In honor of National Grammar Day … it IS “March Fourth” after all … do you have any grammar books? Punctuation? Writing guidelines? Style books? More importantly, have you read them? How do you feel about grammar in general? Important? Vital? Unnecessary? Fussy?
That’s probably a pretty easy question for anyone that got their degree in chemistry over the last couple of generations. By far, the writing guide that I have used most often is the American Chemical Society’s “ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information” which for a long time was the veritable “Bible” on how to write a scientific paper and the best ways to present your data.
And I used this book quite often because my graduate school mentor believed in making his students take the time to write their own research papers, even though he could have cranked them out in about 1/10th the time. But there’s nothing like getting thrown in the deep end of the pool, is there?
Scientific papers are funny things to write and most of it has to do with verb usage and tense – other than the enduring mistake of using “data” as a singular noun (it’s the plural of “datum” so treat it as such). Science papers are supposed to be clear and aren’t supposed to have “personality” and certainly not be “conversational” in tone. Slang is also a no-no since* many readers may not be native English-speakers.
For instance, I might tell a colleague, “Look at this NMR data** – I was right about compound #1.” In a paper, you’d write: “The NMR data are consistent with the hypothesis that compound #1…” Passive voice, conservative language, — which is one reason that you never read the scientific literature when you’re sleepy.
These days, Microsoft’s green and red squiggly underlines can warn you of many grammar and spelling mistakes and checking usage is often as easy as opening another browser window. Similarly, scientific graphing programs have useful templates and algorithms for data presentation and so I doubt the “Style Guide” gets pulled off the shelf very often. Mine is probably over there next to my dusty slide rule.
* Since is a time-word not a reason. I should have used “because”
**in conversation, you almost always slip into the data as singular trap. Well, I do.