Misc, Opinion

Politeness, formality, and science 

As a graduate student, I often heard that polite, formal emails are critical when communicating with your colleagues or collaborators. There is always some story going around the internet about professors being catty to students about their poor grammar and informality.

I could not disagree more.

We are scientists

Scientists spend their whole lives learning how to be specific, clear, and simple enough for many people to understand. The emphasis is not on formality, which brings up notions of stiff suits and politics. Don’t be afraid to be casual. It is more friendly, and at the end of the day, any scientist worth their salt will focus on what you have to say.

What is polite?

Some people think that formalities and niceties are polite. I think they have too much time on their hands. To me, politeness is not wasting my time. I have tons of work to do, and a professor has even more. I don’t have time to read 3 extra sentences that are:

  • Disingenuine
  • Superfluous
  • Not about science 

Not everyone agrees with your ideas about politeness. Many people you will contact won’t be from your culture, and your language may not being their native language. Surely the concept of politeness is so varied that we should not allow it to affect unrelated scientific discourse.

It’s provincial 

Not everyone comes from your culture. Even within a country there are many subcultures. Each will have its own concept of politeness. To some, being formal is polite. To others, being friendly is polite. There are people who think not communicating at all is the most polite. It’s not your job to decide which culture is correct.

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