Tag archive for tools & tips

Basic Newswriting Tips

From Prof. Ksiazek‘s visit on W 09/21/11 (and the annotated pdf of his example from yahoo news.):

Audience analysis

  • Who is your audience?
  • What sources of information can I use to better understand my audience?
  • What is their prior knowledge of my topic?
  • How can I make the story accessible to a wide audience?

Story structure: The “Inverted Pyramid”

Getting started: Writing the “lead” and “nut graph”

  • 5 W’s and H – Who, What, Where, When, Why and How
  • So What? (The “hook”)
  • Tips for writing leads:
    1. Be brief
    2. Don’t bury the lead
    3. Use active voice
      • “Researchers conducted experiments…” (Active)
      • “Experiments were conducted by researchers…” (Passive)
    4. Use subject-verb-object format
    5. Balance breadth and specificity
    6. Avoid jargon, unnecessary words, and “it”


And his annotated pdf of his example from yahoo news.

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Some examples to help you find topics for your writing assignments

Obviously, these examples are off-limits…

Example of a MotW paper/topic

Examples of “Science in the News”

Examples of Press Releases (which are off-limits as well)

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Recommended reading

Here is a collection of posts that may be useful as you work on your first writing assignment:


Molecule of the Week

And a few more…

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Chemical Information?

“A month in the laboratory can often save an hour in the library.”
Frank H. Westheimer

A wealth of information exists outside of Google, although both Google and Google Scholar are powerful tools. How do you search for chemistry related information, documents, references, and other literature?

What if you wanted…

  1. to find references related to your current laboratory experiment?
  2. to find references for your writing assignments?
  3. to find references for your research?
  4. to determine if the ‘science’ you are interested in pursuing is already known?
  5. to cultivate new research or project ideas?

Chemical Databases

Many databases exist that allow searching by author, keyword, title, structure, or even reaction! Most provide tools for exporting search results to text files, word docs (or rtf’s), or reference managers (e.g., RefWorks). The library maintains a current list of major resources. Those that I use most often follow (in no particular order):

  1. American Chemical Society (ACS) Publications (pubs.acs.org)
  2. Article1st and WorldCat (search journals and books, respectively – not chemistry specific)
  3. SciFinder Scholar + structure searching (ChemAbstracts search client)
  4. Reaxys + structure/reaction searching
  5. ScienceDirect (not chemistry specific)
  6. Cambridge Crystallographic Data Center (ConQuest – crystal structure search)
  7. Google Scholar (not chemistry specific)

Be careful…

Do not assume that each of these databases is comprehensive! As much as they would like to be the “one stop shop,” each will have omissions or exclusions of some sort. A good strategy is to use multiple searches of multiple databases. Also remember that a single search term is unlikely to provide comprehensive results. Small changes (additional terms, change in case, etc.) may give drastically different results. Remember to always put your search results in context with the ultimate question(s) asked, and that smaller, complementary searches are usually better than attempting one world beating search!

Searches to try… (use multiple databases as appropriate)


  1. DeSimone, Joeseph
  2. Sorensen, Eric
  3. Trofimenko, S.
  4. Rabinovich, Daniel
  5. Riordan, C.


  1. organometallic (complex)
  2. olefin metathesis
  3. oxidation
  4. olefin oxidation
  5. epoxidation (styrene)
  6. asymmetric oxidation
  7. trispyrazoylborate (synthesis)


  1. Search using a simple ethylenediamineNi(II) fragment
  2. Search for both nitrito and nitro cobalt complexes, and other metal nitrito/nitro complexes
  3. Consider the salen ligand and derivatives
  4. Consider a fragment of the tris(pyrazolyl)borate ligand using different R groups (e.g., Me, t-Bu, Ph, halogens… use your imagination)

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Maybe you should rethink that all-nighter?

A new study published in Science hints at a connection between sleep (or lack thereof) and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.  In both mice and humans, amyloid-beta peptide levels rose during waking hours, but then fell again upon sleep.  Amyloid-beta plaques (like those found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients) formed more readily in sleep-deprived mice.  Although certainly not a smoking gun, this research may indicate poor sleep patterns are a risk factor for development of Alzheimer’s disease.

…I think I’ll turn in early tonight…

[via Science/AAAS]

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So you’re writing your first post…

sharpie&paperYou found an article that really grabbed your attention and you cannot wait to share it. Great! So where do you begin? Start by choosing a specific idea, fact, or result and use it to focus your writing. Your enemy here is being overly broad and/or vague. Once you have a focus, prepare a list of 5-7 points/ideas/contexts/relationships/etc. that you may want to discuss. Do not concern yourself with order, length, or sentence structure as it is much more important to get your thoughts out of your head (I generally use a Sharpie and computation pad for this). Use your list to begin collecting appropriate references, links, images, etc. to support your argument(s). You may have to reframe your arguments in light of the information you collect. Use your research to rewrite each statement on your list into a clear and concise sentence. Consider these complete statements in the context of your topic and reorder (or eliminate) them in a coherent and logical sequence. Remember that there is not one correct way to arrange things – a little trial end error is warranted at this stage. Now that you have what amounts to a detailed outline, it is time to consider the length of your piece – is it a one paragraph summary, a five paragraph analysis, or should it be divided into a series? Once you have decided on length, use clear and concise language to layout and connect your statements/points; they should form a cohesive unit when combined. Construct strong and clear opening and closing statements to frame your work. Your reader may or may not continue reading on the basis of your opening statement so make it count. Review your piece as a whole and rewrite/edit as necessary. Reviewing and rewriting usually takes the most time and effort. You may want to consider having someone else read and comment on the work before submitting it for publication. When you are satisfied with your work, submit your post for review and publication, then sit back and bask in the accolades of a job well done!

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From Handle Bars to Energy Storage?

I’m all for wind and solar power, but the main obstacle to moving away from fossil fuels and toward these renewable energies is the ability to store the energy when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. There are two ways to store energy: rechargeable batteries and ultracapacitors. Research is being done at the University of Texas at Austin on the possibility of using graphene as an ultracapacitor. Graphene’s high surface area and high number of ions allow a very high level of charge to be stored.

The amount of electrical charge stored per weight of the graphene material has already rivaled the values available in existing ultracapacitors, and modeling suggests the possibility of doubling the capacity.

The pros of using ultracapacitors include longer life, higher energy storage, and lower maintenance. This new technology can be applied to the electrical grid of cities so that renewable technologies can begin to be installed nearby, as well as the powering of electric and hybrid cars.

The question, however, is which should be implemented or invested in first – the technology that will supply the clean power, or the ability of a city to incorporate the new flow of energy through its grid? The problem of energy transmission also arises, as wind farms are usually located far away from cities. It’s interesting how a string of molecules can have so many uses, from harmful gas sensors, to mountain bike handle bars, and now a way to store renewable energy.

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Mercury 101

So you’re working on your Molecule of the Week assignment and you’re looking at your molecule in Mercury and thinking Wow this is hideous. How am I going to make this look presentable? If you’re not familiar with Mercury, the program seems a bit complicated with letters and buttons all over the place. Hopefully some of these tips will help clear things up, and you’ll get a pretty picture in the end.

Let’s Start with a before picture:

This was my Molecule of the Week before any editing

This picture is chaotic and extremely confusing. So now what…

  1. You can hide all of the hydrogens on your molecule in one simple click. In the bottom right hand corner (directly below the picture) under options uncheck “Show Hydrogens.”
  2. You can change how the atoms/bonds look. In the upper left hand corner next to “Style” there’s a drop down menu giving you 4 different options. If you have nothing highlighted the entire molecule’s style will change when you select any of these. However, you can change atoms individually or as groups. Just click the center of the atom(s) and then choose which style you like. There’s no need to hold down any keys when selecting multiple atoms, and you may have to rotate the molecule slightly to be able to select the atoms. Don’t worry, your previously selected atoms will not be deselected by this action, rotate away.
  3. You can hide atoms. Select the atoms you don’t want to see. Go to Display > Show/Hide > Atoms > Select Hide > Okay. The atoms magically disappear, it’s fantastic, and gets rid of “floaters” in your image instantly clearing things up. If you made a mistake, you can go to Edit > Undo, or you can go to Display > Show All and start over.
  4. You can rotate the image without having to click and move the cursor. Up at the top right above the actual image there is a set of buttons “a b c a* b* c*” These are comparable to the x,y,z axes and when you click them your molecule is aligned accordingly. To the right of these commands are x- x+ y- etc… These nudge your molecule slightly in either the positive/negative x y or z direction. The last commands rotate the molecule 90 degrees with respect to the axes. You can also translate your molecule to the left, right, up, or down by clicking on the arrows.
  5. You’ll probably want to zoom in to make your molecule as clear as possible. Just click the zoom buttons on the upper right.

After these 5 steps you’ll end up with a beautiful molecule:

These are just a few simple little tricks that should help you create a professional looking picture. Clearly there are many other things Mercury has to offer, however I am not familiar with the program entirely. Therefore, I would like to ask all of you to comment here when you discover new tricks. Good luck, and don’t be afraid to click things. I discovered a lot of tricks simply by trial and error.

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A few of my favorite books on writing

In keeping with the current ‘writing’ theme, here are my favorite books on writing. I think of the first four as ‘must haves’ though I obviously have them all!

  1. The Elements of Style, The (4th Edition) by William Strunk & E. B. White
  2. On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition by William K. Zinsser
  3. Thinking on Paper by V.A. Howard & J.H. Barton
  4. Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale
  5. Technical Writing for Engineers and Scientists by Barry J. Rosenberg
  6. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
  7. On Writing and Misery by Stephen King
  8. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

FYI, I have no association with Amazon (the links to the books above); however, I think of Amazon as the Wikipedia of ‘stuff’ and as much a reference as an online mall.
(09/26/08) – I have copies of all but the Stephen King books in my office if you’d like to have a look.–wsk

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Could I actually know what I’m talking about?

It’s probably just coincidence… yeah, that’s probably it.

7. Become a great writer.

No matter what field you hope to go into, and no matter what job you hope to have in that field, writing skills will get you further than almost any other competency. “Written communication skills are ESSENTIAL for most careers today,” writes Pollak. Look at every written assignment as a chance to develop better writing and editing skills. Ask for feedback from your professors. Take writing classes, either for credit or through adult extension. Join a writing group, or form one. Read writing books (Stephen King’s On Writing is a great one and highly readable). In short, do whatever you can to become a better writer – you’ll be putting yourself two or three steps ahead of the rest of your graduating class.

[via Lifehack]

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Quick tips to improve your writing NOW!

fountain pen.jpg

It should be obvious by now that writing for the sciences is much different than for the arts and humanities (though it doesn’t have to be), and learning the distinctions requires practice. In this list I’ve included several obvious and perhaps not so obvious tips for improving your technical writing skills immediately.

  1. Outline – I’m not talking about the big, clunky, traditional outline you are used to constructing, rather a lean and crude list of the important points and ideas you want to convey. Getting your points on paper as simple, clear statements makes it easy to arrange a rough script to use for your first draft.
  2. Learn how to open strong and finish stronger – If you want someone to read your second sentence, you have to get them past the first. And don’t coast to the finish, hit them as hard on the way out as you did on the way in!
  3. Use simple and clear language – it’s that simple…
  4. Draft – Get it out as quickly as possible. Turn off the internal editor and use your script to complete a rough draft. It won’t be perfect and that’s not the goal here. You will clean it up later.
  5. Revise, revise, revise! – This is where most of the writing happens, and is your opportunity to cut, add, combine, refine… If you did a good job with your initial outline, everything should be there, you just need to get it into shape. I often go through 3, 4, or 5+ revisions before I share my ‘rough draft’ with anyone.

Want more? I found one of my favorite resources by accident several years ago and I find myself going back to it when I need a nudge or friendly reminder. And then there’s a guy named Vonnegut and his thoughts on writing better. Or OrwellHemingway anyone?… you may have heard of these guys…

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