As scientists, we record our findings in perpetuity in PDFs— literally simulations of pieces of paper. It’s time to be more dynamic and invoke a proliferation of media types. We don’t need to get rid of the notion of a paper or stop using a PDF as the version of record. But we do need to complement them with something less static. What follows is an approach I recently took using video.
The final sentence of my latest paper (preprint) steers the reader to a video that stands in place of a Conclusion section. And I’m guessing this video is a much more compelling Conclusion than any possible combination of words.
Here’s the gist of the final paragraph (paraphrased to avoid jargon):
Our simulation was made possible by tuning against measurements from a new instrument. This observation-informed simulation depicts instabilities as they evolve throughout the day. It is best appreciated as an animation (doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4306935).
A summary that merely repeats previous material is prohibited for the journal Nature and would be be edited out. Other journals are less strict, but perhaps they should follow Nature’s lead and recommend instead that the conclusion offer something new to the reader. This is often easier said than done. Scientists default toward endings that are typically cliche, uncompelling, or just tail off. Let’s look to factual but more expressive forms of writing, such as long-form journalism and narrative non-fiction, for examples of better endings that could be applied to scientific papers and talks.
Journalists arguably have a little more freedom than scientists in how they word the ending of a piece. A memorable quote or a clever joke, perfect fodder for a popular article, would be out of place in a scientific article. Yet there are several forms of conclusion that we could borrow from journalists to provide a more engaging ending. I’ll borrow my examples primarily from The Atlantic, but any decent popular publication can help.