A while back I argued that we’ll never get rid of salesmanship in science, and wouldn’t want to. But there are more and less effective ways of “selling” your work (i.e. conveying to others why it’s interesting or important).
Here’s perhaps the worst way to “sell” your work: just asserting how great it is. This is totally ineffective. If your work is great, telling the reader that it’s great is superfluous. If your work isn’t great, telling the reader it is won’t convince the reader otherwise. As the old adage goes, show don’t tell. And don’t just take my word for it, take NSF’s (see tip #3).
Indeed, merely asserting how great your work is is actually worse than ineffective. It turns readers against you, and rightly so. It’s the reader’s place to decide if your work is great, not yours. So if you assert your work is great, it comes off as you trying to usurp the reader.
Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid simply asserting that your work is great. Never use any of the following words to describe your own work or proposed work:
- (You get the idea)
Note that there are some adjectives that you can use to describe your work. For instance, describing a result as “surprising” or “unexpected” is probably ok, so long as you explain why (e.g., “Current theory predicts X. Surprisingly, I found not-X.”) Much of science is about testing whether our expectations are correct. So using words that highlight mismatches between expectations and outcomes is usually ok. (Unless of course, your expectations were a straw man, and your “unexpected” result actually should’ve been expected all along.) Just don’t go overboard. Calling an unexpected result “utterly unexpected” is overegging the pudding and will rightly annoy readers.
Note as well that your authorial intent is irrelevant. Readers can only read your words, not your mind. Perhaps in describing your results as “fascinating”, you only meant to jazz up your writing a bit. If so, sorry, but that’s not how you came across to readers.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use any form of “salesmanship” in your papers at all. As I discussed in that old post I linked to at the beginning, “salesmanship” is a broad term that covers all sorts of practices, many of which are perfectly legitimate and welcomed by readers. For instance, using a vivid metaphor or analogy like “hydra effect“. Or structuring your paper using the “baby-werewolf-silver bullet-dead werewolf” structure. Many other examples of appropriate salesmanship could be given. The appropriateness of many of which is illustrated by the fact that you probably don’t think of them as “salesmanship” at all!