Science

Science Icon

Writing research papers and technical reports was pretty easy for me, once I got over my distaste for writing in general. After all, in research, the audience is narrow and well informed, and the format tends to be fixed and often the page count, too. Plus, I was writing about something I actually did, and of course I presumably understood what I had done. And to make things even easier, there is no character development to invest in, no scene to set, no plot, and no climax, or so you'd think. But think of your paper as a play and it gets interesting.

In the introduction of a research paper you set the scene by introducing the subject in broad terms then narrowing it down to the particular situation, just like in a movie or play where within the first minute or two you know the general time frame when and location where the action will take place. Then the players are introduced, one by one, entering from either side of the stage, each already known to the audience and each having something to say on the subject. A conflict could be emerging already. There is disagreement in the room and a hint of battles to come in the air, but allies have also been identified. Then you take the stage and say your bit. Nods towards your allies are made while certain others feel the bite of contrary opinion. You end your speech with a forceful and possibly controversial statement, one with requires that someone act, to set out alone across the Atlantic, saddle up the horses for a journey, or book time on a 1 MeV electron microscope. As everyone else files off stage it is clear to all that you and a few trusted friends that will be taking on that quest.

The action phase of the play opens with the gathering of equipment and supplies needed for the quest, then each are put into service, some to the limits of their capabilities, some unwisely past that. In the chaos and confusion of battle, x, y, and after the machines are stilled and the horses z, the outcome is not yet clear to anyone.

The smoke clears, the sun rises, the rain stops, and finally you get a chance to assess. What just happened? What does it all mean? What was the toll and did we get what we came for? It takes a while to sort it all out, and it must get sorted out, even if the outcome is not to your liking, or advantage.

Packing up and returning home, and there are questions that need definitive answers. Was the quest successful? If not, were there at least partial successes? Was anything learned that can help you down the line, possibly in the next quest, which is already taking shape in the your mind.

So there you have it - introduction, procedure, results and discussion, and conclusion, the main parts of a typical research paper. Then you publish it, and present it at a conference, and all of those other characters from the introduction reappear, in person, and no doubt they will have something to say about the outcome of your quest, and the debate commences. Would that be considered drama?

Most of my science writing, the research and even the procedures for the teaching experiments, has been of this type, although not nearly as much fun. But now I wonder, after looking at things this way, would it be possible to stage "The Two-phase Nature of Beta-stabilized Titanium - 6 Aluminum - 4 Vanadium" as a play?