Category Archives: Blog

My first paper from Africa!

I edit for many authors for whom English is not their first language. I’ve been keeping track of their countries of origin and first languages over on the Why Choose Science Refinery? page. Until now, I’ve done lots from Europe, Asia, and the Americas, but today I’m editing my first work from Africa (Angola)! Now I’ve edited something from every populated continent (that is, if you’re one of the people who count the Malay Archipelago as part of Oceania rather than Asia; if you’re not, I’m looking to you, Australia and New Zealand!). Cool.

Why Academics Stink at Writing

If you care about academic writing at all, I urge you to read Steven Pinker’s latest article at The Chronicle Review. It’s long, but very worth it. His central question is,

Why should a profession that trades in words and dedicates itself to the transmission of knowledge so often turn out prose that is turgid, soggy, wooden, bloated, clumsy, obscure, unpleasant to read, and impossible to understand?

He goes on to demolish some of the most common explanations for poor academic writing. It’s not just deliberate obscurity, or that it’s unavoidable, or that it’s imposed by journals. It’s about communication style.

Rather than writing in a clear, classical style, most academics blend the practical and self-conscious styles. Why is this so? “The curse of knowledge, in combination with chunking and functional fixity.” You’ll have to read the full article to see what he means by all of that.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. As Pinker put it,

Enough already. Our indifference to how we share the fruits of our intellectual labors is a betrayal of our calling to enhance the spread of knowledge. In writing badly, we are wasting each other’s time, sowing confusion and error, and turning our profession into a laughingstock.

Pain management patient information sheet

As seen on the recently updated Range of Projects I Work On page, I just edited a patient information sheet for a pain management clinic. I love getting to explore new fields and types of writing! Keep sending me those varied projects 🙂

Edit on 9/6: The Range of Projects I Work On page was just updated again to reflect that I’m now working on a manuscript in another new subject area: educational philosophy and theory. I also have a new country of origin and first language of my authors listed on the Why Choose Science Refinery page: Turkey and Turkish!

Free Writing in the Sciences MOOC

A free online course called Writing in the Sciences starts on Tuesday, 9/2. I have no experience with this instructor or MOOCs at Stanford, so I can’t provide a personal recommendation, but it looks like it’d be a great experience. The topics include everything from crafting better sentences and paragraphs to how to do a peer review. If you take the course, please let me know what you think of it!