Friday, June 10, 2011

Good books---The craft of scientific writing/ presentation by Michael Alley

I am currently writing a paper. When I compared the current version with the abstract I submitted to the conference, I saw a huge difference. I recieved a comment on a review paper--at the end, the reviewer said:

“it may help with a little more polish on the English, especially on the use of articles (a, the, etc.) in a few places.” I am not a native English speaker.

When I visited Dr. Rick Trebino’s lab, he mentioned the book “The Craft of Scientific Writing”.

I tried to get it from our library but it turned out it was a very popular book. It was on course reserve. (Like all the good books!)

Then I found and read another of his books, “The Craft of Scientific Presentations: Critical Steps to Succeed and Critical Errors to Avoid.” This book was instrumental in helping me give a persuasive job interview talk.

During spring semester I tried to borrow “The Craft of Scientific Writing” but it is still on course reserve. I don’t want to buy it because I have several shelves of books at home already. Someday, the book shelf may fall down.

Once I asked a librarian when the book will be free to public. He said it is possible it will be always on reserve.

“Then can you order another copy?” I asked.
“No, you know the economy.”

But, he said, you can use the “get it for me” service. It works like this, you submit a request, they will get one for your from another library. I did it. Soon I got the book from Texas Tech. (Thank you, Texas A&M librarians!)

There are many good tips, but I would like to focus on the language aspects:

There are six language goals:
Precise: you must say what you mean
Clear: avoid things you don’t mean
Forthright: convey a sincere and straightforward attitude
Familiar: Anchor your language in the familiar
Concise: every word should count
Fluid: smooth writing, writing with transition, writing that moves from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph without tripping or tiring the reader.

All these are quite useful for revising my paper.

But maybe using “a the that which” is indeed a difficult subject so the author avoided it. I didn’t find any description to this confusion. The book refer to Richard Feyennan’s writing very often (He actually used Richard Feynman on his book cover to "The Craft of Scientific Presentation).
From the reference I found Richard Feynman’s article published in Physics today Feb. 1988 (he died at the same month)--- “An Outsider's Inside View of the Challenger Inquiry”, in which he wrote: "I finally got it through to the point where it was, at last, in the hands of a real editor, a capable man by the name of Hansen, who changed all my whiches to thats and thats to whiches."

I feel optimistic!

Finally from the, I find this useful article:
"A, An, The" definite and indefinite articles in English .