Title

Eloquent Science : A Practical Guide to Becoming a Better Writer, Speaker, and Atmospheric Scientist

Document Type

Book

Publication Date

12-15-2009

Course Date

Spring 2019

Course Number

WX 380

Course Title

Advanced TV Weathercasting

Abstract

Mary Grace Soccio. My writing could not please this kindhearted woman, no matter how hard I tried.

Although Gifted and Talented seventh-grade math posed no problem for me, the same was not true for Mrs. Soccio’s English class. I was frustrated that my first assignment only netted me a C. I worked harder, making revision after revision, a concept I had never really put much faith in before. At last, I produced an essay that seemed the apex of what I was capable of writing. Although the topic of that essay is now lost to my memory, the grade I received was not: a B−.

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“The best I could do was a B−?” The realization sank in that maybe I was not such a good writer.

In those days, my youthful hubris did not understand about capacity building . In other words, being challenged would result in my intellectual growth— an academic restatement of Nietzsche’s “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” Consequently, I asked to be withdrawn from Gifted and Talented English in the eighth grade.

Another capacity-building experience happened when I was a postdoctoral research fellow. In writing the journal article that resulted from my Ph.D. thesis, one of my coadvisors, Dan Keyser, and I discussed revisions by phone while he lived in upstate New York and I in Oklahoma. My schooling was severe: fifteen one-hour-long phone calls where we would go through the draft together— one section at a time, sentence by sentence. Not all of Dan’s lessons I embraced immediately, however. Sometimes we were frustrated by each others’ stubbornness: me by his insistence to do things his way and he by my resistance to learning. Finally, something snapped inside and clarity came: I understood what he was trying to tell me about transition, coherence, and precision, and it made complete sense. Subsequent revisions went much more smoothly, and the manuscript made it easily through the review process and was published. Wherever that revelation came from, Eloquent Science would not have happened without that moment.

Throughout my career, mentoring by Dan, my other advisors, and my colleagues was essential to my development as a scientist and a writer. Unfortunately, not everyone has the benefit of such mentoring. The good news is that being a better writer, whether a student or a scientist with years of experience, does not require a revelation, merely an open mind. As I hope to convince you in this book, the essential skills can be taught. Moreover, it’s not just the young dogs who can be taught new tricks. Everyone, no matter how experienced, can learn new skills to improve their writing.

Eloquent Science is an outgrowth of a scientific communication workshop I developed for the National Science Foundation– funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates program that the Oklahoma Weather Center (and its members the National Severe Storms Laboratory, the University of Oklahoma, the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, and Center for the Analysis and Prediction of Storms) hosted from 1998 to 2005, and has continued from 2007 to this writing. After seeing that we were not educating our students about how to write a scientific paper and make a scientific presentation, I created and led this workshop during 2000– 2005. The workshop began as a collection of thoughts on a Web site, turned into an afternoon lecture, and became an eight-hour interactive workshop where students learned to critique their own and their peers’ writing. I argued that these undergraduates would be my future colleagues, and I would likely be reviewing their papers and attending their seminars. Besides my desire to see them create excellent scientific work and present it effectively, I realized that if I could influence them not to write a bad paper or make a bad presentation in the future, I could be saving myself some subsequent heartaches.

As I developed the workshop from year to year, the organic approach took its toll. My slides, with new insertions each year, were characterized at best as verbose lecture notes rather than a clear and effective presentation. Also inadequate was the poorly organized collection of articles and handouts serving as a reference guide. Neither were even adequate examples of the instruction I was trying to give. The idea for turning the lectures into a book struck in summer 2005 while at a conference, frustrated by the pathetic presentations I was enduring. A book would solve both my problems, I thought. It would create a more effective vehicle to deliver the information on paper and free me to focus on improving the style of the presentations. An added benefit, I wishfully dreamt, might be to distribute this book to other atmospheric scientists to ease the kind of pain I experienced at that conference.

distribute this book to other atmospheric scientists to ease the kind of pain I experienced at that conference.

Writing a book about communicating effectively to a scientific audience is like speaking to an audience at a classical music concert about how to play a violin as a virtuoso would. Although some in the audience will learn quite a bit and benefit immediately, more experienced violinists need only specific advice to improve. Moreover, future performances by the speaker will be intensively scrutinized. As with that speaker, I fear that my words will come back to haunt me in the future. (I can already hear readers raising questions about my previous publications!) In my defense, few writers alive today believe that their previous work is impervious to revisions. And we should not expect perfection, either. In fact, many examples in Eloquent Science derive from my own writings and presentations: not only the best examples, but the imperfect, as well. For my future writing efforts, I can only plead forgiveness for a limited brain capacity to store and recall the abundant information contained within this book.

If you have any comments about the material in this book, I would appreciate hearing from you: eloquentscience@gmail.com.

Comments

Eloquent Science: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Better Writer, Speaker, and Atmospheric Scientist © 2009 by David M. Schultz. All rights reserved. Permission to use figures, tables, and brief excerpts from this book in scientific and educational works is hereby granted provided the source is acknowledged.

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