Category Archives: Blog

The 5 Phases of the Writing Process

My friend Alex Epstein is in the process of writing a book. Many of his fans are eagerly awaiting its November release, so he often treats us to tidbits about the writing process. One of his latest was the following:

Does your writing process contain these same steps and do they carry the same emotions for you? If not, what do you do differently? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Science Refinery: Now with more Rhodes Scholar endorsements!

I am so proud to announce that Science Refinery is now officially endorsed by a Rhodes Scholar! Each year only 32 students from across the country get selected for this honor, so it’s kind of a Big Deal. I worked with Drew Birrenkott, currently at the University of Wisconsin-Madison but soon to be headed to the University of Oxford, last fall to help him prepare for the rigorous in-person interview process. (Remember, Science Refinery can help you improve more than just your written articles! Check out the range of projects I work on here.)

Drew sent me his application essay and CV as well as documentation about common questions that previous applicants experienced so I could be the best mock interviewer possible. After reading through all the materials and jointly planning how we could use our sessions most effectively, we met via Skype to practice several times. Together we worked on everything from content to style to body language. I could tell Drew’s confidence improved greatly throughout the process, and when it was time for the real thing, I knew he would shine.

And shine he did! A few weeks later I got an excited call from Drew that he had been selected as the Rhodes Scholar from his region. Though of course all of the credit goes to Drew for his impressive work over the years, I am thrilled that I got to play some small part in his victory by working with him on interview practice through Science Refinery.

Without further ado, you can watch Drew discuss his experience with Science Refinery in this video. The transcript follows in case you’re unable to watch the video.

Hi, my name is Drew Birrenkott, I am a 2014 Rhodes Scholar, and I had the opportunity to work with Science Refinery on my Rhodes interview prep. What I appreciated most about Science Refinery was their flexibility. I have a very busy weekday schedule, and Science Refinery was able to work around that and we were able to find time on nights and weekends to meet and prepare.

Additionally, I had a lot of flexibility in the interview sessions themselves. At first, we were taking it question by question and discussing the answers afterwards. But as the interview day got closer, we sort of shifted gears and were doing full interview prep and discussing it all at the end, which was really helpful.

And the last thing I really appreciated about Science Refinery was their preparation. Before we even met, it was clear they had done a lot of work reading through my application materials and preparing hard, thought-provoking questions, which is a big thing for the Rhodes interview, as that’s what they try to do with all of their questions. So I really appreciated that level of preparation and it really made my Rhodes interview itself much better.

I would strongly recommend Science Refinery for all of your interview needs.

A love letter to my clients from an appreciative editor.

Lately I’ve been especially loving my job. Now that I have plenty of real world experience under my belt, I’m more confident than ever in my editing and business skills. In short, things here at Science Refinery are clicking.

I also have been really feeling the love for all my authors recently. I think it’s only fair to share my appreciation publicly. So clients, this one’s for you.

Thanks. From me and Zach Galifianakis.

Not only do you help keep a roof over my head and food on my table, but you teach me so many new things every day. How many people get to learn about factors affecting hotel efficiency one moment and what WASP-1 (2-(2,7-diethoxy-9H-fluoren-9-ylidene) hydrazinecarboximidamide) does the next? Getting to read about cutting edge discoveries (before anyone else!) as my job is a privilege for a curious mind like mine.

I have a special spot in my heart for all my authors writing in English when it’s their second (or third! or fourth! or more!) language. I am so unbelievably impressed by your ability to communicate your science to the world in a language not native to you. As a typical American, I know some Spanish, but not nearly enough to compose a piece of technical writing.

Beyond earning my admiration, you also unintentionally teach me a little about your own language along the way. I’ve gotten to the point where I can make a pretty good guess whether the authors of a manuscript are from China or Russia or Brazil, for example. So thanks for making me feel like Sherlock. And when you do get tripped up on idioms and specialized vocabulary, I get to enjoy a moment of amusement 🙂

So to all my clients, thank you for entrusting me with your baby. It truly brings me joy to help you communicate your science so you can get back to doing the science you love.

Happy Saint Paddy’s Day! (And NOT St. Patty’s.)

Saint Patrick’s Day is on Monday, so many people are celebrating it this weekend. Here in America, even those who aren’t at all Irish or Catholic love taking the opportunity to celebrate with a Guinness and some corned beef and cabbage (mine are in the fridge waiting!).

One result is there’s a whole lot of talk about St. Patty’s Day across the internet.

But not so fast!

The proper form is actually St. Paddy’s Day. In fact, one disgruntled man has created a whole website dedicated to teaching people the proper spelling. It’s that important. is “a modest proposal to the people of the new world.” It explains the distinction as follows:

  • Paddy is derived from the Irish, Pádraig: the source of those mysterious, emerald double-Ds.
  • Patty is the diminutive of Patricia, or a burger, and just not something you call a fella.

So if you don’t want to cause your Irish friends to be “needlessly distracted from their Holy Tradition of drinking themselves into a stupor in honour of Saint Patrick and the wee island he adopted as home,” don’t wish them a Happy St. Patty’s Day. It just ain’t right.

Counseling or counselling? Depends on your continent.

As you can see on the Science Refinery Facebook page and Twitter feed, I’ve been having a lot of fun editing the particular paper I’m on right now. In addition to the amusing (I promise I never point them out in a mean-spirited way!) errors, the authors often use British English spellings though they specifically requested I edit everything according to American English conventions.

One that got me tripped up was seeing “counselling” without Word’s squiggly red underline. As a psychologist, I’m pretty used to reading it as “counseling.” As has become my standard, I went off to Google Ngram Viewer to investigate.

First, let’s take a look at American English:

Google books Ngram viewer graph of counselling vs. counseling in American English

Google Ngram Viewer graph of counselling vs. counseling in American English from 1920 through 2008. In all years, counseling is much more frequent and counselling is very rare.

Oh good, I’m not crazy.

Now let’s see what’s up with the British:

Google books Ngram viewer graph of counselling vs. counseling in British English

Google Ngram Viewer graph of counselling vs. counseling in British English from 1920 through 2008. Until about 1990, the two variants were used approximately equally. Then counselling took over to be the more frequent use, but counseling retains a decent minority.

So how did I deal with this situation as the editor? I mean, the authors weren’t technically wrong, but their use of the uncommon spelling variant could be jarring for an American audience and be an indicator of their “outsider” status. I left the following comment: “In American English, the spelling ‘counseling’ is much more common. Whatever you choose, please be consistent in your use throughout the manuscript.”

“Learn Blogging From a Pro” (Hint: it’s not me.)

As you know, this blog deals with topics relevant to the services I offer through Science Refinery. In addition to announcing deals and other news about the business, I cover things like grammar tips, the importance of editing, and other language miscellany.

I’m considering starting another personal blog about a completely different subject (if and when I do, I’ll do a one-time cross-post here to let you know!), so yesterday I finally got around to reading Learn Blogging From a Pro: Your Blogger Apprenticeship. It’s an eBook that you can get from Amazon here. If you have Amazon Prime and an actual Kindle (rather than the Kindle app that you can install on other devices), you can borrow it from the lending library for free, but if you don’t meet either of those conditions, it’s only $4.99.

Learn Blogging From a Pro cover art

Before I continue with my review, I just want to put it out there in the interest of full disclosure that the author, Trisha Bartle, is actually a friend of mine. I did find out about the book from her, but my review is my honest opinion and it’s not written differently just because I know her.

Learn Blogging From a Pro does a great job of walking you through the process of starting a successful blog. It’s especially valuable for the novice, but those who are moderately familiar with blogging can learn a lot of new tips to improve their blog too. It covers everything, from naming your blog and choosing a host, to making the design stand out and reliably rocking the content, to increasing readership and making money off your blog.

I really appreciated that Trisha injected lots of personality into the writing style–it was much more fun to read than other similar instructional manuals, which can be dry and boring. Finally, the resources guide at the end is a very useful collection of links.

I’ll definitely be attempting to put more of the advice from Learn Blogging From a Pro to use on this site (and my potential new blog too, obviously). It’s well worth the $4.99.

So what do you think of the book? Do you have other blogging advice resources to recommend? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy National Grammar Day!

Happy National Grammar Day, dear readers! For an interesting discussion of the difference between what laypeople mean when they say grammar and what specialists mean by grammar, see this post on the Copyediting blog.

If you’re in the mood to celebrate language–or if you’re just in the mood to save some money!–don’t forget that you can buy a $100 Science Refinery gift certificate for only $85 through tomorrow.

It’s a blizzard day here in Missoula. Here’s a deal to make it better.

Missoula, Montana (where I live) is currently experiencing a blizzard warning. Take note that this doesn’t just mean “a lot of snow.” It means a lot of snow plus a lot of wind, leading to dangerous drifting and whiteout conditions. Schools and even many workplaces are closed for the day, and everyone is urged to stay home if possible. As someone who works from home (and whose one meeting of the day got cancelled), this doesn’t affect me much. But I’m still adopting the SNOW DAY 😀 mentality.

My husband, on the other hand, is not a fan of snow. He more closely identifies with the Carl Reiner quote “A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” And even though I generally love snow, I’ve gotta say, I’m unusually sympathetic to the anti-snow crowd this season. Winter: we’re over you.

If you’re experiencing the winter blahs–or any other blahs, for that matter–I have something that might help brighten your day. You can buy a $100 Science Refinery gift certificate (no, they’re not just for the holidays!) for only $85 now through Wednesday, March 5. Take advantage of this great savings opportunity today by contacting me through the General Inquiry form, emailing me at, or calling me at 406.880.0224.

Catch-up post of recent Facebook updates

So I’ve been pretty terrible about keeping up this blog recently. I could list off some excuses like the holidays, new obligations, and prioritizing actual editing over writing about editing, but the truth is I’ve just let this slip by. I won’t promise a dramatic change (the new obligations and priorities are actually real), but I am going to recommit to posting here semi-regularly.

In the meantime, here are some updates from the Facebook and Twitter pages:

2/20/14: I ❤ Google Ngram viewer. “Should I change this author’s use of ‘indispensable for’ to ‘indispensable to’?” Rather than deciding blindly, I can check the data first! Click to see what I found then guess what I chose to do.

2/12/14: I just spontaneously shouted “I love this paper!” Good thing I work from home :). It’s a good day to be an editor.

2/11/14: Reading the methods of a paper that used HPLC is daunting and makes me glad I quit chemistry after one semester of organic. (Luckily I still know enough to be able to confidently, competently edit it after several passes.)

2/6/14: I’ve been doing mostly journal articles lately, but today I am editing a grant application. Nice change of pace! 🙂

2/5/14: My favorite error in this ESL paper so far: talking about the normally distributed “residues” (instead of residuals) 🙂

1/10/14: I’m editing a paper about altitude sickness and the author just referred to “seal level.” Made me think of the Seal as a Seal meme.

12/18/13: I’m editing a paper by authors whose native language is Korean. There were some unique errors, which led me to Googling to learn a little something about Korean syntax. Wikipedia taught me that Korean is generally considered a “language isolate” (meaning it has “no demonstrable genealogical relationship with other languages”). No wonder there were some unusual mistakes when the authors translated their ideas to English! Cool.

12/4/13: Pandora is blasting my holiday shuffle, I get to gaze out at beautiful snow, there’s tasty tea in my mug, and I’m editing a very interesting paper on IQ psychometrics. All I need is a fireplace and I’d be happy as a clam at high tide 🙂

A perfect holiday gift for that special academic in your life

Still wondering what to get that special academic in your life for the holidays? How about the gift of time: save them the hassle of designing that poster, putting together that PowerPoint, or reading through that thesis again by giving them a gift certificate for Science Refinery!

Contact me through the General Inquiry form, email me at, or call me at 406.880.0224 to discuss the options today. I can send a certificate of any denomination digitally or by mail.

As a random holiday bonus, here’s a picture of my cat Mateo in his ill-fitting elf costume from last Christmas. I promise that anyone who receives a Science Refinery gift certificate will be significantly less grumpy than this: