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Your instructor writing a paper :) at the Paige Compositor 

(pioneering automatic typesetting machine)

Picture taken by Ericka C. Barnes at
Mark Twain House, Hartford, CT

"The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne."
(Geoffrey Chaucer, Middle English translation of ars longa, vita brevis.)


Course Title and Number: Scientific Writing 20212081
!!! No lecture on Nov. 24, 2020 (lecturer abroad) !!!

Semester: 1st Semester

Course Type: Mandatory (2nd year MSc), Optional (PhD)

Day, Time, and Location: Tuesday, 14:15-16:00, via Zoom (owing to COVID-19 FGS regulations)

First Lecture: Tuesday, October, 2020. 

No Lecture On: days the Graduate School is otherwise closed

Office Hours: I am generally available by Zoom (please Email or call x2533 first, so I can open Zoom) or by Email (gershom AT weizmann DOT ac DOT il). Should COVID-19 regulations be relaxed, I will publish office hours here.

Homework Assignments: please Email to sciwritinghw AT gmail DOT com

Textbook: Many lectures will loosely follow Robert W. Schoenfeld's "The Chemist's English", 3rd Edition (Wiley-VCH; WIS LIbrary Catalog Entry). You can read a tribute to Dr. Schoenfeld here. [Low-res PDF version on the intranet] [Partial summary of the book]. Four copies of the book are in the "Reserved Textbooks" section of the Goldschleger Library, Bookcase 1, top and 2nd shelves.

For a more contemporary view, I highly recommend reading Steven Pinker's "The Sense of Style" (Penguin, 2014). [Ebook on Kindle]. The Goldschleger Library has many copies on hand in the Textbooks section. Prof. Pinker (Harvard) is himself an active researcher (cognitive psychology) as well as a linguist.


Useful reference materials:
  1. link to the old course information page. This also includes links to the old lecture notes.

  2. Merriam-Webster dictionary (de facto standard for American English)

  3. Oxford English Dictionary (will open in new window) (de facto standard for British English)

  4. - a novel way of looking at synonyms and antonyms.

  5. Paul Brians, Common Errors in English, 3rd revised edition (web version of book). [Kindle edition]

  6. Jane Straus, Lester Kaufman, Tom Stern, The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, 11th edition (web version of book). [Kindle edition]

  7. The Chicago Manual of Style online edition

  8. Kieran Lim's PDF eBook The Chemistry Style Manual, revised 2nd edition. Less authoritative, but one cannot argue with the price.

  9. ACS Style Guide by the American Chemical Society

Lecture notes (current edition): see the course materials website of the Feinberg Graduate School

Lecture notes (previous edition, partial):

Suggested viewing for Unit 1:
  1. Dawn and Danelaw 

  2. William the Conqueror

  3. The struggle for the language of the Bible

  4. Shakespeare and the Elizabethan era

  5. English in America

  6. Speaking proper

  7. The language of Empire

  8. Many tongues called English

Suggested reading and viewing about indefinite (a/an) and definite (the) articles, countable and uncountable nouns
  1. 8 rules for using "THE" in English

  2. when to use "A/AN" in a sentence



Suggested reading for the English verb:
  1.  verb tenses worksheet at


  3. a decision flowchart covering essentially all English verb tenses can be viewed here (warning: very big)

  4. From EGO4U (English Grammar Online For You): English tensesexamples of English tensesgraphic comparison

  5. A simplified flowchart covering tenses in scientific papers:

Suggested reading for English capitalization:  


Suggested reading about plagiarism and "fair use":   
  1. Wikipedia article (caveat lector) on the legal concept of "Fair Use"

  2. "The Journal of Chemical Physics: The First 50 Years", 10.1146/annurev.pc.37.100186.000245 contains a very good description of "technical plagiarism"

  3. Broad and Wade, "Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science", available in the WIS library

Suggested reading for the editorial process:
  1. "The Journal of Chemical Physics: The First 50 Years", 10.1146/annurev.pc.37.100186.000245 Insightful and very amusing in places

  2. P. V. Kamat, J. M. Burlak, G. C. Schatz and P. S. Weiss, "Mastering the art of scientific publication: twenty papers with 20/20 vision on publishing", virtual issue of the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters 

Suggested reading about informal fallacies:
  1. Tyler Vigen's spurious correlations site

  2. The Fallacy Files 

Suggested reading for punctuation:
  1. "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: the zero-tolerance approach to punctuation" by Lynne Truss. Hilarious and light reading. [PDF (intranet only)]

  2. Educational companion to the book archived at the Internet Wayback Machine (PDF here)

Some relevant quotations:​

In science you want to say something that nobody knew before, in words that everyone can understand. In poetry you are bound to say... something that everybody knows already, in words that nobody can understand. (attributed to Paul A. M. Dirac, speaking to J. R. Oppenheimer)

Do not make incomprehensible statements in the hope that somebody will eventually figure out what they mean. (Pirkei Avot 2:5, idiomatic translation)

​Always remember that it is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood: there will always be some who misunderstand you. (Karl R. Popper, "Unended Quest", p. 29)

Nothing so sharpens the thought process as writing down one's arguments. Weaknesses overlooked in oral discussion become painfully obvious on the written page. (Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, father of the US nuclear submarine fleet; quoted in "The Rickover Effect", 1992)

For words, like Nature, half reveal, and half conceal... (Alfred Tennyson, "In Memoriam A. H. H.", Canto V, 1st stanza)


Anecdote: Richard Feynman once offered to explain in a freshman lecture why spin-1/2 particles obey Fermi-Dirac statistics. A few days later he said: "You know, I couldn't do it. I couldn't reduce it to the freshman level. That means we don't really understand it." [David L. Goodstein, "Richard P. Feynman, Teacher," Physics Today 42(2), 70-75 (1989)]

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