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Writing Science: How to Write Papers That Get Cited and Proposals That Get Funded

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As a scientist, you are a professional writer: your career is built on successful proposals and papers. Success isn't defined by getting papers into print, but by getting them into the reader's consciousness. Writing Science is built upon the idea that successful science writing tells a story. It uses that insight to discuss how to write more effectively. Integrating lessons from other genres of writing with those from the author's years of experience as author, reviewer, and editor, the book shows scientists and students how to present their research in a way that is clear and that will maximize reader comprehension.

The book takes an integrated approach, using the principles of story structure to discuss every aspect of successful science writing, from the overall structure of a paper or proposal to individual sections, paragraphs, sentences, and words. It begins by building core arguments, analyzing why some stories are engaging and memorable while others are quickly forgotten, and proceeds to the elements of story structure, showing how the structures scientists and researchers use in papers and proposals fit into classical models. The book targets the internal structure of a paper, explaining how to write clear and professional sections, paragraphs, and sentences in a way that is clear and compelling. The ideas within a paper should flow seamlessly, drawing readers along. The final section of the book deals with special challenges, such as how to discuss research limitations and how to write for the public.

Writing Science is a much-needed guide to succeeding in modern science. Its insights and strategies will equip science students, scientists, and professionals across a wide range of scientific and technical fields with the tools needed to communicate effectively.

240 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2011

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Joshua Schimel

6 books11 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 71 reviews
Profile Image for Pham.
2 reviews3 followers
May 4, 2020
There's a pattern I’ve realized through reading advice books. The best book on presentation I’ve ever read isn’t about presentation skills. Similarly, the best book on design isn’t about design skills. Now, this is the best book I’ve read on writing, and it isn’t about writing skills either. To be precise, this book does contain a lot of advices on how to write, but these advices secondarily come from a foundation which is much deeper and far greater: the author’s philosophy about writing. The best books transform not only the way we practice a subject, but also the way we think about it. With the right philosophy, even an ordinary person can do extraordinary works.

2020 update:
For no book is without shortcomings, no review is complete without pointing out those. Schimel’s philosophy of writing is that of story-telling, of compelling narratives, of suspenses and surprises. I am not saying that this view is wrong. In fact, I believe that this is the correct view if one wants to publish papers that get read and cited. In this sense, the book did just the job it told you it would.

However, the book would be more complete if Schimel discussed whether scientific writing SHOULD be so. Aren’t we supposed to judge a scientific paper on its scientific content alone? Scientists, who are often thought to possess a high degree of "immunity to eloquence”, now seem to succumb to the sensuous pleasure and charm of compelling story-telling.
Profile Image for Ashis Saha.
90 reviews14 followers
May 30, 2020
কোন লেখা বিজ্ঞান নিয়ে হোক আর কল্পকাহিনী নিয়ে হোক, সে লেখার একটা গল্প থাকতে হবে, যে গল্পে চরিত্র থাকবে, গতিশীল কাহিনী থাকবে, কিছু টানাপোড়েন আর সবশেষে একটা সমাপ্তি। যত বেশি দিন গল্পটা পাঠকের মনে থাকবে, তত বেশি সার্থকতা। এ ধরনের সার্থক গল্পের কিছু রেসিপি আছে এ বইয়ে।

রেসিপির শুরুটা গল্প বলার ধরন নিয়ে - শুরুতে জেম্‌স বন্ডের সিনেমার মতো অ্যাকশন দেখিয়ে পরে অতীতে ফিরিয়ে নেয়া হবে, নাকি সাসপেন্সটুকু শেষের জন্য রেখে দেয়া হবে এসব নিয়ে। এরপর ধীরে ধীরে প্রতিটা অংশের গভীরে ঢুকে কার্যকর পরামর্শ দিয়ে��েন লেখক — কোন্‌ অধ্যায় কীভাবে লিখতে হবে, প্রতিটা অনুচ্ছেদের মাধ্যমে কীভাবে গল্পের কাহিনীকে সামনে নিয়ে যাওয়া যায়, কীভাবে কার্যকর বাক্য গঠন করতে হয়, কোন্‌ ধরনের শব্দ চয়ন করতে হয়। শুধু গাম্ভীর্যপূর্ণ বায়বীয় পরামর্শ নয়, বরং উদাহরণের মাধ্যমে ভাল লেখা আর খারাপ লেখার পার্থক্য হাতে ধরে দেখিয়ে দিয়েছেন। পুরো রেসিপি ঠিকমতো অনুসরণ করতে পারলে লেখা আকর্ষণীয় হতে বাধ্য।

বইটা দ্বিতীয়বারের মতো পড়লাম। প্রথমবার ৪-তারা দিয়েছিলাম — কেন যেন মনে হয়েছিলো উপন্যাসের মতো আকর্ষণীয় হয়নি, তাই ১-তারা কমিয়ে রেখেছিলাম। কিন্তু এ বই থেকে এত কিছু শিখেছি যে ১-তারা কেটে নেয়া অন্যায় মনে হয়েছে। তাই সবগুলো তারাই ফিরিয়ে দিলাম। আর বিজ্ঞান গবেষণার সাথে সংশ্লিষ্ট সকলের জন্য এ বইটি সুপারিশ করছি।
33 reviews4 followers
January 4, 2017
As a scientist, you are a professional writer. Applying the tools of the writer will improve both your writing and your science.
Profile Image for Max.
714 reviews14 followers
December 21, 2022
Super valuable book for beginning scientists. I am now writing my first scientific paper, and this book together with a writing course is helping me loads. Some things you aren't really aware of when you're trying to write down what you've done, so it's nice to get a clear overview of what makes a scientific piece nice to read. I am no native English speaker, so all the extra help is useful. Contains some exercises also, and a list of further books to read. Recommended!
Profile Image for Tom.
160 reviews8 followers
February 11, 2013
Overall a great book and also in line mostly with my advisor's thinking on the matter. I learned a lot and clarified a lot in my thinking. I'll focus here on some concerns, but overall just make sure to read this book if you need to write science.

Some of the acronyms were hard to keep 100% in mind throughout the book. Also, sometimes my lack of familiarity with particular fields did get in the way. But not too much.

Leaving out the issue of the dynamics of the abstract is a bit odd, I think, since that's really how people get into a paper.

On the little things, one thing I've decided is that saying "not X" is less than ideal. People have a way of overlooking negation. In one example in the book, Schimel left a revised sentence ending in "not conclusive" or something like that. At the end, "not" might be more noticeable, but I'd recommend "inconclusive" even as a longer word. But overall, Schimel has a LOT more down than I do, so take his advice over mine, I guess.

Also, in my discipline (computer science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics), conferences matter a lot, and the paper is only one component of getting citations. Citations might matter a lot more on the presentation (although I don't know statistics), so the small audience of the reviewers is what matters. In this sense, papers become perhaps more like proposals. Seeing an experienced analysis of the dynamics in this world would be nice. Also, how to maximize overall effectiveness where writing is one (still important) component.

Finally, this review (like all my others) is a hack first draft not trying to be formal at all. So don't judge the book by any flaws in my writing here. I definitely expect to review the recommendations of this book in my future writing and editing.
Profile Image for Anarmaa.
24 reviews7 followers
December 28, 2012
This is not a fiction book you read before you go to bed. It is one of the "boring" science related books; probably more aimed towards people who just started their career in science as PhD students. However, this book impressed me by its clear messages and very engaging writing style. If you are scientist you don't hear everyday or even at all that science writing is "STORY TELLING". This main message clearly stuck in my head. Author does not just plainly said so, he eloquently "told" his "story" about "story telling" with well chosen examples from published articles and enriched it with his extensive experience in reviewing numerous grant proposal and papers. He didn't stopped with only "story telling"; he represented techniques how to do in the second part of his book. Overall this was probably the best written book on this subject by not only its content, but also its writing style. Therefore I would definitely recommend this book to read.
Profile Image for Amanda Nelson.
477 reviews7 followers
May 13, 2014
I appreciated this book much more than I thought I would. It not only made me feel better about my more common writing mistakes by noting that I am not alone, it gave me methods to fix them. I knew I had issues with "the big picture" and "telling the story." I had been told as much by past advisors, but it wasn't until this book that I understood what that really meant or how to deal with it. I have already recommended this book to both my advisors and several fellow students, which is probably the best review I can give.
Profile Image for Andrew.
104 reviews4 followers
October 20, 2016
I suggest this book to anyone who writes in the sciences. The principles of writing in this book could apply more widely, but the content is geared to science writing. Though Schimel has clear and interesting style, I found it a bit of a chore to read through to the end. There's just a lot to consider when writing. It's totally worth the work though; this is the kind of advice that develops an average paper into an inspiring paper (assuming you've got good science in the first place).
5 reviews1 follower
January 26, 2021
This book is one of the best I've ever read. It offers awesome writing tools presented in a remarkably clear and engaging way. It covers all aspects of writing, from designing story structure to the usage of specific words, and everything in between. I recommend it even to non-scientists. Although some of its chapters focus specifically on writing in science, most of the book is about writing (and communicating) in general.
Profile Image for James Mason.
434 reviews12 followers
May 7, 2021
Wow. This was _so_ good! Of course any book on writing has to pass the test that it is well written, and this one is. The message came through loud and clear and it was well structured both across the whole book and at the granular level.
I read a lot of books on leadership and the like and what is always a bit frustrating is that the target audience is usually business. It's the same for a lot of large audience books. It's hard to find books like this that specifically target my community: scientists. So this was very well received even if niche, and I've been recommending it to all of my friends who have ever expressed a modicum of interest in effective communication.

Adapting the principles from professional novel writers seemed a little bit of a stretch to me when the author first introduced it. But I as sold after like 10 pages. The author does such an excellent job of that adaptation part. How do the principles of OCAR, SUCCES, LDR, etc apply when you're dealing with scientific papers (that are usually intro, methods, discussion, conclusion) and proposals. And I was especially thankful for the small bits throughout about how the principles applied to proposals (the main focus was on papers). The author's deep experience and interest in this topic, plus being married to a writer, meant that every point made was so thoroughly thought through and backed up by examples. And the examples... it was so useful to see examples of actual scientific text with its problems pointed out and then stepping through the process of improving it. That made every lesson concrete.

The _only_ area I wish had been developed a little more was the application of the writing principles to overall proposal structure. Just as science papers are usually intro/methods/discussion/conclusion and the author did a great job talking about how OCAR etc adapt to that, I would've loved to see the same done for proposals. I don't know structure of proposals is as common across scientific disciplines as it is for papers, but for NASA proposals they are structured as science/technical/management. It's not immediately obvious how to do the adaptation myself, but I will be keeping everything I learned from this book in mind the next time I write a proposal, which is never more than a few months away.

Can't recommend this book highly enough for all of my scientist friends. I did more highlighting on Kindle in this book than I have ever done.
Profile Image for Rachel Sawyer.
50 reviews
April 9, 2022
I had to read this book for school. It was useful in what it was trying to teach but hard to read at times. The author also comes off as if they are saying that their was it THE way to write scientific papers which seems a bit arrogant. I did learn more about writing scientific papers well so job well done.
Profile Image for Gabriela Carr.
119 reviews
December 7, 2022
Read for a grant writing class. Useful, especially with its use of examples. Focuses mostly on how to structure your story in scientific writing to make it the must impactful and clear.
Profile Image for Anya.
55 reviews2 followers
May 17, 2020
It’s been a year since I last read something on writing. This break went well: I regained the curiosity and forgot some bits. I got ready to perceive even some common pieces of advice without impatience and frustration, “I’ve already heard it elsewhere, now where’s the new stuff?”. And I fully appreciated the attempt made by Joshua Schimel to share his writing experience in a thorough and sincere way.

If I had to choose a single word to describe the essence of this book, it would be “story”. Finding a story and telling it is a central idea of what writing is about. Every chapter adds to this idea, and together they form a story, indeed.

I wouldn’t say the book is a practical guide: it goes far beyond such a goal. It brings up controversial issues, discusses the background behind decisions that scientists have to make as writers. On the other hand, these speculations never stay pointless: they do resolve in concrete helpful suggestions. Each chapter is also accompanied by exercises, expanding the opportunities for application. (I must admit that, same as with The Scientist's Guide to Writing: How to Write More Easily and Effectively Throughout Your Scientific Career, I missed the exercises. They are quite demanding, and I’m thinking of dedicating special time to them, maybe with a group of interested peers).

A would recommend this to anyone who is a scientist and hence, as Joshua Schimel puts it, is professional writer.
Profile Image for Bob Lewis.
306 reviews9 followers
March 6, 2022
If you're an experienced writer, a lot of what Schimel says in this book is going to already be quite familiar to you. But the trouble is, a lot of scientists are not particularly well trained as writers, and so this guide might be quite useful to both practicing scientists and graduate (or even undergraduate) students interested in improving their writing.

The author's approach is to unpack the idea of good writing in a highly analytical way. Drawing both from examples of good science writing and from quality fiction, the author describes a method of presenting science narratively that I think will serve almost any writer well.

There is a danger in this approach, however. Because Schimel has distilled what is fundamentally an art (or at least a craft) into a series of formulae and abstractions, there is a danger of following the advice TOO closely and ending up with a finished piece that has no soul. While a soulless formulaic work might be superior to some of the writing I've read in the sciences, it shouldn't be the goal. Nor does Schimel suggest formulaic writing IS the goal; it's just that his method could produce that if the practitioner isn't careful.

Be aware also that this book is intended for scientists to learn about writing, not for writers to learn about how to write science. These are related topics, and the book covers some ground that would be applicable to both groups, but they are not the same things. If you're already a great writer and you're just trying to learn how to apply those skills to science, you'll find this book full of advice with which you already agree, but not much that will serve your particular purpose. This is a book for scientists.

But if you are a practicing scientist and you want your papers to have a little more life and actually attract readers' attention rather than cluttering up the journals without ever getting cited, you could do a lot worse than to read this book.
Profile Image for minhhai.
112 reviews11 followers
October 23, 2019
Best book on writing for scientists. A must-read for anyone whose careeer is determined by the quality of their research papers and proposals. After reading this book, I found my papers looking like garbage. I realized that for all those years doing and writing science, I had not known how to write a paper.

Schimel argues that writing science is a form of story telling, that the article must convey a coherent story as clearly as possible. From that standpoint, Schimel advocates for the OCAR structure: opening, challenge, action then resolution. The structure and its variations, such as LD (lead - development), should be maintained throughout the article from article-level down to paragraphs and sentences. The book then discusses how to achieve concision and clarity. It wraps up with some thoughts and advices on writing for young scientists.

The writing strategies and advices are persuasive. They fit well with academic writing (papers and proposals). Schimel himself is a renown scientist who learned writing the hard way. That's why he understands the problems in scientific writing so well. His points are illustrated by a large number ofexamples, both good and bad ones. It is instructive and entertaining to see "live editing" when he fixes and polishes bad ones.

The book itself is also an example of good writing! Schimel is clearly an excellent writer. There is just too much to learn from the book that I can't capture in this review. You have to read and enjoy it yourselves.
Profile Image for Alyssa Lee.
225 reviews13 followers
July 13, 2021
Let me start this review by making it clear that this book was helpful; it has improved my science writing and specifically helped my in my research internship (where I was lucky enough to hear Dr. Schimel speak on two occasions).

However, this book could have done with another revision. There were several typos, and Schimel often contradicted himself in his writing in a way that wasn't necessary. It could also be even shorter - most of this information he was able to condense into two presentations (that only took an hour each because he tends to ramble a bit when speaking).

I think the examples could also use some more consistency. The most effective examples were broken up into sections to highligh exactly what they did right or wrong. At other times, examples were just thrown onto the page one after the other with only a brief comment, which wasn't entirely helpful.

Finally, I have to point out that quoting Stephen King's advice on revising a draft to make it shorter is definitely a choice, yeah?
110 reviews1 follower
June 20, 2019
An essential read for any technical writer. You may not become a better writer overnight but you will at least avoid the common mistakes and organize your thoughts better on paper. Bottom line: follow the OCAR structure (Opening, Challenge, Action, Resolution) as you tell your story about the data to create understanding and knowledge. That structure is important and the story mindset helps drive your points. Your number one job is to make the reader's job easy. Avoid jargon, use verbs, and aim for clarity. The book breaks down each part by layers: structure, paragraphs, sentences, and words. Discussing how to discuss, provides restrictions and limitations, and resolves the questions on conclusions. Many examples are provided from journal papers - my best one was on the editing process. This should be part of every writer's bookshelf. Now, only if I could convince my students.
Profile Image for Victoria.
6 reviews6 followers
May 28, 2019
If you are a scientist who writes about science and you haven’t read this book, WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?

I urge mentors to make this a mandatory read for trainees.

The author has collected many otherwise scattered writing lessons (that you may or may not pick up along the course of your career) and presents them here all in one excellent resource.

It gives structure to problems you might have intuitively picked up on in the past, so that now you can concretely identify and fix them more quickly.

Taking Schimel’s guidelines to heart will help you shed any bad and pretentious habits you’ve inherited from ghosts of ‘The Academy’ past.
Profile Image for Colleen.
33 reviews
December 25, 2018
Schimel has some great tips for the scientific writer, but sometimes seems to contradict himself. He also seems to have very concrete ideas for how a paper should be written, and disapproves of all other styles. If we all wrote like Schimel, papers would be 3 pages long and have nothing but short, powerful sentences. I found a lot of good ideas that I will definitely incorporate in my own writing, but there were also things I think I shall leave to Schimel for his own. Worth a read, but I wouldn't take it as gospel.
August 9, 2022
hot girls add their textbooks to goodreads to reach their reading goals 🫡
but actually this book is an amazing resource for anyone in the sciences! Too often, people in the sciences have no respect for the arts—I can’t tell you how often I heard undergrads complain about having to take English classes as a bio major. In a ridiculous amount of (published!) scientific papers, this disdain for the art of writing is abundantly clear and it makes for a excruciating reading experience. A good scientist must be a good writer! Please read this book if you ever want to publish your research!
Profile Image for Gede Suprayoga.
128 reviews4 followers
March 20, 2017
I read this book and found it was inspiring. The author provides with approaches to follow in writing journal articles for scientists and publications for general audiences. The explanation is sufficiently clear. The author is not only presenting how to write as scientists, but also motivating us to publish in a way to do good science. I recommend this book to whoever needing a step-by-step approach in accomplish their PhD dissertation and in writing their proposal.
Profile Image for Devon Bowser.
103 reviews5 followers
July 19, 2018
My PhD adviser gives this book to all his graduate students as a guide for how to approach scientific writing. It is written as a resource manual/textbook but was actually enjoyable to read. I did take notes as I read because of that #gradschoollife mentality. The takeaways from the book are presented in a straight forward manner that makes it easy to start incorporating the advice directly into your writing, revisions, and editing.
Profile Image for Chris.
64 reviews
April 5, 2019
Pretty much essential reading for any research active academic. I learnt a lot through reading this book, but there is so much to take it you have to read, impliment, re-read and repeat. The focus is VERY natural sciences heavy which makes it hard to fully impliment if you are not in those fields. I am a design academic, so the advice is good, but it can be a hard read at times. Also, completely overpriced on Amazon!
60 reviews8 followers
June 11, 2021
Excellent book that really made me start to see myself (and other scientists) as a writer. I read this chapter by chapter with a small group from work, which made me get more out of it through discussion. The only downside of the book for me was some slight repetition, and me forgetting all the acronyms constantly. But a very useful book I will return to again and again at different stages of writing articles.
July 15, 2022
Complete different story about how do you have to write scientific and proposal research project to be cited and approved. It is complete different approach of writing scientific paper, although he refers to a lot of scientific books telling you stories, that at the end help you to complete understand what you have to focus on when you write you paper. Reading for the second time, but know looking for structure, story telling paragraph and sentences. Highly recommended
Profile Image for Heidi Steffen.
3 reviews
August 31, 2022
Honestly the best educational book I have ever read. I stumbled across this book in the hope to hone my writing skills. I was not disappointed. Not only did the author capture every element of writing that promotes memorability, he clearly illustrates its effectiveness by applying the guidelines himself throughout book. I would recommend this book to any aspiring scientist that would like their work to stick to their readers' minds.
Profile Image for Esteban Martínez.
79 reviews1 follower
February 11, 2020
Fantástico libro sobre escritura en ciencia, pero sospecho que sirve para escribir en general. Creo que no solamente sirve para mejorar la escritura de texto sino la comunicación de ideas. Está increíblemente bien escrito, como uno esperaría. Lo dejé de lado un tiempo, por eso lo termino hasta ahora.
17 reviews2 followers
July 29, 2021
A nice read, very practical guidelines for academic writing and communication. This book lies nicely somewhere in between general writing and academic word selection. The author provides various examples from real papers and proposals to make his points persuasive, and I'd say he's done a pretty good job.
Profile Image for Harry Rubin.
105 reviews31 followers
May 4, 2022
This was a required book for my graduate writing class that I will continue to reference when I am writing my thesis. It provides really good tips and examples. My biggest hang-up was his use of acronyms. I don't think acronyms are a good way to communicate. Unless you are sticking to one throughout a 200 page book.
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