A Primer To Understanding Scientific Papers

I would like to say I have never used any of these statements in my papers but…

Statement Really means
It has long been known… I haven't bothered to look up the reference.
It is thought that… I think so.
It is generally thought that… A couple of other people think so, too.
It is not unreasonable to assume… If you believe this, you'll believe anything.
Of great theoretical importance… I find it interesting.
Of great practical importance… I can get some good mileage out of it.
Typical results are shown. The best results are shown.
Three samples were chosen for further study. The others didn't make sense, so we ignored them.
The second sample was not used. I dropped it on the floor.
Results obtained with the second sample must be interpreted with caution. I dropped it on the floor but managed to scoop most of it up.
Correct within an order of magnitude. Incorrect.
Much additional work will be required. This paper isn't very good, but neither is anyone else's.
These investigations yielded highly rewarding results. My grant will be renewed.
This research was supported by a grant from… I wonder if the taxpayers know they're paying for this?
A line of best fit was drawn using least-squares regression. I drew it by hand.
A non-linear relationship was found. I drew it by hand and I didn't use a ruler.
Stringent controls were implemented. My advisor was watching.
I thank X for assistance with the experiments and Y for useful discussions on the interpretation of the data. X did the experiment and Y explained it to me.
Dr. M (1629 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





6 comments on “A Primer To Understanding Scientific Papers
  1. The original source is:

    A glossary for research reports From Metal Progress 71, 75 (1957)
    C D GRAHAM, JR. You can read it here.

    It was reprinted in “A Random Walk in Science”, a 1973 collection of humorous science writing by RL Weber and E. Mendoza, and from there has made its way around the world, changing a bit each time. I’ve used comparison of different versions as an example of the different kinds of mutations that can arise (insertions, deletions, substitutions…).

  2. This just floated through my lab last week! I use this as an interpretation guide when I am critiquing manuscripts! :)

  3. My mother being a researcher, it sure reminds me a lot of the stories she told me! Like: “oh, why is there Magnesium in the analysis?” “… eeeer…. I think we’ve dropped chocolate on the sample…”

  4. My favorite is missing from this particular version.

    “Samples were treated with extreme care” = NOT dropped on the floor.

  5. I’ve always liked “Accidentally strained during mounting” as yet another euphemism for “Dropped on the floor”.

  6. STATEMENT: Equipment crucial to our experiments is not available,and important experiments must be delayed until the equipment can be obtained.

    REALLY MEANS: We can’t find the 50-ml beakers.

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