Writing Better With Oatmeal

Yes, okay, I admit it. For as casual and conversational as I try to keep my writing, I’m a bit of a grammar geek*. I’m not a cantankerous stickler for a technically perfect phrase, and I’m certainly not exempt from grammatical blunders, but I do put my back into it a little bit. It’s one of the ways I extend a measure of respect to language, along with things like saying “croissant” correctly (I’m not French, but it’s one of my biggest pet peeves). Sure, maybe I go a little overboard sometimes and find myself sitting in silent, festering judgment of misplaced apostrophes. Maybe seeing “alot” shimmering like grammatical polyester on a page makes me want to flick someone’s ear. And maybe it hit just a little too close to home when a college classmate told me, “Caroline, you’d proofread a love letter.” Humph. You say that like it’s a bad thing.

As much as I enjoy the pursuit of grammatical excellence, I recognize it’s not as natural for everyone. Grammar may even be your sworn nemesis. I know exactly how it is — I have the same antagonistic relationship with math. Stupid math, making me feel all dumb. But enough of my issues, back to the point at hand: Grammar isn’t always intuitive, it isn’t always easy and, let’s face it, it’s not generally considered a lot of fun. Or so I thought until I found The Oatmeal. Continue reading

Use Parallel Structure to Guide the Reader

Getting What You Want from Your Science Writing Part X

computer_keyboardParallel construction signals to the reader that two ideas are of equal importance. If two or more ideas or items are connected by a coordinating conjunction such as “and”, “but” or “or”, then those ideas should be expressed in parallel or equivalent grammatical constructs. Items and ideas of equal importance should be presented using equivalent grammatical structures. Items in a list should be parallel: all verbal phrases, all nouns, etc. Parallel construction guides your reader and helps your reader organize concepts on a first read of your text. Continue reading

Jargon and Buzzwords

Getting What You Want from Your Science Writing Part VII

I received a comment from a reader in response to the “Not-A-Verb List” that I posted as part of our science writing series. He wanted to see an article about the vague words used in life-science marketing and cited in particular his disdain for the word “robust”. I’ve done some research and found a great article entitled the “Content-Free Buzz-Word Compliant Vocabulary List”, an article listing words that are so over-used they have ceased to convey any real meaning. Interestingly, “robust” is right at the top of the list.

So, if our buzzwords of efficiencies, synergies, continual improvement, robust procedures, scalable assays, and world-class science are not communicating anything, what should we do? Continue reading

Use Words That You Understand

Getting What You Want from Your Science Writing Part VI

A friend of mine told me about an incident that happened during a speech crafting workshop for professionals. One of the members was given the task of selecting a word to introduce and define for the group. The other members of the group were supposed to incorporate that word into their conversation during the workshop. Continue reading

The Notorious “Not-A-Verb” List

book_sqGetting What You Want from Your Science Writing, Part V
Like all editors, the science editors at Promega each have pet peeves about language usage and writing, and you can often find us engaged in animated discussion about usage of the word “utilize” or “employ.” We maintain the corporate style guide for writing and usage, and we provide many resources for Promega employees who find themselves composing at the keyboard.

One of my favorite writing resources is our “Not-A-Verb” list. Continue reading

Rescue the Verb!

Getting What You Want from Your Science Writing IV: Rescue the Verb!

computer_keyboardWhen I wrote for my courses in college and in graduate school, my target audience was my professor, so I wrote to impress. To sound “smart” I nominalized verbs, used passive voice and as much jargon as possible. This is the kind of writing that complex scientific topics require. Right? Continue reading