These days, I am doing a little bit of work in the field (aloha!), a little bit of work in the lab, and a LOT of sitting at a computer and writing. Crafting clear, simple sentences to explain ideas is one of the trickiest things in science. Some people are very good at it, but a lot of people write terribly, and this is one reason that scientists have such a bad reputation for using jargon that no one can understand and that makes us sound boring.
Rearranging sentences to put the interesting part at the beginning is a great tip that I learned from a professor. Yes, sometimes this means you must write in the passive voice, but it also helps readers focus on what you are actually trying to say. See what I did in the first sentence of this paragraph? I could have written, “A great tip I learned from a professor is to rearrange sentences to put the interesting part at the beginning.” But that emphasizes the fact that I learned a tip from a professor; the tip itself seems less important. Instead, I wanted to emphasize the content of the tip; the fact that I learned it from a professor is less important (because if I had learned it from a book, wouldn’t the tip still be useful?).
Here is what I’m working on right now. I want to emphasize that PRIMNM* coral reefs are similar to other reefs. What version is best?
- PRIMNM reefs have similar cover of corals and algae compared to other remote reefs in the Pacific and worldwide.
- PRIMNM reefs are similar to other remote reefs in the Pacific and worldwide in their cover of corals and algae.
- The cover of corals and algae on the PRIMNM reefs is similar to other remote reefs in the Pacific and worldwide.
*PRIMNM = Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monument, a gigantic new (2009) marine reserve covering 7 remote islands and atolls.