Inspired by a discussion I saw elsewhere*: what overused, vague, or otherwise unhelpful phrases would you like to ban from ecology papers? Ok, maybe not ban. But phrases that you encounter far too often, that usually could be dropped or replaced to the betterment of the paper.
I’ve already talked about mine: starting a paper with a statement like “Many ecologists have long been interested in [topic]” or “[Topic] is of wide interest in ecology”. Your paper should be about ecology, not ecologists. Tell the reader why your topic is interesting, not that other ecologists think it’s interesting.
I can’t find the link now, but here’s another that I first saw pointed out by Andrew Gelman: references to the “small but growing body of evidence” for some claim. It’s obvious why we’d care about the amount/nature/quality/severity of the evidence for X. But why on earth should anyone care that the evidence is growing? Why is the first derivative of any interest? I think the answer is “it’s not”. It’s just an empty rhetorical device, encouraging the reader to make an unwarranted extrapolation regarding the eventual size that body of evidence will achieve in future. As illustrated by the fact that nobody ever refers to the “large but shrinking body of evidence” for any claim.**
Starting with the phrase “Ever since Darwin…” is another one, though that’s more common in talks than in papers. Here’s my old post on cliches in ecology talks.
Ok your turn: what overused, vague, or otherwise unhelpful phrases would like to ban from ecology papers?*** Looking forward to your comments, as always.
p.s. Note that I’ve used cliched, vague, and otherwise unhelpful phrases in many of my own papers. I follow templates in my own scientific writing, just like most everybody else, without always consciously realizing it. Which means that sometimes I follow bad templates. We are all sinners.
*Which I’m not linking to because people on Twitter sometimes don’t want their conversations linked to, because they think of them as private conversations that just happen to be public. I’m pretty sure that in this case the people in question wouldn’t mind a link from us, but I’m playing it safe.
**My goal in life–well, one of them–is to publish a paper including the phrase “This work subtracts from the large but shrinking body of evidence that…” 🙂
***Please don’t say “statistically significant”. I don’t want the thread to go down that road.
UPDATE: comments now closed.