The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, my guidebook for scientific writers, will soon have its fifth birthday. I’ll probably bake it a cake, because any excuse for cake is a good excuse, right? But I’ll also be looking forward to a bigger cake, about a year from now, to celebrate the launch of its second edition. Just last week, I sent the manuscript off to my editor, to go through that mysterious process that is book production.*
People sometimes grouse about books that have new editions (I know, because I’m one of those people, especially when it’s a textbook.) Sometimes, no doubt, it’s a cynical ploy to sabotage the used-book market and sell more new copies. So I’ll forgive you if you’re a bit skeptical. Why does the world need The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, 2nd Edition?
Well, “the world needs it” might be a stretch, but I hope folks will find the new edition has some worthwhile additions. I’ll list a few of the major ones below; but first: don’t worry; I stand by (almost) every word of the 1st edition. I’m pleased and proud that it seems to have helped quite a few scientists improve at the craft of writing – and it can keep on doing that. Actually, it will have to, at least for a while; I don’t expect the 2nd edition to be available until some time in the first half of 2022.
So what’s new? Well, quite a lot, but here are some highlights:
- A new chapter, “Journals and Preprints”. This chapter provides advice on how to choose a journal to which to submit a paper. It considers factors such as journal scope, reputation (and how to judge it), speed, cost, publisher profit model, and access. The chapter also discusses preprint servers – a rather shocking omission from the 1st edition, I’d have to admit.
- Another new chapter, “Three Kinds of Reading: Reference, Survey, and Deep”. We all need techniques for efficient and effective reading, because we’re all drowning in the literature but we can’t write (or do science) without reading widely. This chapter outlines ways to read to extract particular bits of information (reference reading), to assess a paper for possible closer attention (survey reading), or to thoroughly understand a paper (deep reading).
- An expanded chapter on “Writing for Speakers of English as an Additional Language”. This is an important chapter, because most scientists aren’t native speakers of English, but nearly all publish in English. I’ve updated and expanded this chapter to give EAL speakers the best guidance I can.
- Almost twice as many Exercises following the chapters. I’ve been surprised how valuable people find these – but I guess I shouldn’t be, or at least not any more, as I use them in my own writing course and they work really well there.
- Greatly expanded advice on writing Abstracts and titles, including coverage of recent literature on how features of titles may influence citation rates.
- Improved guidance on discussion of study limitations. Through teaching my Scientific Writing course, I’ve learned that many students need help in presenting limitations without rhyming off every possible thing that might have gone wrong and thus leaving a reader convinced the study is worthless. It’s important to be transparent about limitations – but it’s also important to show how conclusions can be drawn despite those limitations.
- More extensive advice about handling disagreement among reviewers, as well as the situation where an early-career writer disagrees with suggestions from a supervisor or mentor.
- Improved coverage of science communication (writing for the general public).
- Discussion of citation gaps and the politics of citation.
It’s been an interesting process, revisiting a book I wrote half a dozen years ago. I was pleased to see how well it had held up – and I only found two or three mysterious typos that somehow survived all those rounds of copyediting and proofreading! So I’m still quite happy with The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, 1st Edition. But I think The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, 2nd Edition will be even better. I hope, when you see it, that you’ll agree.
© Stephen Heard March 9, 2021
*^Well, it’s not totally mysterious. My editor will read it and (I hope) make some good suggestions. It will go through copyediting, will have an index compiled, will have a new cover designed (it’s time to get rid of the Z-DNA), and at some point I’ll have the distinct displeasure of checking the proofs. Expect some grousing when that happens.