Category Archives: Quotes

Improved functionality at makes finding your “lightning word” easier than ever

As Mark Twain famously said,

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning. is now better equipped than ever to help you find that lightning word.

The other day I was struggling to think of the perfect word to use in a letter of recommendation for a former student. “Deftly” was close, but not quite right, so I headed to for inspiration. I was expecting to see something like this:

deftly old

Instead I was greeted with this:

deftly new1

What a welcome surprise! Here’s a quick summary of the new features:

  • Entries are separated on different tabs so you can focus on the meaning you intend.
  • You can sort by relevance (then alphabetically within a given level of relevance) so the most probable words are first.
  • You can highlight only words of a certain complexity or length or those that are common or informal.
  • The visually appealing column format makes skimming easier.

But “delicately” wasn’t the sense in which I meant “deftly,” so I checked the “cleverly” tab. I knew I wanted a short word, so I used that slider. My lightning word was now clear: “ably.”

deftly new2

To see what the rest of the options looked like, I also explored the “shrewdly” tab. This output is sorted alphabetically and is organized in a list, so it looks the most like the old format*, but it still has the new functionality of highlighting only the common words:

deftly new3

My one complaint is you can’t use multiple highlighting options at once (for example, you can’t highlight words that are simple, short, common, and informal).  Perhaps this will be addressed in future upgrades. I’m also curious about how complexity is measured. After testing a few words, I found some non-intuitive results with that option.

Overall, these changes are very welcome. The new is better than ever, so there’s no excuse to settle for a lightning-bug word when you can find the perfect bolt of inspiration instead.

*If you really miss it for some reason, you do still have the option to revert to the old version of the website.


“And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

Today I was commissioned to make a quote “pretty” so it could be hung up in an office. I ended up liking it so much that I ordered a poster print for myself too. The quote is from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech and the picture is my own.

Jobs commencement speech

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.

I’m so glad I trusted myself enough to leave grad school and start Science Refinery (learn more about me here) so I could continue doing what I love–helping people improve their writing, posters, talks, job applications, and more.

Are you settling right now? If so, Steve Jobs and I agree: keep looking.

“Communicating well is one of the most important things–perhaps the most important thing”

In searching for a quote to use in my trial Bunkr presentation yesterday (read my review of Bunkr here), I found this great one:

As a scientist, communicating well is one of the most important things–perhaps the most important thing–that we do, because it doesn’t matter how good your science is or how important it is: if you can’t communicate to other people why it’s important, then you won’t be able to help it reach its full potential.

~Will Cox (from his video testimonial)

“Even a superb writer needs a good editor.”

Even a superb writer needs a good editor. A merely good writer needs a superb editor.

~Dan A. Wilson

Like I always say, all writers need editors.

(That certainly doesn’t exclude me, by the way! If you ever spot an error on my site, let me know through the “My Bad!” contest for $5 off your next edit.)

Edit: Lisa M. of Madison, WI spotted that I originally said “$5 off you next edit.” I wish I could say this was an intentional plant, but it’s really just a coincidental mistake. Well done, Lisa!

“So accustomed to pretentious nonsense…”

A few days ago, I Tweeted “The top scientific journal style guides urge us to write clearly. Why don’t we follow them?” when linking to this post. Here’s one answer: bad models.

…people today are so accustomed to pretentious nonsense that they see nothing amiss in reading without understanding, and many of them at length discover that they can without difficulty write in like manner themselves and win applause for it. And so it perpetuates itself.

~G. A. Wells (via Science Quotes)