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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Day 4

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Photo by Nasa Goddard Photo and Video

One of the many reasons I started this blog came from the fact that I enjoy reading many other blogs. I like seeing the way other people think and what they consider important enough to put into words. Finding quality blogs can sometimes be quite a challenge, especially considering the size of the blogosphere: as of February, there are over 156 million blogs out there. Science blogs, in particular, can be very elusive. The goal of today’s post is to rectify this situtation for you, my science-y readers.

ScienceBlogs.com is an aggregator of excellent science related blogs. They have over 70 different blogs that cover a range of topics including Life Science, Physical Science, Technology, and Education. I subscribe to several of the blogs on the site and I’ve engaged in different discussions on a variety of topics. Uniquely interesting are the blogs that challenge ideas or misconceptions that I have; I find this type of challenge to be exciting because of the new aspects of science that I’m constantly learning. Take some time to peruse the numerous blogs on the site and I’m sure you’ll find something you enjoy!

Please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

Written by Taylor M.

March 12, 2011 at 6:05 pm

40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Day 2

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Record keeping is a necessary fact of life in research. Much of this record keeping is done by hand in a laboratory notebook using a pen. With this in mind, today’s post is about where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. When you’re writing in a notebook, you need a good pen that can handle the job. Using a crappy pen can work in a pinch, but the better the pen, the more apt you are to actually write something down. When the tools you use don’t work quite as well as you would hope, then subconciously you will take steps to avoid using that tool. In the case of a pen, you may convince yourself that you will remember something you did in lab and therefore don’t need to write it down. Take the time to get a good pen and you will have removed a barrier to you being a better record keeper.

I’m a fan of gel pens for a few reasons. First, they write easily. I can jot down what I need too without applying too much force. This allows me to get down what needs to be recorded and then move onto the next thing. Second, they’re available in way too many colors. This can be useful in certain situations (extreme OCD being one of them), but generally I’ll stick with black, red, and blue. But having the option of many colors is nice. And lastly, if you expand their use to outside of school, they can give you some extra protection when writing checks. This applies specifically to the Uni-ball 207 Gel pen. Frank Abagnale, of Catch Me If You Can fame, recommends these pens for writing checks. If somebody tries to wash your check, they won’t be able to if you’ve used this pen.The ink will be absorbed into the paper of the check meaning a chemical wash will be unsuccessful. This pen is my personal preference, but hopefully you have a good pen available for your own use. If you don’t, then get one pronto!

Please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, why not sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

Written by Taylor M.

March 10, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Elements of Style

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Photo Credit: Amazon.com

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. is an absolutely essential read for any grad student. In fact, anyone who is doing any sort of writing should read this writing guide (I’m looking at you commenters of the internet). The Elements of Style is a book that was originally published in 1918 and its main purpose is to lay out some of the rules of english. Rules for clarity, accuracy and brevity. This guide is a resource for many writers today and it definitely should be a resource for you as a graduate student.

The importance of clear writing in a scientific article cannot be understated. If you cannot simply and accurately express the results of your work, then you might as well not have done the work! It is up to you, the author, to make the material easy for the reader to understand. The first step to better writing is practice (a.k.a persistence); the second is to read Elements of Style.  Make it a yearly habit of reading through Strunk’s work and you will be a better author for it. It has been said that you must know the rules in order to break them, and to better learn the rules you need to go through this book.

Elements is broken up into five chapters: Introductory, Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, A Few Matter of Form, and Words and Expressions Commonly Misused. Each chapter gives insight into the proper use of the English language and you are sure to discover nuances that are new to you. The styling of the text and sentences does show its age a bit, but it is a delight to read. Sentences such as

“Many a tame sentence of description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as there is, or could be heard.”

Will make you realize the eloquence of the English language. Many examples on proper usage abound in the text and I definitely recommend a cover-to-cover reading of the entire text. Of significant importance to graduate students is chapter 5, discussing Words and Expressions Commonly Misused. It was, and somewhat still is, common for me to use words and phrases that have no meaning (e.g. very, really, sort of). They may add several words to a text, but they give no additional useful meaning. There is no place for this in scientific literature and we all should strive to minimize such phrases in our manuscripts. Such familiar phrases as certainly, kind of, and respective/respectively are also recommended to be removed and replaced. Be sure to dive into detail in this chapter and absorb what it has to say.

The Elements of Style should be essential reading for any graduate student. Google Elements of Style and you will be able to find a downloadable copy of the guide or you can purchase one from Amazon. Hopefully, a yearly read through of this useful guide will yield better authors and better scientific literature. Enjoy!

Amazon.com Link to purchase the book.

So now you’re reading, but are you writing? Link to one of my other posts on writing.

Written by Taylor M.

January 18, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Posted in The Basics, Writing