I’m gearing up for the latest offering of my Scientific Writing course, and that’s got me thinking about my (metaphorical) red pen. As scientists, we spend a lot of time commenting on other folks’ writing. I do it extensively in my writing course, but I also do it for my grad students writing thesis drafts, for my coauthors, for my colleagues who want friendly review of manuscripts and proposals, and for other colleagues when I’m a peer reviewer. I’m also often on the other side of the exchange, as my own drafts get marked up by coauthors, colleagues, and reviewers. I’ve been in this game for a while, and one thing I’ve learned is that most of us wield our red pens instinctively rather than deliberately. And that’s not a good thing. Continue reading
Two weeks ago, I reported my run-in with a reviewer who wanted me to scrub common English contractions (like it’s, doesn’t, or we’re) from a manuscript. There’s a common belief that contractions mustn’t be used in scientific writing, although the genesis of this “rule” is unclear. So is the rationale. One that’s commonly suggested is that contractions make writing informal, and that that’s inappropriate – to which I say only “Harumph”. Another is much more important: the claim that they make writing less accessible to readers of English as an additional language (EAL).
I’ve been skeptical of that hard-for-EAL claim, but not being an EAL reader myself makes it hard for me to claim authority on the issue. So, I asked EAL readers of Scientist Sees Squirrel to weigh in – and they did. Today, poll results, and a couple of additional points raised by some folks who think about writing for EAL readers. Continue reading
I recently had a run-in (OK, a minor disagreement) with a reviewer who wanted me to scrub all contractions from my manuscript – and who specifically objected, not to some fancy or newly-coined acronym but standard, common English contractions like didn’t, it’s, and we’ll. Continue reading
Scientific writing has a reputation for being dense, even occasionally impenetrable. Partly that’s because we write about intellectually complex matters using (necessarily) a highly technical vocabulary. But our writing becomes denser still because we love condensed words: acronyms, initialisms, and abbreviations*. As an example, consider this sentence:
To evaluate the role of extracellular cAMP in sperm capacitation, 10–15 × 106 spermatozoa/mL were incubated in 0.3% BSA sp-TALP at 38.5°C and 5% CO2 atmosphere for 45 min in the presence of 0.1, 1 or 10 nM cAMP (Osycka-Salut et al. 2014 Molec Human Reprod 20:89-99).
I’m not picking on these authors – such sentences have become completely unremarkable in our literature. What’s interesting about this, though, is that there’s a peculiar exception to our passion for condensed words: a general refusal to use common contractions (don’t, it’s, we’re, etc.) in scientific writing. Continue reading