Sunday, April 6, 2014

The principle of WriteItAllOut

After Gautham's thoughts about code and clarity and lots of paper writing and grant writing these days, a couple of conclusions. First, grant writing is boring. Second, when in doubt, write it all out. For computer code, this means having long variable names. If you have the option of writing a variable name of "mntx" or "meanTranscriptionSiteIntensityInHeterokaryon", go for the latter. Yes, it takes a little more effort, but not much, and its a MUCH better idea in the long run. I wish we could do this in math and physics also. Same holds for papers and grants, both in figures and in text. In figures, if you can give an informative axis label, do it. "Mean (CRL)" is much less informative that "Mean transcript abundance per gene in human foreskin fibroblasts". It's longer, but with some creativity you can make it work. In main text, AVOID ALL ACRONYMS! People less often read papers straight through from beginning to end these days, and if someone looks at a paragraph halfway through the text and sees something like:
Similarly, we find that 9.3% of autosomally expressed accessible novel TARs show ASE, we expect this number to be lower than genes as novel TARs correspond to exons of genes.
then they will be lost. And I don't think the space taken by expanding out these acronyms is a legitimate excuse. For the record, though, I do use DNA, RNA, SNP and FISH. Actually, I'd probably be well served to expand out the latter two, although they are fairly standard.

Remember, the main point of a paper is not to make little puzzles for your readers to decipher, but to convey information, both accurately and as efficiently as possible. For grants, well, after getting some... strange reviews, I'm honestly not sure what the goal is. Except to get money.

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