Book Review of The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science, 2nd ed, by Scott L. Montgomery (University of Chicago Press; 2017)
Science exists because scientists are writers and speakers -- Scott L. Montgomery
Scott Montgomery’s goal in The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science is to help scientists write and speak about their science competently and even creatively.
The book is divided into 3 parts. Part 1 focuses on writing well. Part 2 discusses the types of scientific communication: scientific papers, review articles, proposals, and even graduate theses. Part 3 branches out into special topics such as writing as a scientist for whom English is a second language, communicating with the public, and teaching science communication.
Choosing and Using Models
It is often said that good writers are good readers. Reading widely allows one to develop an ear for what sounds correct. Montgomery suggests that one way to learn how to write a scientific paper well is to collect and study other well-written papers. He refers to this as choosing and using models.
Here are some of Montgomery’s ideas on choosing models:
Once you have collected some models to study, here are some of Montgomery’s tips on using your models:
Tips on Getting Started
Every book or article on writing has a different tip for how to start writing a research article: start with the Results section, write the Abstract last, start with the Methods. Montgomery suggests starting with the title.
Montgomery's advice includes jotting down several phrases to describe your topic. Or, sit down with a colleague and describe your subject. This will force you to clarify your ideas. You may even come up with a few great lines to use in your article.
Chapter 5 is a gold mine of ideas on writing creatively. The chapter is titled “Writing Very Well: Opportunities for Creativity and Elegance.” Montgomery argues that “all forms of persuasive writing can be shaped creatively” and he offers 9 illustrated examples.
One example shows how using a question can add emphasis or provide a transition within a paragraph:
Cholesterol and related sterols are not uniformly distributed within the membranes of eukaryotic cells. Why is this so? Here we seek an answer by considering the effects of these flat, disc-like molecules on lipid bilayers.
Another example draws attention to the use of alliteration, the repetition of a letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent words:
This report pays special attention to the growing mass of plastic pollution that now plagues the world’s oceans.
Components of a Journal Article
Chapter 9 summarizes the parts of a research article, from the title to the acknowledgments and supplementary material.
Chapter 12 presents useful information on graphics, such as when to use a table and when to use a figure. Numerous examples are included and dissected.
Montgomery also adds a few paragraphs on useful and rarely given information for authors about how to actually write about the figure in the text: where do you insert the figure callout? Should the figure be referenced at the beginning of the sentence or at the end?
Too many authors, when it comes to indirect mention (in parentheses), jump the gun and insert the reference before the reader is ready. Examples abound in the literature. Here’s one:
A Cure for Writer’s Block
Montgomery suggests rereading your models or discussing your topic with a colleague as ways to deal with writer’s block. I suggest picking up this book. A quick reread of any one of the chapters mentioned should help you unlock your inner creative writer.
Influenza virus. Image courtesy of CDC/Doug Jordan, MA
Summer is over and college students are back on campus. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve sent a kid off to college for the first time. We checked off plenty of lists between cleaning up the Legos in his bedroom at home (yes, there were still Legos) and unpacking his belongings in his college dorm. We sent a basic first aid kit, but the start of fall also signals the start of flu season. So, does my college student need a flu shot?
The Best Way to Prevent the Flu Is to Get a Flu Shot
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot. Every year. The flu is a contagious illness caused by an influenza virus. The trivalent influenza vaccine protects against 3 flu-causing viruses. Every flu season, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the CDC adjusts the composition of the vaccine to match circulating flu viruses. The vaccine works by triggering your body’s immune system to make antibodies against the viruses that are in the vaccine.
How influenza germs spread through the air when someone coughs. Image courtesy CDC
The flu virus spreads mainly through the cloud of droplets released when infected people cough, sneeze, or talk. Flu viruses can spread rapidly on college campuses because students are near each other all the time: in their dorm rooms, in their classrooms, in shared restrooms, and in social activities.
Flu Affects Academic Performance
The American College Health Association surveys undergraduate students yearly about their health habits and behaviors. In one question, students were given a list of health and social factors—like anxiety, chronic pain, and roommate difficulties—and asked which factors had affected their academic performance in the past 12 months. The most-named factor, reported by 34% of the students who took the survey, was stress. But 14% of the students also said that “cold/flu/sore throat” had affected their academic performance (which was defined as receiving a lower grade on an exam or an important project, receiving a lower grade in a course, or receiving an incomplete or dropping a course). The impact of colds and flu was comparable to that of working (14%) or participating in extracurricular activities (11%). Also, as noted in a report by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, when college students get sick, they tend to be sick for 8 days or more.
Some Colleges Make it Easy to Get a Flu Shot
Your college student’s campus may have a special campaign to encourage students to get a flu shot. At the University of Texas at Austin, the annual Flu Shot Campaign kicks off in September. To make it easier for students to participate, pop-up clinics are offered at various sites around campus. Students can even enter their insurance information online ahead of time to speed up the process.
In Michigan, colleges and universities compete in a Flu Vaccination Challenge run by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The goal of the challenge is to increase vaccination rates across the state. The University of Michigan won the challenge last year and is already encouraging students to get a flu shot at a campus clinic and then complete a brief survey as part of this year’s event.
Does a Student Really Need a Reminder From Mom?
College students are transitioning to being independent, but many have not yet had to take care of their own health care. Some experts believe that unless a parent or other trusted figure urges the student to get vaccinated, they won’t. In a small study at one college, students were more likely to report that they intended to get a flu shot if they had family who also intended to get vaccinated that season.
The CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. Schedule your flu shot today and then call or text your college student and ask about flu shots on campus. Check to see if the school takes your health insurance and whether that information can be provided online. As the CDC says, a yearly flu vaccine is the best way to prevent flu illness. #FightFlu.