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Who Was Macho B and What We Know about Jaguars


New Books for Reluctant Readers Coming in July…

My reluctant reader series “The Aquitaine Reluctant Reader Series”
will kick off in July with Book 1, “Looking at the Cat; an Eye on Evolution”, written for kids in Grades 9 – 12 who can read but don’t like to read.
Cat Book Cover-3


Writing Science for the Public

It’s no secret that science has a PR problem. Scientists, it seems, are generally viewed as cold and competent but not warm and trustworthy. According to social psychologist Susan Fiske of Princeton University, a person’s perceived warmth strongly influences how much they are trusted. This presents a problem for scientists, especially in an era when funding, research impact, and science literacy rely so heavily on communicating effectively with a broader audience. Even when seeming warm and trustworthy could help their message be heard, it can be hard for scientists to shake the “cold and competent” stereotype. The authoritative and unemotional way that scientists are taught to write for journal articles usually is not appropriate when communicating with a general audience. Learning the principles of journalistic nonfiction often requires scientist authors to step away from an academic writing style that has come to feel intuitive. Nevertheless, using these styles can make the scientist’s work more relatable, memorable, and trusted.

Here are some tips:

  1. Write for the readers—Scientists tend to aim their writing toward what they think their colleagues want to read. This is a natural reflex—after all, that’s the audience they’re accustomed to thinking about when they write journal articles and grant proposals. But a scientist’s colleagues will be a minority of the readership of a magazine article. Try to step back, review your own assumptions, and broaden your view of who your audience really is.
  2. Use your audience’s lexicon—Introduce only the terms essential to your story and no more. Even certain words likely to be familiar to readers, like “dynamics” or “mitigate,” should be avoided just because they sound jargony and can have different meanings in different fields. Look for alternatives that are more direct. At the same time, avoid talking down to your audience. Sometimes scientists try too hard to make sure everyone is on board. It sounds like they’re talking to middle schoolers, a big turn-off to most readers.
  3. Your first sentence must be indelible—Leave your impression early. Many academics start with something more like a broader impacts statement or an obvious foundational concept in their field, as they would in a journal article. But if you tell readers something they already know in the first sentence, they are likely to think you have nothing to say that they don’t already know. You risk losing readers right then and there. If your article contains news of major breakthroughs, many of your readers will completely miss it.
  4. Know where you are taking the reader first and then tell themShow them—within the first page, provide them with a story that illustrates what is at stake and sets the scaffolding for your thesis. Your reader is busy and has lots of other things to read. They will not read your article unless you immediately let them know why they should, and fine prose is one of the quickest ways to focus your reader’s attention.
  5. Each subsection and paragraph is a potential pathway into the text for a scanning reader—Each paragraph should introduce an interesting new idea with a topic sentence.
  6. Questions generally make poor topic sentences— Framing the topic as a question can be a hard habit to break. But in narrative nonfiction, posing questions instead of stating the topic outright risks leaving out crucial information, such as who is asking the question, why that individual cares about it, and how it was first raised. Introducing how the line of inquiry arose in the first place is usually an important part of a science story.
  7. Each subsection needs to transition the reader from one idea to the next— As a section concludes it should signal why the next section follows. Transitions are the key.
  8. Stop listing things—just stop!—Try instead to figure out the narrative tying the pieces of a list together. Used profusely in academic and government writing, lists are an efficient way of communicating points or variables. But they’re dry and can be a real slog for a reader. All too easily, they become the place where readers’ eyes will glaze over and they will start flipping to another part of the magazine or return to scanning social media. A more intuitive way to communicate such ideas is to talk about how the objects of the list are connected to one another. It might take an extra sentence or two, but the reader will grasp the concepts more readily and remember them better.
  9. Use the first person—Even though the desire to avoid the first person often comes from a sense of humility, text that is essentially autobiographical but avoids first person doesn’t necessarily sound humble. It just sounds impersonal. Readers will stop reading quickly if they don’t feel connected with the people or places in the story.
  10. If you want people to understand that a problem addressed by your research affects real people, you need to illustrate the problem by telling a story about real people—When scientists rattle off statistics but do not talk about how they connect to people’s lives, they risk coming off as cold and distant. Anecdotes may not have a place in science writing, but they are absolutely essential to journalistic and literary nonfiction.
  11. Avoid passive voice and clunky sentence structures—Although passive voice is not uncommon in scientific journal articles, it sounds distant, abstract, and stuffy. Today’s readers have very little patience for slogging through wordy writing because you’re competing with short communication in the social media.
  12. When you feel you are done writing, don’t just stop in your tracks once you’ve added the last bit of information you’d planned to include—Any article needs a conclusion, but one very different from the kind you might write for a typical journal article. Narrative nonfiction conclusions return to the intrigue, suspense, or line of inquiry the writer established to draw the reader further into the article, providing a sense of closure and wrapping up any loose ends. The conclusion is not just a repetitive summary of everything the article has just said. Try to find some forward-looking insights that show greater context for your work.

Using Correct Grammar

Those grammar classes seem like eons ago. Now we’re writers and we’re not as sure as we used to be. Years of exposure to lazy writing and editing by publishers and the media make things sound right, just because we’ve heard them over and over. As an editor, I’m offering some tidbits that I hope will help you refine your writing.

Phrase vs. Clause
A phrase is a group of grammatically related words that does not contain a main verb. T e wards in the phrase act as a unit, usually functioning as a part of speech. For example:
The girl is in school today, but tomorrow she is going to hunt. Notice that ” in school ” and “to hunt” are phrases functioning as adverbs describing a place or activity. “The girl” is a phrase in the sense that the words go together as determiner and noun, but it does not function as a part of speech.
A clause is a group of grammatically related words that does contain a main verb_
Some clauses can stand alone as complete sentences. Such clauses are called main or
independent clauses. For example: The girl is at home today, but tomorrow she is going hunting.
The two clauses in this sentence are “The girl is in school today” and “tomorrow she is going to hunt.” The joining word “but” is simply a connecting word; it does not belong to either clause. Either clause, therefore, can stand alone, expressing a complete thought:
The girl is in school today. (complete thought) Tomorrow she is going to hunt. (complete thought)
Other clauses are prevented from standing alone because they begin with words that limit their meaning, words like because and when. Such clauses are called subordinate or dependent clauses. For example: The boy quit school because he missed too many classes. “The boy quit school” is a complete thought and, therefore, a main clause. “Because he missed too many classes ” is an incomplete thought and, therefore, a subordinate clause. The “because” leaves us wondering what went before.

COMMON ERROR: A common writing fault is to separate two independent clauses with a comma (with no conjunction after it).
INCORRECT: They have a fly casting class here, the students like it.
CORRECT: They have a fly casting class here. The students like it.
CORRECT They have a fly casting class here, and the students like it.

What’s the Object?
As a part of the sentence, an object is a word that receives the action of an action verb. For example, in the sentence The batter hit the ball, the action of hitting has a receiver, ball. The ball receives the action and is, therefore, called the object of the verb.
There are two kinds of objects: direct and indirect. The word that receives the action of the verb is called the direct object. When the direct object is passed indirectly to another receiver, that receiver is the indirect object. For example: My sister writes me long letters.
The direct object is “letters.” The indirect object is “me.” “Letters” receives the action of writing, while “me” receives the letters. One way to tell the two objects apart is that the indirect object usually comes directly after the verb.
Another way to determine which object is which is to ask these questions about the verb:
1. “Writes” what? Answer. “letters,” so direct object.
2. “Writes” to whom or for whom? Answer: “me,” so indirect object
Some verbs that often take indirect objects are: write, send, tell, give, buy, and sell.

Interrogative Pronoun?
Standard forms of this pronoun include: what, which, who, whom, whose. These pronouns are used to introduce questions: What are the odds? Who left the gate open? Which is mine?
NOTE: The subject pronoun “who” has the object form “whom.” It is the pronoun most often misused in the media today.
The tendency for many speakers is to avoid whom altogether and use who as both subject and object. This is no longer viewed as a serious error. However, using whom where the subject form is called for is an error to be avoided at all costs. For example:
ACCEPTABLE: Who are you calling?
CORRECT Whom are you calling?

INCORRECT: Whom is coming with us to the lodge?
CORRECT Who is coming with us to the lodge?

Demonstrative Pronoun
Standard forms of this pronoun are: this, that, these, those. These pronouns are used to stand for a noun and separate it from other entities. For example:
Is this the one you wanted? land me those.
NOTE: Generally speaking, use this and these to indicate items near the speaker, and that and those for items farther away. Notice that demonstrative pronouns replace the noun. The same words – this, that, these, and those – are also used as “demonstrative determiners” or demonstrative adjectives.” For example: This woods is dark. (Here “this” is specifying the noun “woods,” telling us which woods.)

Relative Pronoun
The relative pronouns are that, who, whom, which, where, when, and why. Like other pronouns, the relative pronoun replaces a noun. Like a conjunction, it serves as a joining word
between clauses. For example:
That’s the man who shot my deer.
The word “who” is a relative pronoun. It stands for “man” and it (inks the main clause “That’s the man” to the dependent clause “who shot my deer.”

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