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November 1, 2010 / Rohit

How to make papers unreadable.

In graduate school you get to read a ton of papers. Unfortunately a majority of these papers will be difficult to understand. The major reason for this — which is both cause and effect — is: the authors deliberately want the papers to be hard to read. In fact this is widely acknowledged. Obscurity somehow translates to intelligence. The logic being the harder it is to read the paper, the smarter the author.

Here are a few tricks which you can use to achieve the objective of making the reader not understand:

  1. Use as much technical jargon as possible. New terms or esoteric terms with no definitions are good.
  2. If you are forced to define a particular term, define it late in the paper, but start using it early on.
  3. If an idea, which has been treated elsewhere, can be explained in a paragraph, don’t. Find a paper which has explained the idea before and refer to it. If you are the writer of the referred paper, even better (see next point, to understand why).
  4. If to follow an idea, you can chain multiple a references (reference which refers to another reference)  GREAT! Being the author of the first reference in the chain can be helpful.
  5. If something can be explained clearly with a diagram, omit the diagram and choose to explain it in words.
  6. Never give examples.
  7. Use a combination of graphs and tables to display performance. It’s better if you choose different kinds of graphs, even if the data remains the same.
  8. If an idea can be expressed mathematically, find the least used ASCII special characters and describe the mathematical model using them.

Additions to the list are welcome.


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