When I was in grad school, at first I thought everything was brand spanking new and going to change the world. That quickly changed as I realized that the research was cool and beneficial but 99.9% of it won't have any direct clinical impact. For the stuff that isn't basic science it's still so far cutting edge that the impact is unrealized. In industry, my work has changed the medical device world with tons of direct impact. Well, maybe not the world, but 10's of thousand's of peoples' lives. But it's not really brand spanking new besides a few things. But I have to keep these things on the D.L. to keep other companies from utilizing it. A lot of the ideas in the papers I've read have been thought of before. I've only read one article that I was amazed by, but it was written so poorly it nearly got completely rejected. I reviewed this paper this week and it reminded me about how awesome writing is.
It's a great way to organize your thoughts. Throw some pictures and diagrams in a great document and you've just won yourself a multimillion dollar grant. Or look back at your old writing and discover how much better you've become. Or discover how you've changed as a person and scientist. But you don't necessarily need good writing for nonprofessional writing (ahem...this blog).
I love technical writing because it's the culmination of a lot of hard work. Through the planning, organizing, reporting, and discussing results, it's a lot of fun to pull everything together and let the world know what's going on. In order to do this, the language of most prevalence is English. While my English isn't the best I'm pretty decent at disseminating my work. This paper I'm reviewing is reminding me that if you want to do science you should either learn great English writing or work and publish in an area where you don't need good English. With this paper I'm reading it's just such a shame that the PI approved submitting this paper without reworking the writing and figures. I'm going to try and push this into major revs (so it's not killed) because it's great work. It's just very tough since the writing and figs are sub-par. As a big fan of writing, it just kills me to see work like this that's been approved by a PI. If this person tried to submit this crap to the FDA he would be heavily punished for it. The PI is doing the grad student that wrote this a disservice by not pushing the student to learn better writing skills. Some people will probably say, "students won't listen, are incapable, don't have time, etc". To that, I was a mediocre writer when I entered grad school. My former advisor wouldn't let me submit anything for publication until he says it was acceptable. This improved my writing dramatically. At first it took forever (months of constant rewrites) to submit pubs. Holding off publication (and therefore graduation) is one of the few things PIs can use to control the students. And it's for good reason: learning to disseminate information is part of the scientific process, so this needs to be learned.
Again, this is probably just my naïveté. But my advisor was just as busy as the rest and had time to teach me writing. I teach entry level scientists and engineers better writing. Why can't the corresponding author on this paper teach good writing? Or at least not let this garbage get submitted.