• Words in the forest

    I snuck down to Pemberton in the southern forests of Western Australia for a few days. It’s been a while since I visited the area. Towering karri trees dominate the landscape. It’s stunning. I breathe. Relax. Walk. Walking around Big Brook Dam I overheard a woman talking to her husband. “Go and read the information

  • A pair of stilts

    A pair of stilts hatched four chicks down at the lake near my house. I noticed the female sitting on the nest, near where they have previously nested, a few weeks earlier. Then one morning, I saw she was off the nest. Both parents set up a raucous call when I stopped to look. Eventually,

  • Going bananas over Banana’s for sale

    That’s what the sign out the front of the general store said, just like that: Banana’s for sale. It’s wrong. It’s true, there were bananas for sale in the shop, but the punctuation is wrong. The word they were after was bananas. Simple plural form. Banana’s is a possessive form – such as the banana’s

  • On Writing Well

    “If the reader is lost, it is generally because the writer has not been careful enough to keep him on the path.” This gem is from Willian Zinsser’s classic book ‘On Writing Well’, which I’m re-reading and can’t recommend highly enough. My copy is old and yellowing, showing the signs of having been consulted often

  • Buzzing with enthusiasm for headlines and practical experience

    There are some things that just lend themselves to corny headlines and clichéd lines. Most stories about bees seem to fall into that category. I’ve been fortunate enough to write about ChemCentre’s research into certifying monofloral honey (that’s honey from one flower species, such as jarrah or karri) in this story: ChemCentre puts honey on the

  • Lessons in science communication

    Professor Ian Ritchie used to stop in the middle of his chemistry lectures and tell a joke. He didn’t try to hide it nor to fit it in with the subject matter of the lecture; he simply stopped talking at the half way mark, clapped his hands, said ‘joke time’ and proceeded to tell a

  • What’s the story here?

    When writing about scientific research for a non-scientific audience, you need to identify the story you want to tell. Scientific papers go into all sorts of details about how a study was done and why it was done that way and previous studies done in the same or similar ways, but when you’re writing for

  • Telling stories in science

    Telling a science story so it can be understood by non-scientists is not about dumbing it down. It may involve simplifying it, but don’t think of it as dumbing down. Simplifying it may mean taking out the boring bits – the almost endless repetitions, the detailed set-ups, the vast quantity of results – these are

  • Singular they

    The only acceptable usage of ‘they’ used to be as a third person plural pronoun; that is, the word you use to refer to more than one person: Marshall and Warren discovered Helicobacter pylori cause stomach ulcers. They used unconventional research methods. There’s nothing unconventional about using ‘they’ in this way, but increasingly ‘they’ is

  • I, myself, don’t like this usage

    Last week I shared an article about foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) on the Write Course Facebook page. The article took the (American) Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention to task over the way it had approached the issue and presented what I read as a well-written article. I shared it to highlight how

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