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Review: “Writing Science” by Joshua Schimel

March 21, 2012 Filed under Blog, Featured, Resources, Uncategorized, Writing 

I just finished reading a new book Writing Science: How to Write Papers That Get Cited and Proposals That Get Funded by Prof. Joshua Schimel, in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at UC Santa Barbara.

Schimel’s book is the perfect companion to Eloquent Science. Whereas Eloquent Science provides guidance about how to write better science, Writing Science provides more specific information about how to employ that guidance, along with plenty of worked examples. Along the way, he provides some great insights into the scientific writing process. Some of my favorite quotes follow.

It is the author’s job to make the reader’s job easy. (p. 5)

Do you write “Smith (2003) found X” or do you write “X occurs (Smith 2003)”? The former tells a story about Smith and what she did; the latter, about nature and how it works. If you write the former, you are probably doing a data dump, collecting the information that seems relevant and writing it down, without synthesizing it and integrating it into a story or framing a knowledge gap. The important information is almost never that Smith found it; it is almost always what she found. So why make Smith the subject of the sentence? (p. 56)

Within a sentence, showing action is the job of verbs and it’s an important job. Good writers use their verbs well, imbuing their papers with life. Bad writers use them poorly, stealing energy from the story, leaving it dull and listless. (p. 133)

Doing science is inherently an act of both confidence and humility. Confidence in developing your own ideas and data, doing the work knowing it may fail, and then putting it out in public where people can criticize it (and you). Humility in that you know that those data and ideas are imperfect and incomplete, and you have to admit openly to the limitations. Too much confidence can blind you to the limitations; too much humility can blind you to the accomplishments. Getting the balance between confidence and humility right is one of the greatest challenges all developing scientists face, in both doing and writing science. (p. 190).

“Publish or perish” may be the basis for survival, but it is not the basis for success. (p. 206)

If you are interesting in developing your writing to a deeper level than Eloquent Science goes into, Writing Science is the perfect book for you. I am aware of no other book on the market that presents this essential information so effectively and so clearly.

Full disclosure: Prof. Schimel wrote a positive review on about Eloquent Science.

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