How to do X in linguistics? A new series of blog posts

I cannot remember when I decided to become a linguist. I cannot even remember when I first called myself a linguist (as opposed to a student, a Sinologist, or a scientist). But I can remember when I wrote my first review for a linguistics journal, and I also remember that it came close to a catastrophe, since I maintained a very hostile tone, I didn’t like the paper, thought the authors were badly informed, and didn’t want to allow the paper to be published.

In the end, the paper was accepted against my rejection, and I moved on to other reviews. By now, I have done enough of them to know that one should never write reviews in a hostile tone, even if one rejects a paper. It’s about science after all, and science is about arguments, not about showing that somebody is less smart than oneself.

My first review for a scientific journal was not the first premiere I celebrated during the last 10 years. I learned how to respond to reviews, I learned how to read reviews properly and to keep my calm when reading them, I learned how to write cover letters when submitting papers with multiple authors, I learned how to write grant applications, I learned how to review grant applications, and I also learned how to collaborate with different people.

What all these things I learned have in common is that I learned them chiefly by doing. Nobody ever told me how to write a review, nobody showed me how to respond to a review, nobody explained to me how to write cover letters (until I had to write my first one, I didn’t even know what a cover letter is), and nobody gave me tips on collaboration.

When I decided to try to play the game and pursue a career in science, I never knew that being a scientist would involve writing reviews, cover letters, and collaboration emails. The first time I heard about a “poster presentation” at a conference, I couldn’t understand what this would refer to, since “posters” were something commercial for me, something you sell, or something you receive along with some magazine you buy, like the posters of pop stars or movies which people pin on their walls. There are so many things one learns indirectly, rather than being officially informed in science, that I can barely remember how I imagined the life of a scientist when I was still a university student.

One can argue that it is natural that there are things that one needs to learn by doing them, rather than being formerly instructed. For example, it would be silly to give young scientists a course in how to become a celebrity, although we have seen quite a few scientists who have used their science for this purpose (which often ends with scientists talking more about themselves or their views on politics and culture than about their actual scientific interests). But there are also quite a few never-taught scientific skills where it would not hurt to find a nice manual on wikiHow.

After discussing with the other fellow contributors of this blog, we have therefore decided to launch a new series of blog posts (which we try to publish in a monthly rhythm) where we explicitly discuss some scientific howtos for which one barely finds advice in handbooks and tutorials. We will do this in a sporadic manner, touching topics that we find while doing science, so this introductory post does not provide any closer plan for the future.

However, I can say so much already: I plan to discuss more closely how to review, how to respond to reviews, how to revise a paper, and also how to cite properly, and the other contributors of this blog have already confirmed that they might have the one or the other topic they would like to share as well.

Furthermore, as this is an open platform, if you want to contribute to this series, or just contribute to another topic that has something to do with the broad topic of computer-assisted language comparison, do not hesitate to get in contact with me. We are always happy to broaden the circle of contributors.

Cite this article as: Johann-Mattis List, "How to do X in linguistics? A new series of blog posts," in Computer-Assisted Language Comparison in Practice, 22/07/2020,

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About Johann-Mattis List

Seit Anfang 2017 bin ich leitender Wissenschaftler am Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte in Jena, in der Abteilung für sprachliche und kulturelle Evolution. In meiner Forschung nehme ich generell einen datenbasierten, empirischen und quantitativen Standpunkt in Bezug auf Sprachwandel und Sprachgeschichte ein, mit einem speziellen Fokus auf südostasiatischen Sprachen. Im Gegensatz zu rein computerbasierten Ansätzen versuche ich jedoch, meine Forschung nah an der traditionellen historischen Linguistik und der linguistischen Theorie auszurichten, weshalb ich einen computer-gestützten Ansatz im Gegensatz zu einem rein computer-basierten Ansatz verfolge.

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