Differentiate Between the Em Dash and the En Dash

If you ever wish to extend a work meeting, ask one of two questions: How many spaces belong after a period? or What is the difference between an “em” dash and an “en” dash? Either is guaranteed to prolong the discussion by at least 30 minutes. Neither will result in a productive use of anyone’s […]

Somewhere Between Science Writing and Science Fiction the Truth Lies

A 12-30-15 article in The Guardian (“The problem with science journalism: we’ve forgotten that reality matters most” Brooke Borel, 30 Dec 2015) criticizes science journalism for forgetting that “reality matters most.” The article claims that scientific communication can be (and is) driven by a variety of agendas but that science writing should be free from any […]

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 […]