Monthly Archives: February 2022

Weird things (some) ecologists believe: “you can’t infer process from pattern”

Warning: this one’s a little bit niche.

When I’m not writing Scientist Sees Squirrel, or books about writing, or books about Latin names, I actually have a day job: I’m an evolutionary ecologist. I teach, and do research, and read the literature (well, sometimes), and I talk with my colleagues about how we do our science and how we might do it better.

I’ve been doing that last bit since my grad school days, 35 years ago, and there’s an assertion that some ecologists love to make that still makes my head spin every time I hear it. Continue reading

A shelf of writing books

A new compendium of resources for scientific writers

Writing (as you’ve certainly noticed) is hard; and scientists (as you’ve even more certainly noticed) need to do a lot of it. In hindsight, one of the more revolutionary moments in my career was when I figured out that writing isn’t just something that magically happens whenever a research project gets finished. Instead, I figured out, writing is a craft I can learn and practice – just like statistics, or cooking, or tennis.  Over the years since this earthshaking (not sarcasm!) realization, I’ve learned a lot, and if I’m not a writing genius, I’m at least a lot better and a lot more efficient than I once was.

Much of what I’ve learned found its way into The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, and I hope you’ll pick up a copy – your library will have it, or can get it, if you don’t want to buy it. But no single book can cover everything, or suit everyone’s preferences.* Fortunately, there are many, many resources out there for scientific writers – those just starting out, or those (like me) who realize that even decades into a career, there’s still more to learn.

So: I’ve set up a curated list of writing resources. I intend to expand and refine it, and I’ll invite readers (there, not here) to drop their own favourites in the Replies. I hope you’ll find the list useful, and please share it widely if you do.

© Stephen Heard  February 15, 2022

*^You, for example, may hate writers who put amusing asides into footnotes. If so, you might want to avoid The Scientist’s Guide to Writing – although you’ll miss my references to Agatha Christie and Alan Greenspan naked (not together!) and to Gloria Gaynor’s Best Disco Recording Grammy. Although, come to think of it, if you hate footnotes like that, what are you doing reading this one?


It’s out today! The 2nd edition “Scientist’s Guide to Writing”

Forgive me for being very excited today: it’s the official release date for the second edition of The Scientist’s Guide to Writing. It’s been a long time in the works, but now it’s for real: you can have your very own copy! (US evil corporate behemoth; publisher; more ordering links).

I hope you’ll like the new edition. It has two new chapters (on strategies for reading, and on preprinting and choice of journals), and a whole slew of other additions and improvements. You can read more about what’s new here.

I thought today I’d use the book’s release as a hook to answer a question I get asked a lot, in various forms. Continue reading

Two reasons I haven’t started writing yet

That title was true when I thought of it, but no longer was once I’d typed it. How meta-ironic!

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lately – partly because I’ve actually been doing some (hooray sabbatical!), and partly because I’m excited about the 2nd edition of The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, which will be released in just a few days time. One thread that runs through the book is that “writing” is both a noun and a verb, and thinking about the verb form is really important to a career in science. Are you writing? When, and how? Narrowing that down a little: I can’t tell you how many times over my career I’ve asked someone how their writing is going, and been told that they haven’t started yet.* But I think that’s a mistake. If there’s a project advanced enough that it exists to be asked about, you probably should have started writing about it. Let me explain.

There are actually two very different reasons why, for a particular project, I might not have started writing yet. Continue reading