GEOL 333 #2 - Scientific Communication (Writing and Speaking)

Helpful hints to improve your scientific writing and speaking skills.

General Preparation - Read about scientific communication (and evaluating Internet information, citing references and plagiarism - see reference list). One EXCELLENT resource is the Purdue University's Online Writing Lab, which has helpful summaries of a vast array of writing topics, including the following broad categories: the writing process; professional, technical and job search writing; general academicwriting; research and citation; grammar and mechanics; English as a Second Language; Internet literacy; and writing in engineering (and science). Check it out! Select topic (environmental aspect of earth materials). Determine audience. First, research topic well (be careful in using information from Internet), taking advantage of Geology Virtual Library and Geology Library Web site for GEOL 333.

Resources at Geology Library Web site include: Georef = use keyword(s) to search for scientific articles in Geology journals; Current Contents = use keyword(s) to search for scientific articles in all kinds of journals; Links to many other resources including electronic journals in geology, searches in other libraries, many Internet resources, GSA Style Guide, and Encyclopedia Britannica. Geology Library Web site also explains search strategies, e.g., use of operators (AND = reference must include both words, OR = reference may contain either word, and NOT = reference excludes following word).

Use word processing program on computer. Make outline, expand outline, edit, write first draft (using double-space and wide margins), rewrite, GET FEEDBACK, rewrite, and read paper aloud to yourself or friend.

Goal of scientific writing = EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION

1) Communicate clearly

2) Communicate efficiently

Recommendations for Effective Organization and Writing

1) Identify your audience and create questions your audience might ask, e.g.,

What is news?
Why? (Why should I care?)
How? (How did you know? What is supporting information?)
Now what? What is next step?

2) Answer above questions in conversational way

3) Have a good "hook" (first sentence or so that captures reader's attention) - Examples of good hooks = startling fact, vivid example, paradox (contradictory statement that is true), question, analogy or joke

4) Put yourself in shoes of reader (editing). Don't use jargon. Does reader have special interests? Will reader understand you? How to make it clearer, briefer, and more interesting?

5) Get feedback from someone who communicates well.

6) Have central theme (thesis) and use good topic sentences. Topic sentence should appear at beginning of each paragraph, section, and paper. It answers question: What is the news?

7) Put most important ideas first, lesser important ideas later.

8) Do not plagiarize (Definition = copy or paraphrase someone else's words without quotation marks and reference; someone else's words can be from book, scientific article, or web site). Plagiarism is penalized severely (see U of I policy and U of I penalties). Avoid using quotation marks in GEOL 333 reports; write using your own words. Don't need to reference common knowledge (basic scientific laws and principles). If there are numerous related sentences that require reference, one is sufficient. Put references in list at end and know how to cite electronic information.

9) Pick good title - should be brief, interesting and highly informative; captures audience's attention.

10) List references at end according to style given in syllabus, e.g.,

Abbott, P.L. (1996) Natural Disasters. Wm. C. Brown, 438 p.

Wright, T.L. and Pierson, T.C. (1992) Living with volcanoes: U.S. Geol. Surv. Circular 1073, 44 p.

Web references should include Title (and sponsor), URL (i.e., Web address), and 1 sentence description of information at Web site, e.g.,

Mineral-Related Links (Mineralogical Society of America)

Many excellent mineral-related links including other sites with extensive, mineral-related links; mineral databases; dictionaries; tutorials; sites devoted to a specific mineral, a specific mineralogical topic, mineral localities, and biographies of mineralogists; other mineral-related sites, and mineral-related web-rings.

Style - Literary style involves developing measure of consistency and correct grammar. Literary style combines with your personal style. Style shields reader from monotony and boredom. Preserve your style but also perfect your style.

Style Requirements

1) Use proper grammar (see Humorous Rules for Writing).

2) Brevity and clarity. Avoid bureaucratese - use of long strings of clear, simple words that confuse reader. Avoid jargon (literary and scientific).

3) Use concrete words.

4) Whenever possible, use active voice (not passive voice) verbs (stronger, clearer, shorter). Active voice example - I threw the ball. Passive voice example - The ball was thrown (by me).

5) Don't over abbreviate or over use acronyms.

Oral Presentations (Lab = Soil Order, Lecture = Wiki Project) - Length is timed (penalty if under or over time limits), a few minutes for questions. Use whatever materials are necessary to convey your news, e.g., overhead transparencies, computer projector (Power Point slides), or blackboard; you can ask questions of class, bring in mineral or rock samples, demonstrations, or videos. You're only limited by your creativity.

Basic Parts of Oral Presentation

1) Opening (~10%) - sets stage; key first sentence, give theme, relevance and significance.

2) Body (~85%) - tells story; try to keep to single major message.

3) Conclusion (~5%) - answer question "What next?" Also, can tell audience what you told them. Finish by saying "Thank you." (Don't finish by saying "That's all I have to say.")

Advice for Effective Oral Presentations

Use similar methods described for written communication (identify audience and conversational approach to organization). Use clear, simple visuals (figures with large lettering, title, credit to authors) visible in back of room (penalty for illegible graphics). Rehearse in front of someone and get feedback. Tell your story, don't read report (major penalty for that). Make sure it's within time guidelines. If using computer projector, make sure you know how to operate it and prepare back-up in case of equipment failure.

Dress appropriately. Establish eye contact with audience. Be in control of voice (good volume including end of sentence, no monotone, articulate well, speak slowly, repeat points or pause, if necessary). Have good posture, walk around, don't speak to board or screen, avoid distracting gestures, and use appropriate body language, e.g., gestures to emphasize your point. Show enthusiasm. Answer questions appropriately; keep answers brief and to point, be polite and gracious, can repeat or rephrase question while composing answer, if you don't know answer, say so and get back to person.