Book Reviews

Book Reviews: Scientific Writing

Robert E. Buntrock

For this issue, several books on scientific writing will be covered either with brief reviews or by citation. Writing is not only fundamental to dissemination of information but it is a viable alternative career path for chemists and other scientists.

The first is on scientific communication, for both written and oral presentations.


Harmon, Joseph E.; Gross, Alan G. The Craft of Scientific Communication; University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2010. $55. (Hardcover) 240 p. ISBN: 978-0-226-31661-1; $20 (Paper) ISBN: 978-022-31662-8; $7 rent, $20 (Electronic), 978-022-631663-5.

Although little information is given on writing for chemistry, a good text and reference for writing and presenting science to both scientific and public audiences. Crafting of a scientific article is described followed by four examples. Research proposals and communications to a lay audience are described next followed by a discussion of style based on how good scientists actually write. Not all sentences need to be short in active mode nor do long sentences need be split (no mention of the "Fog Index", recommended by some technical editors for "executive summaries"). Method descriptions are similar to Julia Childs’ recipes. Exercises, with answers follow each chapter. Another deficiency is the lack of mention of poor, cluttered, low contrast power point slides. (Previously reviewed by J. Kovac, J. Chem. Educ., 87(11), 1139-1140, 2010, doi: 10.1021/ed100882.)


The second review covers communication of scientific information to the public.


Introducing Scientific Communication: A Practical Guide; Brake, Mark L., Weitkamp, Emma, Eds.; Palgrave Macmillan: New York, 2010. $33.95. (Hardcover) 177 pp., ISBN 978-02305373864.

Excellent text or reference for scientific journalism, for presentation of science to policy makers and the general public. Scientific journalism is a viable but underutilized alternative career path for chemists and scientists for which a few universities are developing courses. (Previously reviewed by R. Buntrock, J. Chem. Educ., 87(11), 1138-1139, 2010, doi: 10.1021/ed100855.)

Also reviewed in that issue of J. Chem. Educ. (by L. Montes, J. Chem. Educ., 87(11), 1138, 2010, doi:10.1021/ed100864) is The Oxford Book of Modern Scientific Writing, by Richard Dawkins. Shown and discussed are more than 80 examples of writing by prominent scientists including some Nobel Prize winners.

For chemists, the benchmark reference remains The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information, 3rd edition, by A. M. Coghill and L. R. Garson. (Previously reviewed by R. Buntrock, J. Chem. Inf. Model., 47(2), 703-704, 2007, doi: 10.1021/ci600536.)

As before, we’re always open to suggestions for books to review as well as volunteer reviewers. With the demise of book reviews in JCIM, it’s up to us to "carry the torch" for book reviews on chemical information and related topics.