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Gary Bortolotti, Biology Faculty

Great Writing

What is the difference between a good writer and a great writer?

You're trying to sell something, and whether you're really selling a car or whether you're selling your scientific work or your scholarly work in any discipline, you really are selling it to an audience and that audience is often very skeptical, is very demanding, so you have to write well, first of all, to get your point across, but you have to write convincingly. That's another aspect of writing well is writing in a convincing manner. You see some papers written for, or published rather, in very high-rank journals, really big journals, and sometimes I think they got there not because the quality of the work was so much better than everyone else's, but they could write really well and convincingly, and they sold that paper. I think a lot of people underwrite their work, and they don't convince the reader that this is important, or why it's important. They just sort of say, "Yep, here it is; here are the facts." Okay, but most readers aren't as knowledgeable about the field as the writer is, so they may not appreciate the breadth of the contribution. So, you have to really go out there and say, "This is it." The other thing is, just writing really well, where you...if a paper is really easy to read, then you're just going through and you're reading, you're not stopping going, "What are they talking about? Did they really do that?" If everything is lined out really perfectly so it's just a joy to read and that's going to be successful.