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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2010
DOI: 10.5062/F40P0WXV

Book Reviews

Scientific Writing and Communication: Papers, Proposals, and Presentations

Mindy Thuna
AstraZeneca Science Liaison Librarian
University of Toronto Mississauga
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

Copyright 2010, Mindy Thuna. Used with permission.

Scientific Writing and Communication: Papers, Proposals, and Presentations. Angelika H. Hofmann. Oxford University Press, NY, 2009. 704 pp. ISBN 0195390059. $30.00

According to the author's preface, Scientific Writing and Communication "serves as a comprehensive "one-stop" reference guide to scientific writing and communication for researchers in various scientific fields. It covers all areas of scientific communication a scientist needs to know and to master in order to successfully promote his or her research." This book comes close to reaching this lofty goal through the expertise of its author, Angelika Hofmann, an experienced editor with a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. She is the founder and senior scientific editor of SciWri, an editorial services company for scientists, a grant writer and scientific editor at Yale University and an adjunct instructor at various universities and institutes worldwide.

Scientific Writing and Communication consists of a prelude and six parts with each part focusing on a different aspect of scientific writing and communication. The five chapters in Part I, Scientific Writing Principles: Style and Composition, cover the writing itself, including topics such as word choice, jargon, placement of words, grammar, tenses, paragraph structure, and organization, with the fifth chapter dedicated solely to common ESL grammar problems. Part II, Planning and Laying the Foundation, contains three chapters, which discuss the writing process, citations and plagiarism, and figures and tables. The nine chapters of Part III, Manuscripts: Research Papers and Review Articles, delve into the manuscript itself, with eight chapters devoted to writing a research article and one focusing on writing a review. The chapters on research articles deal with each separate section of a paper, from title through discussion, as well as covering manuscript revisions and the process of submitting a work for publication. The final chapter in Part III is devoted to review articles, including organization and the components of a review.

In Part IV, Grant Proposals, the reader is walked through the process of writing a grant. Starting with types of proposals and sponsoring agencies, then moving to a discussion of letters of inquiry and a section by section dissection of a grant proposal, this part concludes with advice on how to revise and submit a grant proposal. Part V, Posters and Presentations, devotes one chapter to the creation and presentation of posters and one to oral presentations for conferences. The final section of the book, Part VI, is composed of a single chapter about job applications and touches on cover letters and the composition of curricula vitae and resumes. The book concludes with three useful appendices: commonly confused and misused words, an answer key, and a glossary of English grammar terms. A list of references, credits, and an index appear at the end.

One of the strongest elements of this book is the layout. All of the chapters contain at least one of the following: a) a list of principles and/or guidelines pertinent to the topic at hand, followed by examples of each, b) a checklist for reviewing the product, c) a succinct summary box of key points from each chapter and d) end of chapter problems (with an answer key included at the end of the book). This layout allows for great flexibility when using this book as it can function as reference guide, a workbook, or a course textbook. The examples used throughout the text are from research papers, books, reports, theses, and grant proposals (with attributions included in the credits section at the end of the book) and cover a spectrum of scientific disciplines including medicine, molecular biology, biochemistry, ecology, geology, chemistry, engineering, and physics.

Added value comes from Dr. Hofmann's consideration of not only the writing of the papers, but how people will read them. This provides an enriched understanding of many of the concepts covered. Dr. Hofmann makes a conscious effort to target non-English speakers, which broadens the appeal of the book for a larger audience of writers (and readers). Often books that focus on many aspects of a process cover too much material in insufficient detail, a pitfall this book avoids for the most part, although there are a few chapters that are more basic and less detailed than they could be. The final chapter on job applications is particularly disappointing, both in its brevity and because the content seems to be peripherally related to the rest of the book. Basically, the content of this final chapter is sound but lacking in sufficient detail to be truly helpful.

Despite a few flaws, Scientific Writing and Communication will appeal to a broad readership from a range of scientific disciplines and at different stages of their academic career. If you are looking for a book with solid, mostly basic advice, on an array of topics relating to scientific writing and communication then this would be a good choice.

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