The Paper Chase

Answer the ‘Call for Papers’ and become one of the chosen few to speak at industry events, and make your presentation last a lifetime through a written white paper.
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Somewhere up in Holly, Michigan, on Saginaw Street next to the Pigeon in the Parlour boutique and before you get to the Cupcakes and Kisses bakery, is the research capital of the finishing industry.

Sitting at the counter most mornings at the Bittersweet Café and enjoying a Holly Boy Special of three eggs and bowl of gravy, Dr. James Lindsay pores over PowerPoint presentations from the recent NASF SUR/FIN technical conference on his Kindle device. He looks for those that he can turn into written white papers, complete with footnotes, mathematical formulas and scientific references that only a true research nerd would appreciate.

Dr. Lindsay is the NASF technical editor, the one who works with presenters to encourage them to turn their slides into ever-lasting white papers for all to read and enjoy. Except that doesn’t happen much these days, which is a shame. The sharing of scientific research in the field of surface finishing is what propelled the industry in the 1950s, 60s and beyond, but that seemed to stop when Microsoft developed their quaint little software that showed words on the screen — oftentimes, too many words.

Where once these technical conferences, such as SUR/FIN, were laden with the latest scientific research and discoveries on nickel and zinc coatings, and the tribulations of chromium finishes, they are now a place where PowerPoint is king and no lasting memory of the information is stored on white typewriter paper, double-spaced and in 12-point Times New Roman font.

The only papers that were written from the last few technical conferences were done by Dr. Lindsay. He would take the presentation slides and pores over the speaker’s notes — if there were any — and transcribe the best he could into a white paper for the world to read and which we have published many here in Products Finishing. They turn out magnificent, of course, thanks to Dr. Jim, but it would be so much easier and fruitful if speakers did their own writing.

“Writing scientific papers is essential for researchers,” says Dr. Gopal Rao, editor of the MRS Bulletin at the Materials Research Society. “It is what we do on a day-to-day basis to inform the community of the results of our thinking and our experiments.”

We bring this up because the NASF is about to issue a ‘Call for Papers’ for the 2020 SUR/FIN show which will take place next June in Atlanta. More than 80 speakers will be chosen to present at the conference, and it would be magnificent if many of those presentations were turned into white papers that could live on forever — in addition to the 30 minutes or so that each speaker has to present their research at the conference.

I know it is hard to put thoughts down onto paper. I and many others in this magazine do it every month, and it isn’t an easy chore. But it is a beneficial one for those in surface finishing, as well as any industry that relies on science and research to further advance the manufacturing process.

“Conducting clinical and scientific research are only the early steps of the scholarship of discovery,” says Dr. Ajinkya Pawar, of the department of conservative dentistry and endodontics at YMT Dental College and Hospital in India. “For most of the novice writers, writing a scientific manuscript is quite an intimidating process.”

I am perpetually after speakers to turn their presentations into written prose for all to read and enjoy. I’ve often told presenters to audiotape themselves practicing their presentation, and then simply transcribe what they just said. A good research paper is no more than 1,500 words and a few graphs, and most people in the surface finishing industry should be able to fall out of bed and give me 1,500 words on their topic.

Time is the biggest culprit I hear when I ask someone why they haven’t turned their slides into a white paper. But if you’ve spent several dozen hours on a presentation and probably more than $1,000 on travel, lodging and other incidentals to get to the conference, isn’t it worth a few hours more to turn the presentation into a paper?

I was at a trade show several years ago and ran into one of the speakers, a young Ph.D., who had given a great talk on corrosion prevention. When I asked him about turning the presentation into a white paper, he claimed he had no time and even pointed out his boss across the room and told me jokingly to ask her to give him time off to write his paper. So I did, walking across the room and introducing myself before asking her if her young researcher could have some time to put his thoughts down on paper.

“How much time do you need?” she asked him. He was shell-shocked, and muttered a few days. “Take a week,” she told him. “It is well worth it to us to get that research out there and for you to make a name for yourself.” He never did write the paper.

I encourage anyone in the surface finishing industry to answer the calls for papers and become one of the chosen few to speak at industry events. But also carve out time to make your presentation last a lifetime through a written white paper.

“Writing a clear, accurate and convincing scientific paper is both an art and a skill,” NatureResearch Journal wrote in an editorial a few years back, imploring the same thing I am. “It is one well worth mastering.”