A trivial writing error with a powerful writing lesson

There are writing errors everywhere you look*.  Some are trivial – routine typos that confuse nobody – while others change or conceal meaning and sometimes risk lives or cost the transgressor millions of dollars.  Today I’m going to explore an error that’s rampant in scientific writing.  It’s one that in each instance matters not at […]

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 wikimedia.org 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 […]