Note: The Scientist’s Guide to Writing is now in its second edition. Read about the additions here.
While running experiments and collecting data are important things, they don’t contribute to science unless we write up the results and share them with our colleagues and the world. This means that writing is arguably the most important thing we do as scientists—and it’s something for which most of us have little, if any, formal training.
Writing effectively and productively is a big challenge for most scientists (including me!), but it’s something we can learn to do faster and better. I’ve written The Scientist’s Guide to Writing (Princeton University press, April 2016) to pass on some of what I’ve learned over the years, and I think the book can help almost any scientist become a better writer.
In The Scientist’s Guide I emphasize two things: (1) the importance of crystalline clarity to communication with your reader (and to being read in the first place!), and (2) the value of understanding your own behaviour when you write. I draw on the culture and history of scientific writing, the psychology of writing behaviour, and a lot of other things to help writers understand why we write the way we do and how we can write better, faster, and more easily.
Table of Contents
Part I: What Writing Is
- On Bacon, Hobbes, and Newton, and the selfishness of writing well
- Genius, craft, and what this book is about
Part II: Writing Behavior
- Managing your writing behavior
- Getting started
Part III: Content and Structure
- Finding and telling your story
- The canonical structure of the scientific paper
- Front matter and Abstract
- The Introduction section
- The Methods section
- The Results section
- The Discussion section
- Back matter
- Deviations from the IMRaD canon
Part IV. Style
Part V. Revision
- “Friendly” review
- Formal review
- Revision and the “response to reviews”
Part VI. Some loose threads
- Journals and preprints
- The diversity of writing forms.
- Managing co-authorships
- Three kinds of reading: reference, survey, and deep
- Writing in English for non-native speakers
Part VII. Final thoughts
- 30. On whimsy, jokes, and beauty in scientific writing
You can read more about the book, and see some sample content, using any of the Amazon links below (click “Look Inside”).
Some reviews (of the 1st edition)
- on Amazon.com (there are probably reviews on your local Amazon too)
- by Elena Motivans at ZME Science
- by Sarah Boon at Medium (reposted from Canadian Science Publishing)
- in Times Higher Education
- on Goodreads
- by Steve Ramm on his blog (with helpful comparison to other books)
- by Ambika Kamath on her blog (explicitly comparing The Scientist’s Guide with Josh Schimel’s Writing Science)
- by Manu Saunders in Austral Ecology
- by Stephen Donovan in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing (paywalled, but a thorough review that’s well worth tracking down)
- by Diana Padilla in the Quarterly Review of Biology
- Podcast: interview with Daniel Shea on the Scholarly Communication podcast.
- Interview with the Princeton Press Ideas blog about the second edition
Using the book in teaching
If you’re interested in using the book to teach a course, it can be a standalone text for a full scientific writing course or a companion book for a writing-intensive course. (It’s pretty inexpensive). There are Exercises at the end of most chapters that can be used as in-class activities or assignments.
I’ve used the book to teach a course for Honours undergrad and grad students. You can find my syllabus, and notes on the course, in this post. I also have Powerpoint slides available by email request.
Interested? You can order the book through any of these links, or of course through your favourite local bookseller.
Australia: The Scientist’s Guide via Booktopia.com.au
Brazil: The Scientist’s Guide via Amazon.com.br
China: The Scientist’s Guide via Amazon.cn (NB: a Chinese translation is currently in preparation!)
Denmark: The Scientist’s Guide via Saxo.com
France: The Scientist’s Guide via Amazon.fr
Germany: The Scientist’s Guide via Amazon.de
India: The Scientist’s Guide via Amazon.in
Sweden: The Scientist’s Guide via bokus.com
Switzerland: The Scientist’s Guide via ExLibris.ch
United Kingdom: The Scientist’s Guide via Amazon.co.uk
(Or you can order directly from Princeton University Press.)
Know of a retailer you’d like to see here? Send me a link!