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dfishervan's picture

Reading Scientific and Non-Scientific Literature as Non-Linear

I found your appreciation of scientific literature refreshing. It encouraged me to reflect on the traditional problems people tend to have with scientific writing, some of which have been highlighted above. First, I started re-thinking about ways that these issues can be remedied. Personally, I believe that people training to become scientists need more experience presenting to people of non-science disciplines and curriculums need to incorporate more projects like the recent psych presentation skindeep had to prepare. I then began thinking about the contents of my recent webpaper on reading mediums. In researching for my webpaper, one article mentioned that people view audio books as a lazy, easy way to read except when you consider scientific papers. Reading fiction is a linear process whereas reading a scientific paper is much more fragmented and non-linear. For that reason, it is extremely difficult to "read" a scientific paper via an audio book since the audio book seems to be more catered towards a linear read. As a bit of a visual learner, I agree that it is much easier to follow a scientific article when I have a tangible copy in front of me where I can make little notes in the margin and easily reference back to a previous section as opposed to an audio presentation of the article at a seminar. While I have previously thought about the differences between scientific writing and other forms of literature, I never thought the differences would impact my choice of reading medium.

It was at this point that I begun to think more about scientific literature as a non-linear source. Most non-scientists complain that it is more difficult to read a scientific article because they're not familiar with the terminology and to make any sense of the article, they have to frequently pause and look up terms and concepts. They contrast this experience with reading fiction which for the most part, they believe anyone can pick up a book and read it straight through. Maybe this assumption about fiction is incorrect. It is true that even though I have no background in English, I can still read through "The Canterbury Tales." Yet, as I do so, I am missing a lot of things which English majors would pick up on since I am not familiar with the intricate tools authors employ while writing. Authors of fiction use complex literary devices and motifs in the same way scientists splice complex scientific jargon and procedures into their articles but, their complex devices are much more subtle. Just because literary jargon is less noticeable, does that mean it is any less necessary for the understanding of the text? Perhaps the subtlety of literary jargon actually makes fiction harder to understand than a scientific article where the terms and concepts we don't comprehend jump out at as and demand that we look them up? Maybe we should try to read fiction in a non-linear fashion?

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