Academic writing and how not to start a paper: Episode 2

Nobody gives a shit about medical terminology. Rethink your opening sentence.

This post is part of an occasional series on writing about academic research. Writing about writing about academic research on my blog allows me to avoid writing my book about writing about academic research. Techniques that other authors have used to avoid actually working on what they’re supposed to be working on include doing the laundry, abusing alcohol, and committing suicide. Personally, I think that writing about academic research on my blog is more adaptive than those techniques.  Well, obviously it’s not more adaptive than doing the laundry…

Introduction

Medical terminology is one of the best-studied aspects of the English language. This is important because… But, the complicated structure of its words makes it difficult to translate into other languages.  This is a problem because… To address this issue of decomposition, this paper describes a simple parser for biomedical terminology. This would allow…

To: Zipf

Subject: Comments on draft 

Zipf, nobody gives a shit about medical terminology. Rethink your opening sentence.

Introduction

When the first author’s grandmother had to visit her doctor–an increasingly common occurrence as she grew older–she understood more or less nothing that she was told.  But, she would take careful notes–and then call the first author to find out what it all meant. 

What was the problem here?  The first author’s grandmother was not an educated woman, but she was no dummy–a quick-witted and articulate woman who loved jokes of considerable linguistic sophistication. The issue here was not the first author’s grandmother.  Rather, it was the language used by her doctor–specifically, the highly specialized vocabulary of medicine. The first author was a medic in the military, and subsequently was awarded a doctoral degree in linguistics, writing a dissertation on biomedical language. He has no problem understanding medical terminology. But, for a normal person, the language with which their physician communicates with them can be every bit as much of an obstacle to their treatment as the rationing of care that characterizes the American health care system.

Medical terminology is one of the best-studied aspects of the English language. This is important because… But, the complicated structure of its words makes it difficult to translate into other languages.  This is a problem because… To address this issue of decomposition, this paper describes a simple parser for biomedical terminology. This would allow…

To: Zipf

Subject: Comments on draft

I wish I’d known your grandmother.

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 14.42.05
The oldest paper on medical terminology in PubMed/MEDLINE, the National Library of Medicine’s database of 27 million scientific publications. The piece was published in 1911–well over a hundred years ago as I write this–and the problems that it raises still have not been solved.  No author is listed.

For more Zipfian ravings on the topic of writing about academic research, see here. Or, buy my book.  Oh, wait–I’m writing this blog instead of working on the book… Damn it…

 

 

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