Writing Successfully in Science

Writing Successfully in Science

Engineering Geology, 33 (1993): 251-252 Elsevier SciencePublishers B.V., Amsterdam 251 Book Review Writing Successfully in Science, by Maeve O'Conno...

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Engineering Geology, 33 (1993): 251-252 Elsevier SciencePublishers B.V., Amsterdam

251

Book Review Writing Successfully in Science, by Maeve O'Connor. Harper Collins Academic, London, 1992. xi + 229 pp., ISBN 004-4458053 Hb - - £25; ISBN 004-4458061 Pb - - £8.95.

This book, despite its misleadingly modest title, is not simply about writing but is about research and the preparation and organisation necessary to get this research - - and its findings - - into print or into the lecture hall. The book, although not wholly perfect and although somewhat slanted towards Biomedicine, provides a clear, readable, professional analysis of the skills and strategems needed to produce journal articles, theses, book reviews, C.Vs., poster displays, and audio-visual presentations ... the how to, how not to, of these and related topics. Topics which a cursory glance at many "professional" journals would show not to be fully understood or appreciated either by editors or their contributors. The book consists of 15 chapters and two appendices. Each chapter is prefaced by a Synopsis and followed by a Summary. Chapter One: Assessing your work and planning its publication, is a step-by-step outline of what to do before research actually begins and what questions to ask. Questions which sadly, many of us do not ask until the research is almost finished and the lumpen facts, figures, findings, have to be digested, analysed, and published. Chapter One also considers the perils and pitfalls of "Duplicate Publication" whereby the same paper is simultaneously submitted (in the same form?) to separate journals. "Duplicate Submission" would be a happier expression. To claim however, as O'Connor does, that this is "... nearly always unacceptable as plagiarism" is I think, taking the moral rocking horse a little too far. Unacceptable perhaps, plagiarism no. Chapter Two deals with authorship, the order of authors' names, the selection of working titles, the construction of topic outlines and main headings. 0013-7952/93/$06.00

Chapters Three and Four are the most practical and should be consulted by all writers irrespective of their background. Three deals with Tables: Size, format, content and relative merit. Dull stuff perhaps but succinct and useful. A pity that the one illustrated example of "improvement" - - Table 3 converted into Table 4 - - should have resulted in two minor numerical mistakes. Four presents and evaluates graphs, maps, flow charts and photographs. Chapter Five deals with the First Draft: time and place, style and grammar, nomenclature and abbreviations, title, abstract, key words, acknowledgements. Three kinds of abstract are considered: the informative (100-250 words), the structured (up to 400 words) and the indicative. The indicative is all too common in British and Irish publications and is the bane of any reasonably critical reader. An example: "Pollen samples were taken from four sites on the Isle of Mull. Radiocarbon dates were established. Climatic variations are discussed. The plant succession is described. Conclusions are presented." Why O'Connor should encourage this airy nonsensense - - established, discussed, described, presented - - I don't know. Her comments on Acknowledgements are even more nonsensical: "Make sure that all you thank are willing to be thanked and that they approve of the wording of your acknowledgement." This unctuous Uriah Heep attitude perhaps explains why her own Acknowledgements are so cringingly oleaginous with everyone prefixed according to caste, status, position: Prof, Dr, Mr, while women - - as ever - have their marital status publicly defined: Mrs, Miss, Ms. Why? In a book on How to Write Successfully ... does this imply that success is measured (obtained?) by some sort of cringe factor?

© 1993 -- ElsevierScience Publishers B.V. All rights reserved.

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The last part of Chapter Five is tile most profound. "Bury the tirst draft" O'Connor says. Of course. All first drafts should be "buried" for as long as possible so that when excavated, they can be seen afresh and reworked afresh. Six deals with References: choice, storage, style and Seven with Revision. Eight considers Style and Grammar in more detail. A cogent, comprehensive survey, thankfully with no purist pseudo-grammar. It is worth reading if only to discover the necessity for the serial comma as used in American writing. Unfortunately here, as elsewhere in the text, gender misconceptions, political correctness and semi-literate PR uglies obtrude. Thus in typical Irish-media fashion (cf., The Irish Times) O'Connor knoweth not the difference between Man (capitalised) and man and men. The first is non-gender, non sexist, non-ageist, and covers the human race - - what O'Connor calls humankind presumably to avoid mankind (and womancruel?). The non-gender Chairman becomes Chairperson. If O'Connor does not want to act as a neutral non-gender Chairman, why cannot she become a Chairwoman? Or does woman still have its risque Victorian connation as it still does in Ireland'? And why favour the SONS? Why not a ChairperDAUGHTER? Elsewhere the subjunctive is side-stepped: "'if it was" (p. 92), entitled misused for titled (pp. 17, 132, 177) and overview (p. 184) used for outline? introduction? review'? survey'? An oversight per-

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haps? And does the PR smudge word meaning~u~ (pp. 4, 164) mean important? profound? necessary? valid'? Does com'ept (p. 8 8 ) that beloved word mean idea? topic'? subject? theme'? principle? And. and, sure enough in-depth (p. 164) surfaces. How deep'? We are never told. A question I put to a sociologist "'making an in-depth study of prostitution". Alas, no answer. Nine, Ten, Eleven: The final draft, submission, referees, proofs, reprints (offprints). Both American and British proof marks are considered. Of the remaining four chapters, Twelve the preparation of short talks and posters is the most useful, dealing as it does with the content, preparation and presentation of slides and overhead transparencies. Appendix One considers Requirements for Biomedical Journals and uses the twee word firstly (first) like a biomedical sore thumb (198). Again we are told that people listed in the Acknowledgements "... must have given their permission to be named lest they be thought to be endorsing the data and conclusions". Apparently there must be more quacks and chancers in Biomedicine than in the other sciences. And there, 110 references and 8'/2 pages later, the book ends. Whatever its pretensions, a useful informative compendium that belongs on the desk of every science writer. -

PATRICK ARTHUR HILL (Cork, heland)