From a User's Prospective:Scientific Writer shares advice
Author: Alexander Carchidi
I view the challenges of science writing as twofold: building personal understanding about the scientific topic, and succinctly passing on that understanding. Trying to explain a scientific topic to the public can quickly spiral out of control due to the amount of background context that must be built from scratch.
These two core challenges assume that the author knows enough background about the scientific topic that they’re trying to write about to successfully educate someone else — but every writer and every scientist has found themselves in the position of needing to write about something they aren’t yet knowledgeable about.
The solution to not knowing enough about a scientific topic is to perform even more research. The chances of correctly understanding and then correctly describing brand new information will be sketchy without a way to organize the new information coming in. Keeping track of information, sources, and how the source was accessed rapidly becomes a major battle. Preparing a simple Word document with snippets of information drains a lot of time: each new source must be linked along with its relevant quotations, requiring an abundance of copying, pasting, and switching windows. Some of these efforts may be replicated later when actually writing.
Each flip back and forth between separate software elements is an event boundary — a psychological transition which increases the chance of losing track of what you’re doing. Many articles will require dozens of different sources to be paraphrased or quoted. Each source must be referenced correctly, leading to hours of time lost fumbling with the transfer of information. The incentive to incorporate fewer sources in order to avoid the hassle of manipulating their information is quite strong.
Using fewer sources is a surefire way to produce weak science writing, however. In my experience, many scientists and writers have resigned themselves to performing hours of tedious research documentation. It doesn’t have to be that way.
SORC’D has a few advantages over similar research tools for scientific writing. The largest advantage is simplicity and ease of use. Research is a fluid process, and disruptions break the flow of investigation, causing unfollowed leads. SORC’D allows for extremely rapid snipping which doesn’t disrupt concentration.
I frequently spy a tidbit in a paper that I want to come back to. Before SORC’D, I’d grab the hyperlink to the entire paper — even if most of it wasn’t relevant — and paste it into a document filled with other such links. Cue time to write, and of course it’s a struggle to hunt down the exact piece that was useful in the morass of tables, figures, and text. With SORC’D, this problem has become extinct — I simply grab, tag, and move on. I know it’ll be waiting for me with the link to the rest of the article too, should I need it.
The other major advantage of SORC’D is a simple (notice how I keep coming back to simple?) organization system for your data: tagging. Sure, other systems have tagging. If you’re stuck in the stone age, you can break up individual projects into separate files to avoid getting them confused — but SORC’D lets you combine the harvesting and organizing of information.
I frequently write articles about topics within immunology, and struggle to retain the contents of research that I glossed over while hunting for other information. Now, it’s tagged based off the topic. When I sit down to write about a very narrow topic within immunology, I have all my previous research at my fingertips. Information is not only more organized, but easier to process into an understanding that is broader than the needs of today.
It’s hard to overstate how much my workflow has changed with SORC’D. Now, I err on the side of capturing information wherever my research takes me. My worries of losing focus due to complicated data recording, citation, and transfer are a thing of the past.
Streamlining my research process has led to faster and deeper understanding of the material. Rather than flicking between a dozen different browser tabs or Word documents, information that I’m interested in writing about is at my fingertips. If I want to quote directly, SORC’D is integrated with Google Docs, so it’s as simple as pushing a button. Using SORC’D is like having a second prosthetic short-term memory that I can use in addition to my own—a colossal benefit to say the least.
Science writing is a rat's nest of chasing down sources, integrating information, and attempting to explain data to an audience that may not understand the context. Using SORC'd makes the hardest step of science writing — research gathering — vastly more manageable than before.