The dangerous temptation of acronyms

(My Writing Pet Peeves, Part 6) Over the last two weeks, I’ve written peer reviews* for three different manuscripts (MSs).  All three included newly coined acronyms (NCAs) to substitute for repeated short technical phrases (RSTPs).  I’ve gotten in the habit, whenever I run across an NCA, to use my word processor’s search function (WPSF) to […]

Becoming a science writer: a musical in three acts (guest post)

This is a guest post by Greg Crowther, of Everett Community College, in Everett, Washington, and it’s the latest installment in my “How I learned to write” series. Image: Greg performing “Have Yourself a Healthy Little Kidney” for the University of Washington Division of Nephrology (2017). Take it away, Greg: As a reader of this […]

Scientific writing, style, and the trolley problem

Image: Trolley by McGeddon CC BY-SA 4.0 via Our scientific literature has a reputation for being not much fun to read: colourless, tedious, and turgid.  By and large, it deserves that reputation (and I would include my own papers in that assessment).  There are exceptions, of course, but they’re few and far between.  I’ve […]

Student blogging on insect conservation: a success story

Image: Skillet Clubtail dragonfly, by David Marvin (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) This year in my 3rd-year Entomology course, we introduced a new student assignment: to write a blog post about an insect of conservation concern in Canada. (I say “we”, because most of the credit goes to my TA and PhD student Chandra Moffat. I’ll link […]

60 new odonates from Africa, in a paper with style

Photos: Chlorocypha aurora (male; above), and Pseudagrion tanganyicum (male, below) © Jens Kipping, used by permission. These are two of the 60 beautiful new species described in Dijkstra et al. Social media (notably Jeff Ollerton’s blog) brought a wonderful paper to my attention last week: Sixty new dragonfly and damselfly species from Africa, by Klaas-Douwe […]

Good jargon and bad jargon

Image: Word cloud based on selections from Oke, Heard, and Lundholm 2014 I posted last month about the etymology of the life-history term semelparity (it’s more interesting than it sounds), and that got me thinking about jargon.   Our scientific literature has a reputation for being turgid, tedious, and difficult to read. There are many reasons […]

Do scientists want beauty? Or, why I wrote my weirdest paper ever

Last summer I published the weirdest paper of my career. It’s called “On whimsy, jokes, and beauty: can scientific writing be enjoyed?”, and it asks whether humour and beauty are possible, and advisable, in scientific writing. (If this sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because I mentioned it here). I want to explain how I came to […]

The best writing in science papers: Part II

(Photo: Polyommatus bellargus (Lycaenidae), by Ettore Ballochi – CC BY-SA 3.0) Over 2 years ago now, over at the Tree of Life blog, Jonathan Eisen posted “The best writing in science papers: Part I”. I stumbled across that post and searched excitedly for Part II – only to discover there wasn’t one. So I wrote […]