Science Twitter is an incredible thing. What’s even more incredible is the rise of a new genre of science writing. I call it the Paper Thread.
Paper Threads, the new kid on the science writing block. A first-person narrative of a published, academic paper. An honest, behind-the-scenes, Director's commentary of that Piece of Work. Complete with blooper reels.
So how are Paper Threads different from just… a short summary of a paper? What makes a Good Paper Thread Good? Here are ten reasons.
(1) Good paper threads show heart.
They give us a glimpse of the emotions that motivated the paper.
We did this because I was puzzled by/I was excited about/I was frustrated with/I was angry that…..”
(2) Good paper threads show head.
They give us a more realistic picture of how scholarly reasoning works.
How should we set up the question? How can we solve this? What’s worked/failed? Ugh. But we don’t have this, can’t to that, Tom doesn’t have funding, now what?!
(3) Good paper threads show vulnerability.
They tell us about failures. Admit mistakes.
We tried this but it didn’t work. We tried that and it didn’t work. We were stuck. We had to take a break. We messed up.
(4) Good paper threads do not shy away from ignorance.
In fact, they embrace ignorance as part of the scientific process. The raw emotions behind the humbling hours (of confronting ignorance) & the exciting aha moments (of overcoming ignorance) are highly contagious.
(5) Good paper threads walk you through their winning strategy.
The path is often convoluted. But we’ll show you the way.
(6) Good paper threads give credit where credit’s due.
Often with pictures! Showing the faces behind the work!
(7) Good paper threads walk you through the study without compromising rigor.
They explain without dumbing it down. They interpret without hyperbole. At the end of the day, this is the best reaction one can get as an author:
I don’t think I 100% understood, but looks like you did amazing work.
(8) Good paper threads use #plainlanguage to present the 1st take-home message.
(9) Good paper threads use #plainlanguage to tell you what they, personally, really, actually, wholeheartedly think the implications are.
This is the 2nd take-home message. It is usually quite humbling! Not the version they write to the funders and journal editors:
(10) Finally, good paper threads include links to the original paper.
So what’s my take-home message? Interestingly, the threads that really sparked my joy fit the main theses of these two books by Stuart Firestein — science is driven by its ignorance and successful because of its failures.
In other words, Good Paper Threads display Good Science!!!!
Scientific articles, when written for expert audiences, must fit the stylistic rules of the journal and fit the internal expectations of the industry. Scientists can’t write from their heart. They can’t admit their mistakes. They can’t show emotions. They cannot not cure cancer. The papers usually look like they were written in one stroke, out of a well-structured string of thoughts. They exude the confidence of one scientific genius and his wicked smart crew.
With Paper Threads, since the paper has already been published, there is no need to hide and buff. Scientists can be their giddy, puzzled, furious, oopsy-daisy self and talk about how they put together their beast of a paper.
And THAT is why I love Good Paper Threads.
Want some examples? Check out amazingly written paper threads linked in the thread below:
And just for your reference, here’s the original Tweet that became this post!