Recommended Books for Scientific Writing

If a researcher conducts an experiment
but fails to publish the results,
was research done at all?

An important part of scientific research is communication, e.g., publishing the results. And this is hard. I’m not talking about dealing with hurtful reviews or the joys of presenting a paper at a conference (these are topics for later blog entries), I’m talking about the writing of a scientific paper itself.

As many people struggle with scientific writing, there are some good books out there — below are my favorite books on this topic.

Silvia, P. J. (2007). How to Write a Lot.

If you think you have good reasons for not writing, if you wait for that special amount of time during the semester holidays or for the day you get a better computer, read this book. Silvia does wonders in dispelling myths about writing. If you want to write you need to schedule time and you need to defend this time — not much else. Read the book for more information, it is very well written and a joy to read.

Get the book on Amazon.

Alley, M. (1996). The Craft of Scientific Writing.

While this book is written for publication in more technical subjects than psychology, it’s suggestions can be used in psychology as well. What I especially like about this book is that it regards writing as a craft and not as creative work. Might sound like a contradiction (“Why the hell is it on this website if it’s not creative work?”) but it actually makes sense. The creative part (in the sense of needing good ideas) comes earlier in the research — but the writing of the results itself is a simple craft. You have already decided what to do and how and why, now you only need to communicate the what and how and why — and the results and interpretation — as clearly as possible. It is also very helpful in the sense that it shows the main aspects of good scientific writing: Scientific writing is clear, precise, forthright, concise, fluid, and familiar. What this exactly means and how to achieve this — read the book 🙂

Get the book on Amazon.

Bem, D. J. (2003). Writing the Empirical Journal Article.

As the title says Bem focuses on writing a journal article. He argues convincingly that one should tell a story, describes the general form of an article (an hourglass) and gives many very helpful hints for good style and even dealing with revision requests. An immensely helpful text for publishing in psychological journals.

Get the PDF-file. [Update: apparently no longer online]

I think the two books cover most of the angles of scientific writing in general (Silvia in what ones needs to sit down and write and Alley regarding the technical quality of writing), while Bem’s text covers writing in psychology in particular.

If you have read good books about the topic (or articles, weblogs, etc.), write a comment. 🙂

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