Eliminate There Is and Other Expletives

Editors are notoriously snarky. Still, I do not think I am alone in finding the following editorial change surprising: Their research identified multiple characteristics associated with resiliency. There are multiple characteristics associated with resiliency. I understand that the words “their research identified” can be replaced with a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence. […]

How to Capitalize and Punctuate Bullet Points

Writers and editors searching for consistent, standardized advice about how to capitalize and punctuate bullet points will be sorely disappointed. Bullet points are not a natural product of language, such as pronoun-antecedent agreement. Instead, they are a feature of the document’s formatting, akin to chapter titles, running headers, and page numbers. As such, writers have […]

How to Hyphenate Numbers Using the GPO

A writer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently stumped me with a question about numbers and hyphenation. He asked the following: In our consultation documents (biops, letters,) we often see numbers connected to hyphens when describing a noun, but otherwise unhyphenated.  I try to remember this as something like: “The two 20-foot-long logs […]

In Defense of the Plural They

Language is a product of humans; therefore, it is organic, varied, and flexible. Language also helps people cooperate to accomplish big tasks, communicate emotional truths, and resolve otherwise violent disputes. Too much flexibility undermines its power. Too great rigidity breaks us. One “rule” that language purists insist upon is that pronouns should agree in number […]

Review: Successful Scientific Writing, by Janice R. Matthews and Robert W. Matthews

Matthews, Janice R. and Robert W. Successful Scientific Writing: A Step-by-Step Guide for the Biological and Medical Sciences. 4th ed. Cambridge, UP, 2008. In a few weeks, I will resume my teaching responsibilities with Eight Weeks to Writing with Clarity, an eight-week online course that gives environmental scientists clarity, focus, and insight into the process […]

What is Sound?

On this first day of December, when the world seems a little drab, I am especially grateful for nature’s rich array of sound. The blue jays insist for the hundredth time on making their harsh, threatening call before settling down to the seed. The doves, already sated, coo at one another as they fluff out […]

Three Tips for Writing Briefing Papers Successfully

As a subject matter expert, you are constantly asked to summarize your work. Rarely do you have the opportunity to “geek out” and share everything you know with someone who really cares. One colleague was so frustrated with this phenomenon he told me it felt like his whole life was an exercise in the executive […]

Eliminate Excessive Parentheses in Technical Writing

One of my pet peeves in scientific and technical writing is the use of parentheses. It seems like once a writer gets started they just can’t stop, and soon every sentence has a parenthetical list. Parentheses are distracting. They are a mark of punctuation that the readers’ eyes are drawn towards. So they have the […]

How To Write a Style Sheet for Your Office

Every office has a grammar guru. It is that one person you go to when you need to know the difference between that and which, where to put the comma, or whether the punctuation goes inside or outside of the quotation marks. But in an office of any size, that one person is insufficient to […]