Claus Metzner asked us how often we read research papers carefully. He reads fully less than 1% of all research papers he comes across. This must be true of nearly everyone. We read a few titles, fewer abstracts, even fewer introductions, we skim a few papers, but we rarely read entire papers carefully.
We could blame information overload and its academic companion: publish or perish. However, when I read a research paper, most often, I only need to know the main contribution of the research paper. As Claus puts it:
I don’t care too much if the arguments, methods and results of a paper are 100% sound or not. Mostly I am hunting for small reusable items
Hence, we should:
- Pick good titles giving away the main insight (“The Earth is round” and not “On the geometry of our planet”);
- Pick good section headers giving away the conclusions of the section (replace “Discussion” by “this drug fails to work”);
- Use bullet points to outline our results;
- Use simple schemas and figures.
Ultimately, we should write research papers expecting our readers to barely skim them.