Punctuation – again

Since I have recently written about the dash and about quotation marks, I thought I’d tell you about a website where you can get more information about using punctuation in the academic setting. The following website provides a well-structured overview of information on the topic.


Once you’ve digested all the information that is there, I’m sure you’ll probably know more than I do about punctuation marks – you’ll certainly know more than a lot of other native speakers.


Academic Writing for Chemists

Every genre has its own way of writing, and one can learn best by looking at journals. Here is information from the American Association for Clinical Chemistry. It may help those of you who are looking for guidelines about writing a chemical paper: http://www.aacc.org/publications/clin_chem/ccgsw/Pages/default.aspx

It consists of a series of files on getting published and the publishing process.

Happy reading

Quotes and punctuation marks

The specific rules for punctuation and quotation marks can be difficult. Here are some quick-and-ready hints on some of the smaller differences between how Americans and the British deal with the issue.

The normal British method of quoting is to use double quotation marks when you start the quote and single quotation marks for a quote within a quote.

She replied “I think I heard him say ‘I’m going to the cinema tomorrow’, but I’m not sure.”

Americans would quote the other way around i.e. Single quotation marks for original quote and double quotation marks for quotes within a quote.

The topic of putting punctuation marks in quotes is difficult and rules change depending on who you are talking to. For academic writing I recommend putting full stops and commas outside the quotation marks for British English and inside the quotation marks for American English. A question mark or exclamation mark only belong inside the quotation marks if they are part of the quote.

He asked “Did he leave a message?”

Punctuation – dashing away in your text

Academic writing doesn’t tend to have a lot of dashes – but some people like them. To me, they simply function as large commas – giving comments a slightly larger gap to what was previously written. Here is what the copy-editing course I took has to say on the matter:

  • There are hyphens, ens and ems that all look like dashes. They are used for different reasons
    • Hyphens, between two words you are joining together
    • Ens – with a space before and after, used a bit like a comma but gives the insertion more emphasis. They are slightly longer than the hyphen
    • Ems – longer than the other two, often with no space before, can be used to show that not all the letters at the end of the word are being used e.g. f-

So now you know. If I ever need to use the ems dash, I spent a lot of time trying to find the sign on my keyboard.

Science writing and its effects

I have just finished reading a book about story-telling in scientific writing and will, no doubt, be including a lot of what I have learnt in my next few blogs, and certainly in my workshops. Here’s a quote to start you off:

“Ensuring that science is used properly requires more than just presenting facts to decision makers. Unfortunately, our approach to communicating to them is often analogous to traveling overseas and speaking louder when the locals don’t understand English.”

From: by Joshua Schimel, J. 2012. Writing Science: How to Write Papers That Get Cited and Proposals That Get Funded

I often find that the papers I read – both those from native speakers and those from non-native speakers – want to put across an interesting message but are doing it in a language that only the small inner circle can understand. But what’s the point of writing if not many can understand it. So let’s try to stop all the shouting and start the process of simplifying. It will be a whisper to start with, but I’m convinced that in the end science will be able to tell a more forceful story.

What reviewers are looking for

I was recently at a very interesting symposium in Munich. The keynote speaker was a senior editor for Nature and he was there to tell us academic writing teachers what they, the editors, at Nature were looking for in a paper. I conscientiously took notes and have now found the time to get them into preliminary powerpoint slides to use at my next workshop. I thought I’d let others benefit from what I learnt, so here are the slides I’ve just produced.

What reviewers are looking for

For me, much of what the editor said was linked up to a book I’ve just finished reading. It’s about telling a story in scientific papers. But that is another story, and therefore another blog, for later.


New book suggestion

The geeky side of me ordered a book recently Writing Science in Plain English by Anne E. Greene, 2013 University of Chicago Press.  I’m now half way through it and it is definitely going on my book list as a recommended book. It provides a good summary of what is currently considered as good academic English – unfortunately a genre that isn’t read too often these days.

What I learnt in England last week

I find that every time I go to England I learn something new about my language. This time it was from a conversation with a charming Barbadian-French law student on the plane flying back. Apart from a very interesting conversation on multi-culturalism, what I learnt on the language side was that someone from Barbados is called Barbadian, and not Barbadan, as I originally used. What did she learn? Language-wise probably what a start-up is. She had never heard the expression before.

Conversations like this always remind me of how little I really know about my own language, and how, because English is spoken as a native language by so many people in different parts of the world, there really is no ONE correct English. English speakers grow up with their language being used in different ways by different people all over the world, and, although they may sometimes laugh about the differences, they usually enjoy the diversity.

What I learnt on holiday

I’m just back from a week in England; one of those essential trips to keep my English up to standard and visit family at the same time. What did I learn? Well, my cousin told me that “Old timer” is a very German expression. He would use “vintage” to describe an old car. And he should know, he has one.
This all just goes to show you are never too old to learn and that my German does sometimes interfere with my English – which I have known for a long time! There of course other German/English “false friends”. I’ll put a short list together some other time. If you know of any that should be added to my list, just let me know!
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