exhausting vs. exhaustive

exhausting vs. exhaustive

Image by Claus Juntke from Pixabay

In a physics paper I recently read for work, the German authors mixed up the words exhaustive and exhausting. Contrary to good scientific practice, I will not provide a reference in order to give them some anonymity.

The sentence that made me chuckle and motivated this post was

“For exhausting discussions concerning the […] methods we refer the reader to Refs. 1-3.”

I’m quite sure that what they intended to write was

For exhaustive discussions concerning the […] methods we refer the reader to Refs. 1-3.

The second version implies that references 1-3 contain a very detailed discussion of the methods used. According to the OLD, exhaustive means

including everything possible; very thorough or complete

In contrast, the first version instead suggests that the discussion in references 1-3 is tiring; the OLD gives the meaning of exhausting as

making you feel very tired

Of course, an exhaustive description of complex methods may be exhausting to read. However, it is one of the unwritten rules of scientific writing not to present other people’s work in a bad way, even if it has shortcomings. Similar rules usually apply when writing letters of recommendation.

The mistake discussed here is another great example for the importance of consulting a dictionary even if you have advanced language skills.

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