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.
While writing effectively and productively is a big challenge for most scientists (including me!), 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.
You can read more about the book, and see some sample content, using any of the Amazon links below (click “Look Inside”). David Richardson live-tweeted his reading of The Scientist’s Guide, and Storified it here. If you’d like to know what others have thought, here are:
- on Amazon.com (there are probably reviews on your local Amazon too)
- by Elena Motivans at ZME Science
- by Sarah Boon at 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
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.
USA: The Scientist’s Guide via Amazon.com
Brazil: The Scientist’s Guide via Amazon.com.br
China: The Scientist’s Guide via Amazon.cn
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!