A Short Guide to Writing about Science

David Porush, © 1995 by HarperCollins Publishers


Preface.  Why author wrote book, its intended audience and what he hopes
   that audience will find there.

Chapter 1. Introduction.

   Stresses creative aspect of writing and the importance of
   identifying your audience.

Chapter 2. Why good scientific thinking can lead to bad science writing.

   Describes major flaws in most science writing (complex, passive,
   lack of descriptiveness, overly conditional, conservative style) and
   offers a simple cure: think of yourself as a reporter, as well as a
   scientist.

[Next three can be omitted.]
Chapters 3 & 4 are on lab notebooks (can be omitted for this course,
   but they are valuable for a practicing scientist).
Chapter 5. Preparing to write the research paper.
   Aimed at the paper reporting new results, not so relevant 
   for this course.

Chapter 6. How to write titles.
Chapter 7. How to write abstracts.
   See Checklist #11 on page 78 for excellent summary.
Chapter 8. How to write the introductory section.
   Lots of good/bad examples; see page 117 for checklist #12.

[Next chapter is aimed more at biological literature.]
Chapter 9.  How to write about hypotheses, models, and theories (HMT).
   Physics, at its peril, has largely abandoned this approach.
   See checklist #13 on page 111.

Chapter 10.  How to cite and list references.
   Wrong examples on pages 113-114 are the norm in physics.  See his 
   good examples on page 114; note also the style subtleties on page 115.

[Next two are not very relevant to this course where audience for paper
is non-scientific, but the chapters are generally useful.  See the
checklists #14 and #15 on page 130 and 134.]
Chapter 11. How to write the materials and methods section.
Chapter 12. How to present results.  Checklist #15 on page 134.

Chapter 13. How to compose and use visual material.  
   Five (5!) checklists indicate the importance/difficulty of this topic.

Chapter 14. How to write about your interpretation of results.
   This will also be useful for policy paper. Checklist #31, page 163.

Chapter 15. How to write conclusions.
   See checklist #22, page 172, for succinct guide.

START HERE!
Chapter 16. How to write about science in essay and term papers or reports.
   Note use of term `billboard' to indicate second paragraph where
   real `hook' of paper occurs.   See contrasting examples on pages
   183-186.   Checklist #23 on page 199.

Chapter 17. Revising and editing.
   As author says, "The real writing is in the rewriting."
   See six steps to deep editing, pages 206-208.

Chapter 18. A scientific approach to style.
   I don't know what science is doing in the chapter title, but the advice 
   is good; see checklist #24 on page 211.  See subsections on page 
   215: New and/or important material should be place last in sentence.
   216: Use active voice and avoid passive voice.
   217: Use verbs; avoid nominalization and noun strings.
   223: Getting cheap with words is inefficient.
   225: Don't bury important points in subordinate clauses or worse.

Chapter 19.  How and when to define your terms.

Chapter 20.  How to use numbers, symbols, units, formulas & equations.
	
Chapter 21.  Conclusion.

Appendices:
   A. Avoid sexist language.
   B. Style guide, articles, manuals and books about writing about science.
   C. Science and engineering dictionaries and encyclopedias.

There are also endnotes and a reasonably good six-page index.

Your comments and suggestions are appreciated.
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