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He also traces the evolution of scientific expression over time, providing a context crucial for understanding the nature of technical communication today. Other chapters take up the topics of writing creatively in science; how to design and use graphics; and how to talk to the public about science. Written with humor and eloquence, this book provides a unique and realistic guide for anyone in the sciences wishing to improve his or her communication skills.
Practical and concise, The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science covers:
*Writing scientific papers, abstracts, grant proposals, technical reports, and articles for the general public
*Using graphics effectively
*Surviving and profiting from the review process
*Preparing oral presentations
*Dealing with the press and the public
*Publishing and the Internet
*Writing in English as a foreign language
— George B. Kauffman
— Ann C. Jordan-Paker
— Alexander W. Gotta
— Susan Duhon
A New Medium with New Messages
Let us begin again with history. It shows us two things: first, that the
forms for communicating knowledge have evolved continually from the birth
of writing, about 3200 B.C., to the present; second, that there have been
times when specific new media have appeared-the scroll, the codex, the
printed page, and now electronic display-and changed profoundly how people
record and exchange learning. These realities suggest that the Internet
will continue to develop for some time, and it will do this alongside
existing forms of exchange, not as a full-fledged replacement of them.
Many people, scientists included, have claimed the Internet as the next
great revolution in human communication. Whether this is true cannot yet
be said with certainty; we are too much in the midst of it all. It may
turn out that the online world constitutes a new direction in a more
long-term move from printed to electronic forms (telegraph, telephone,
sound recording, video, computer). But there can be no question that the
Internet is an innovation ofenormous impact and thus import-to science,
perhaps most of all.
Why science, above all? There are several reasons. One is the enhanced
contact among researchers throughout the world, enabling new
collaborations and the transfer of information to a much wider audience.
What has been termed "the invisible college" of science has therefore
expanded tremendously, with many productive results for research. Another
reason is the Internet's ability to distribute research in almost any
form, including text, video, audio, and any type of image, fixed or
animated. This is a crucial factor, not to be underestimated: the role of
various media in science is more important than ever, and has been greatly
expanded by the advent of digital ways of embodying knowledge. Various
types of complex visualization, for example, are now at the heart of many
Online publication, meanwhile, can handle enormous amounts of data-raw and
analytical-without increasing physical storage space, but with greatly
enhanced searching and indexing. It can shorten or even eliminate the lag
time between submission and release, typical of print journals. It may
also prove helpful in dealing with the "serials crisis" now besetting
research institutions throughout the globe, a crisis of costs (escalating
subscription rates, growth in the number of journals, reduced budgets)
that has forced libraries to be ever more selective and thus incomplete in
their collections. Finally, the Internet may well prove able to give rise
to new and unpredictable forms of science altogether. Versatile, fast,
expansive, and cutting edge: the Internet is an exciting set of
opportunities for researchers to explore.
Issues for Online Science
These same powers have resulted in new problems and issues, too. Most
basic of all, perhaps, are concerns over copyright and proprietary
information. The Internet allows for instant duplication and nearly
infinite distribution of any data or written material in digital form.
Moreover, the fluidity of Internet communication renders more tenuous the
very definition of a legitimate scientific publication. Legitimacy, after
all, has traditionally come from certain institutional factors: peer
review, editorial control, document stability, guarantee of persistence,
and copyright. All of these emerged under the rule of print; most have
been in the immediate control of editors and publishers (for better or for
worse). Some (peer review and editorial control) have translated to the
Internet without too much problem where online versions of print journals
are concerned. But these represent only a small percentage of the total
new range in scientific publication. There are also new electronic-only
journals, preprint archives, personal Web pages, research newsletters,
e-mail documents, and other opportunities for publishing. Such material
does not yet have an agreed-upon status. In some cases, it counts as
sanctioned research; in others, no consensus yet exists.
Documents on the Internet are not necessarily stable like those in print.
This is because the Internet itself is not stable. Any text can be revised
over time, updated with new data, expanded through the inclusion of
reader's comments, taken apart and reassembled. How, in such cases, is one
to determine an official version, for example, for citation purposes? Then
there is the very important problem of archiving-keeping scientific
e-documents available in perpetuity, at a specific location (e.g. Web
address). Should we, as scientist-authors, be able to retain sufficient
rights so that we can include our own articles on our own Web pages, or
others of our choice? Such are among the many issues that need
But if the fluidity of the online world has given new uncertainties to
scientific publishing, it has also added strength to a traditional
reality. The Internet has deepened, not weakened, the centrality of the
written word in modern intellectual society. There is now a vast and
growing array of new outlets and forms of knowledge, true enough. But this
knowledge remains utterly dependent on written language, for this is
primarily how society continues to embody intellectual work. The Internet
may be digital, electronic, and "nonlinear"-but it depends utterly on the
inscribed message. The conclusion to be reached from this is clear: if the
pace of science is increasing, so too are the demands on scientists to
possess adequate writing skills.
Status of the Art: Some Major Trends
To try to describe the status of science on the Internet, from the
writer's point of view, is to take aim at a moving target. Moreover, it is
a target that changes both shape and speed with each passing year. Safe to
say, however, at the beginning of the new millennium, that online science
is moving rapidly toward the center of communication in every major field:
physics, chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy-you name it. Any scientist
who is not ready to utilize this medium will therefore soon be left behind
in significant ways.
What are some of the major trends in Internet science? E-mail is now a
primary mode of both informal and formal contact between researchers and
others involved in scientific enterprises. Immense amounts of raw and
interpreted data are now available in online archives from academic,
governmental, and industry sources. Unprecedented bibliographic
resources-some with the ability to locate, retrieve, and deliver not just
citations but abstracts and full-text articles from a vast array of
periodicals-have been created and made available. Nearly every major
journal now has its online version. Many of these, in fact, are more
extensive, interesting, and informative than their print cousins. Large
portions of the scientific literature have been transferred to the
Internet, often with varying degrees of success. Once-firm boundaries
between primary and secondary have dissolved, as journals have taken up
aspects of newsletters and vice versa; as data archives offer reviews of
the current literature; and as the Web sites of individual researchers
include everything from published and preprint articles to course outlines
and opinion pieces.
Publishing material on the Internet, especially the Web, is not yet cheap.
One of the largest expenses in print publication is labor-people doing the
work of copyediting, proofreading, formatting, and other tasks associated
with quality control. This work is not eliminated by the online universe.
Moreover, there are new costs in preparing e-documents, whether this
involves designing Web pages, coding text, or scanning images. Then there
is the expense of putting material on the Internet through a server, and
keeping it there indefinitely. On the other side, potential readers must
have access to a recently built computer with an Internet connection and
the proper software-something that is very far from universal in the
scientific world beyond the edges of the major industrialized nations.
There are, moreover, certain signs that Internet publishing is still at an
early stage. Much of this is related to technology, but not all.
Downloading data and articles can be a slow, laborious process, due to
large file sizes, restricted modem speeds, and heavy site use. There are
still a number of different formats in which text, numerical information,
and images may occur. The lack of any standard in this area means that
information does not always translate well, or at all, between computer
systems. This can require scientists and universities to purchase
redundant software in order to ensure the widest access to needed data.
Things also tend to mutate on the Internet very quickly. Web addresses,
new journals, online articles, and much else can shift or vanish without
warning, due to ordinary institutional circumstances, such as loss of
funding or personnel changes. This leads to the phenomenon of the dead
link-the hyperlink, either within a document or in a listing of sites,
that goes nowhere, for example, to a "Web page cannot be found" type of
message. This is surely one of the most frustrating parts of the online
experience, and one of the most common. Finally (but this list is not
complete), there is the problem of searching-Internet searches still
comprise a very rough art at best and often require trial-and-error
As a new mode of communication, the Internet may well be "revolutionary,"
but like all revolutions, it is messy, changeable, and beyond the control
of any single entity. Scientists (like everyone else) should be aware that
however smooth and magical it may seem, the Internet is not really
virtual-it is the expression of people performing certain tasks, with
certain equipment, under certain conditions. It is no more "without walls"
than a laboratory.
Existing Resources: What There Is and How to Search for It
I have mentioned several sources where scientific information is published
on the Internet. There are others, too. A basic list, roughly in order of
importance to writers, includes the following:
Online journals, newsletters, magazines, publishers
Preprint archives (papers written but not yet formally published)
Major bibliographic resources
Professional society and association sites
University department sites
Library sites (academic, governmental, independent)
Data archives (domestic and international)
Personal Web pages of scientists
Government agency and program sites (NASA, NOAA, DOE, etc.)
Research program sites
Industry sites (individual companies, consortia, etc.)
Local scientific society sites
Image catalogues and archives
This list offers some idea of the scope that now exists. It is no longer
possible, in most fields, to comprehensively survey relevant sites, as
there are simply too many. Moreover, these resources are extremely
variable, both in content and in quality: some provide raw data by the
hectare, others little more than a visual brochure for a particular
program, publisher, or department. Unfortunately, there is no simple way
to separate shells from seeds in this endless garden of seeming delights.
Scientists need to be aware of several basic ways to look for specific
material. For literature searches, and for tracking down abstracts and
even full-text articles, you're best bet by far is to use one of the major
online bibliographic resources-nearly every field now has one. These have
quickly become invaluable reference and research tools, offering
unprecedented access to an enormous spectrum of information. Some have
been around for years-Agricola (journal articles and book chapters
acquired by the U.S. National Agricultural Library), BIOSIS (comprehensive
coverage of international life sciences literature), MEDLINE (coverage of
more than 3,900 journals in biomedicine), Geobase (citations and abstracts
in geographic and geologic sciences), and Georef (international geologic
sciences literature). But many others, specific to particular fields,
research areas, and specialty topics have sprung up. Here are just a few
examples: AIDSLINE (journal articles, theses, technical reports, meeting
abstracts, books, and audiovisuals on AIDS and related topics-now merged
with MEDLINE); Physical Review Online Archive (American Physical Society's
effort to put all APS journal material online, covering the years 1893 to
the present); Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts, ASFA (covering
every aspect of aquatic science); PsycINFO (citations, summaries of
journal articles, book chapters, books, reports, etc. in
psychology-related areas); TOXLINE (toxicological, pharmacological,
biochemical, and physiological effects of drugs and chemicals). Readers
should note that the specific contents and Web addresses for these
resources may change over time. As pointed out, the Internet remains a
fast-changing medium, subject to many influences.
Most universities, research institutes, and companies performing frontline
investigation now subscribe to several of these resources. In the case of
major universities, the list is likely to be large indeed, and growing.
Every scientist should be aware of what is available to her or him, both
in her or his chosen field and related fields as well. As always, explore,
explore. Learn how to use these resources; it will grant you new powers
For other material on the Internet, two basic options are available. You
can first try one of the mass-market search engines (e.g. Google,
Infoseek, Yahoo, Lycos, Searchalot, Alta Vista, HotBot, etc.). Chances
are, however, that because of how these work-most look for your entered
terms in any text on any Web page-you are likely to wind up with a motley
selection. Putting a phrase in quotations ("molecular modeling software")
will tell these engines to look for your topic exactly as written; but
here, too, you may end up with pages that only mention these words, rather
than actually provide the needed material.
A second, and generally far more effective, approach is to find a type of
"gateway" or "portal" site in your particular field-a site, that is,
containing a large list of links to more specific sites-and to begin your
real search here, bypassing the majority of irrelevant material.
Such gateways take a variety of forms. The simplest can be found under
headings like "Science" that appear on the Web pages of the major search
engines: clicking here will bring you to a roll call of separate fields,
then subfields, then individual resources. Other, more "professional"
portals are likely to exist on the home pages of university departments in
your field, professional associations (e.g.
Excerpted from The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science
by Scott L. Montgomery
Copyright © 2003 by University of Chicago.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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