Authors rely on a range of devices and techniques to attract and maintain the interest of readers, and to convince them of the merits of the author’s point of view. However, when writing a scientific article, authors must use these ‘persuasive communication devices’ carefully. In particular, they must be explicit about the limitations of their work, avoid obfuscation, and resist the temptation to oversell their results. Here we discuss a list of persuasive communication devices and we encourage authors, as well as reviewers and editors, to think carefully about their use.
When deciding the phrasing of the title and abstract of a research output, there can be a temptation to use overly positive and enthusiastic language, believing that creating clickbait is the way to increase readership, engagement and being cited. This valuable opinion piece suggests researchers resist this urge lest they alienate readers an undermine the perceived quality of their work.
All writing that is intended for publication should be clear and engaging, and the authors of scientific articles can use a wide range of persuasive communication devices to achieve these goals. An obvious example is to give the article an eye-catching title, and this is perfectly fine if the title reflects the content of the paper. However, it is also possible for these devices to be mis-used in ways that can mislead readers (including reviewers) by, for example, giving a false impression about the significance of the work being reported. Clearly, this is not fine.
In this article – which builds on a preprint we posted in March 2022 (Corneille et al., 2022) – we describe a range of persuasive communication devices that can be used to exaggerate the importance of and/or hide the weaknesses of scientific work, and urge authors to exercise caution when thinking about using such devices.
Corneille, O., Havemann, J., Henderson, EL., Jzerman, HI., Hussey, I., Orban de Xivry, JJ., Jussim, L., Holmes, NP., Pilacinski, A., Beffara, B., Carroll, H., Outa, NO., Lush, P. & Lotter, LD. (2023) Point of View: Beware ‘persuasive communication devices’ when writing and reading scientific articles eLife 12:e88654
Publisher (Open Access): https://elifesciences.org/articles/88654