Happy 2022! I’m starting the new year with my first newsletter post for the JAWWS project — in full, the Journal of Accessible and Well-Written Science, an initiative to research and promote better writing norms in science.
Below, I’ll describe the past and current status of the project, as well as what’s on the menu for the next few months.
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JAWWS began as an essay published in July 2021. This led to some interest, notably from New Science and Creator Cabins, allowing me to work full-time on the project from September to November.
During that time, I:
began writing a guide for scientific style, currently comprising five articles: abbreviations, paragraph length, examples, bullet points, links.
entirely rewrote a biology paper according to this style guide.
read several articles and books on science publishing.
began writing a review of the book Making Nature.
created the jawws.org website, including a compilation of resources on science publishing and writing style.
appeared on the podcast Demystifying Science.
applied to two grants I didn’t get.
There was a slowdown in December as I got distracted by other things, including OpenAccessDAO, an initiative to liberate the scientific literature that is kept behind the paywalls of large publishing companies.
I also ran out of extrinsic motivation (read: funding and accountability), meaning I’m now relying on intrinsic motivation (read: my own desire to see the project succeed), which can make things harder, especially during a holiday season when there are other things on one’s mind.
I still have intrinsic motivation, though! So now I’m hoping to get the project back to speed. One of the most pressing questions is, what approach should JAWWS take? Should it try to be (as initially envisioned) a journal that publishes rewritten versions of difficult-to-read articles? Should it be more of an editing help service? Something else?
One complication is that, as of now, I don’t make any income from JAWWS or any other source. It’s not a super urgent problem, but making money is nice. Either I somehow get a grant from someone soon, or I find some way of generating revenue through JAWWS, or I do something entirely different (like get a job) and work on JAWWS on the side.
The “revenue from JAWWS” avenue could come from selling editing services. I created a page to offer editing help to scientists, but I haven’t really advertised it, and so no one has taken advantage of my (for now, free) offer yet. I’m going to promote it more so that I can eventually establish a paid service.
I’ve been continuing work on the scientific style guide, albeit slowly. I should soon be able to publish a post on figures. Then I’ll keep going through the list at the end of this post until I get a comprehensive enough set of guidelines.
My book review of Making Nature is maybe halfway done. It turns out that writing book reviews is really hard! Still, this was a very useful book to understand the history of (prestigious) science publishing, so it’s worth finishing this.
I also want to make a harder effort at finding and reading the literature on scientific readability. I have read a few papers but I suspect there are more.
More speculatively, one possible path would be to develop tech, e.g. an AI tool to help with editing. I’ll explore this, though I’m not sure where to begin.
Lastly, I want to copy Alexey Guzey’s “If you’re involved in biology in any way, I want to talk with you” approach. Talking to people is the fastest way to make progress on an early project like this. Therefore, if you are involved in science publishing, or if you care about readability in science, I want to talk to you! Leave a comment below, send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send me a DM on Twitter.
very interesting project, Étienne. I am not a scientist, but through my contacts, I may find some that publish and be of interest to you. Will keep you posted. Pierre