to junior ones, leading to the inheritance of poor writing habits.

Disrupting this inheritance obviously requires attention to the linguistic aspects of clear writing, which has indeed been the emphasis of most editors and teachers of scientific writing. Despite the standard plea of journal editors for editing by a native speaker, however, the overall quality of writing in the health-related sciences remains below par.

Here I present an alternative approach that focuses first on the underlying structure of a manuscript. These are the core components of research manuscripts in the health-related sciences, such as the problem definition, hypothesis, study design, results and discussion. By presenting these components clearly – and explicitly – and linking them logically, peer reviewers can focus on the actual scientific content of a manuscript instead of struggling to find the point. This approach not only ensures that manuscripts have the ‘flow’ that journal editors want; it often makes the linguistic editing more efficient.

About the presenter

Charles FrinkCharles Frink is the owner of Frink Communications and has worked as an editor and translator for more than 30 years. He has been associated in this capacity with Wageningen UR (and its precursors) since 1992. He currently focuses on editing and teaching scientific writing in the life sciences.