I need an example of a badly written article/document

Thread Starter

Dan Turk Turner

Joined Sep 15, 2018
1
A part of my apprenticeship I'm doing a communications unit. One of the questions asks me to find an electrical engineering article that is poorly written. I've been looking for days and haven't been able to find anything. If anyone has stumbled across one it would be great if you could point me in the right direction.
Poorly written being anything from bad spelling/grammar, lack of example pictures, the flow of a paragraph just not making sense etc.
 

nsaspook

Joined Aug 27, 2009
6,743
Just not making sense etc. Bad math and physics are what matters in an engineering article, bad spelling/grammar are easily fixable.

http://www.emdrive.com/theorypaper9-4.pdf
A theory has been developed for a propulsion technique, which for the first time, allows direct conversion from electrical energy at microwave frequencies to thrust. An expression has been developed from first principles to enable the thrust for such a technique to be calculated. This expression has been verified by the results of two test programmes carried out on an Experimental Thruster and a Demonstrator Engine.
 

jpanhalt

Joined Jan 18, 2008
8,514
Early in my career (circa 1974), I was fortunate to work with a demanding editorial department. I unwittingly made many mistakes and eventually was happy to receive my edited copies back; although, the first time it happened was an eye opener. I made an appointment with the chair of that department, and he referred me to an early version of Fowler's handbook on modern English usage. Here's a link to a later edition: http://alexandriaesl.pbworks.com/f/The+New+Fowler's+Modern+English+Usage.pdf

That raises the question of what you consider poorly written. Do you mean something that doesn't meet the Oxford style, or something that is so poorly written that the messages are ambiguous? For example, is using "this" instead of "that" to refer to a previous statement an error? Is beginning a sentence with an infinitive a mistake?

If you apply Fowler's criteria, finding errors is easy. If you apply contemporaneous usage that is not ambiguous to those knowledgeable in the field, your task will be harder. Almost any datasheet will have errors of the former type. Is it fair to use documents that have been translated, for example, datasheets from Japanese or Chinese companies? Perhaps product descriptions and datasheets from Chinese vendors on eBay would be a place to start.
 

WBahn

Joined Mar 31, 2012
25,122
Look for papers published in junk conferences. There are many such conferences where virtually anything that is submitted is accepted and many people use them as a means to get the publications they need to satisfy their graduate committee's expectations. While this certainly includes many non-native English speakers, you will likely not have any problems finding plenty of examples from native-born English speakers as well.
 

wayneh

Joined Sep 9, 2010
16,168
In the field I'm familiar with, biochemistry, the worst papers all came out of India. I believe they have a requirement that a student must publish in order to fulfill some requirement. That sounds like a good idea to prepare young scientists but it floods the literature with crap. The quality of the publication may affect their grade but everything gets published regardless. It's not unusual to see 100-year old work presented badly as a new, earth-changing discovery. No acknowledgment of theory or prior art, poor attention to math and units, no citation of related work. Just awful.
 

DickCappels

Joined Aug 21, 2008
6,101
It is difficult to believe that all of the thousands or tens of thousands of amateur technical blogs and web pages are all well written. Maybe you should be booking over there.
 
A part of my apprenticeship I'm doing a communications unit. One of the questions asks me to find an electrical engineering article that is poorly written. I've been looking for days and haven't been able to find anything. If anyone has stumbled across one it would be great if you could point me in the right direction.
Poorly written being anything from bad spelling/grammar, lack of example pictures, the flow of a paragraph just not making sense etc.
"I've been looking for days and haven't been able to find anything."

Really? You really looked for days and could find none?

I think that it is a good assignment because it teaches the student how to critically evaluate an article. That is, it is one thing to say, “This article is garbage” and quite another to objectively break down all if its faults and to explain concisely why it is wrong and how it could possibly be fixed. It is my hope that your assignment gets you to think critically in that regard, because it will help you with your own writing and communication.

In my view, there exists a continuum of process for any article. Consider, for example, scientific writing in peer-reviewed journals (and I imagine that it holds for EE journals as well). There is an editor who receives the manuscript and decides if it is, potentially, suitable for publication. If so, it is sent to reviewers who have typically published articles in that field (and, apparently have relevant subject matter expertise). Normally, there are several reviewers; 2-4 is a good estimate. They review for general scientific merit in all aspects of the manuscript as well as coherency and language. The editor also does the same, but adds a healthy amount of coherency and language scrutiny. Typically, the editor makes a decision that is either a) unacceptable, b) acceptable pending major revision, c) acceptable pending minor revision and, d) acceptable (rarely, no revision at all). Then, it is off to the publisher, who may have some additional changes (and, inevitably screws something up that the authors have to find in the page proofs). So, that is probably the most rigorous process.

Next are professional publications with no peer review or almost no peer review. These can be found in some “open source” journals and many conference proceedings. Usually, there is at least some editorial review, but not as stringent as above.

Stepping down further are professional or quasi-professional on-line / print sources, including trade journals and sites like AAC. Typically these are supported by advertising rather than Institutional and author charges. Often, but not always, authors are compensated for the work. Here, much of the language/flow/clarity revision work is left to the Editor and author. There may also be a Technical Editor specifically for the technical aspects of the content. There can also be some internal technical review.

Stepping down further, are sites that, pretty much will publish what is sent to them, although they may set out a list of minimal requirements. Review, if any at all, may be crowd-sourced.

Then, at, or near, the bottom are sites that publish whatever is sent or entered, as is. Beyond that, is straight self-published material such as a blog.

None of those categories guarantees “good” or “bad” articles. In general, the better the qualified review and editorial expertise, the better will be the article.

As an aside, I used to systematically, let young PhDs, help me review an article submission for a scientific journal (this always took more of my time then if I just did it myself) that was sent to me. Their reviews were, without fail, blisteringly critical. It was as though all those years of being the object of criticism had built up a lot of hostility just waiting for the opportunity for expression.

As for your homework assignment, I would suggest that you do the following:

Pick a subject that you know a great deal about (or a subject that you know the most about).

Search along the lines of the categories above, starting at the bottom.

When you find a “bad” article, describe clearly, what is wrong (identify the actual sentences, each time), why it is bad and how it could be better (not always possible).

Hope this helps.
 

jpanhalt

Joined Jan 18, 2008
8,514
There is garbage and then there is poorly written. I think the TS meant the latter:
<snip>One of the questions asks me to find an electrical engineering article that is poorly written. <snip> Poorly written being anything from bad spelling/grammar, lack of example pictures, the flow of a paragraph just not making sense etc.
I don't see any useful purpose there from a scientific perspective. Nothing about evaluation of methods or conclusions. In other words, it seems to be a grammar and spellcheck assignment. Of course, we may find the TS didn't understand the assignment.
 

jpanhalt

Joined Jan 18, 2008
8,514
To the OP, just remember 'peer-review' does not mean the paper is good or bad in the scientific sense. The words and structure might be Shakespearean prose but the science can be total crap.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1182327/
Editors with whom I am familiar always cautioned reviewers not to comment on grammar, spelling, and such.* Reviewers were supposed to comment on scientific design, statistical power, supporting citations, and conflicting conclusions not considered by the authors. Of course, that was not always done and perhaps that trend is increasing. Nevertheless, I still have more faith in peer review than in the moderator review of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and so forth.

*An exception was made for an extraordinarily poorly written article where the editors would consider a recommendation to the authors to rewrite and resubmit (i.e., neither acceptance, rejection, nor modification)
 

cmartinez

Joined Jan 17, 2007
6,680
@cmartinez and @jpanhalt
Full disclosure! I’ve published in that site, but am not afraid to admit that my articles might be considered an example of a bad article :eek:
nah ... nothing to be ashamed of ... (I seldom visit the place, anyway) ... besides, you're trying to help people, for free! ... it's when one is trying to make a living that this sort of thing matters, I think.
 

nsaspook

Joined Aug 27, 2009
6,743
Editors with whom I am familiar always cautioned reviewers not to comment on grammar, spelling, and such.* Reviewers were supposed to comment on scientific design, statistical power, supporting citations, and conflicting conclusions not considered by the authors. Of course, that was not always done and perhaps that trend is increasing. Nevertheless, I still have more faith in peer review than in the moderator review of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and so forth.

*An exception was made for an extraordinarily poorly written article where the editors would consider a recommendation to the authors to rewrite and resubmit (i.e., neither acceptance, rejection, nor modification)
Being better than Facebook, Twitter, Amazon is a pretty low bar. Peer review often means: "inspected by #7" for X number of standards. Peer-reviewed work isn't necessarily correct or conclusive.

 

jpanhalt

Joined Jan 18, 2008
8,514
@nsaspook
Even Peanuts got into the act:
upload_2019-4-27_9-42-23.png

I agree that peer review per se can mean very little. It is probably better than the nothing that blog posts get. In some disciplines and society journals, e.g., JACS (American Chemical Society), a higher standard seems to be set. But then, it is easier to tell right from wrong when statistics and populations are not involved.
 

jpanhalt

Joined Jan 18, 2008
8,514
Now, THAT is some dilution. At least the authors recognized the theoretical absence of IgE at a dilution of 1:1x10^120. As for water molecules mimicking an antibody, I have my doubts.

Nature is still a good journal. Another choice journal for irreproducible results is Lancet; although, Lancet is also well respected.
 
Top