Friday, February 29, 2008

A new PAC: the Period And Comma manifesto

One of the frustrations of writers is the differing rules of grammar as used in English-speaking countries. Perhaps the spirit of activism engendered by the election year will stimulate a new PAC: the Period And Comma liberation movement!

Many rules of grammar were created not by writers or editors but by typesetters to accommodate the needs of their equipment. The placement of punctuation is one. While the period and comma appear before the final quotation mark in U.S. style books, other punctuation appears after it. I've adapted an anthem for our new PAC. To join, post a comment.

It's based on "The Internationale", of course! There! I've done it! I placed a comma after a final quotation mark! You, too, can be bold!

Arise, ye writers from your slumbers
Arise, ye prisoners of type
For reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of tripe.
Away with all your superstitions
Servile masses arise, arise
We'll change henceforth the old tradition
And spurn the rule to win the prize.

So editors, do not dally
Be brave and boldly take a stand
International style unites the human race!
So editors, do not dally
To this fight we must lend a hand
International style unites the human race!

No more deluded by reaction
Tyrants of type we'll heed no more
The writers too will take fast action
They'll say farewell to guides of yore
And if those old style books keep trying
To sacrifice sense to their pride
They soon will see the marks go flying
Illogic we shall nevermore abide!

Let us stand together for tomorrow
International style unites the human race!

No savior on high will deliver
No lord have we in print or year
Our own strong minds the chains must shiver
Chains of handset movable type and fear.
To such silly rules no more we'll hark!
Put the period and the comma
Beyond the final quotation mark!
To one English style we'll say, "Hurrah!"

Let us stand together for tomorrow
International style unites the human race!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Word Choice Influences Readers focuses on gender and science. On this simply written page, the authors contrast the use of different phrases to convey meaning. Their advice is useful to avoid offending or confusing readers or listeners, whether the words represent gender or ethnicity, or even arcane concepts that might be of interest to scientists outside the narrow field of the authors of a paper.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

For authors: Tips on responding to reviews

Dr. Roger Samelson has generously provided these tips to authors of scientific papers as a guide to preparing responses to reviewers' (and editors') comments:

Here's what I would recommend, based on what has been most helpful to me as an editor and reviewer:

1. Identify each conceptually independent reviewer comment in some straightforward way: quote the first few words, refer to numbers if given, etc. In general, don't repeat or quote the entire reviewer comment. Most reviews are best read as a continuous document, and the editor or reviewer will want to refer to the original anyway.

2. For each such comment, list the corresponding revisions made to the manuscript, by section, page number, etc., as specifically as possible. If practical, quote added or edited passages in the response. Avoid general statements, such as "Section X was rewritten to address the reviewer's comments," that give little specific information as to what changes were made and to which paragraphs and sentences.

3. If no revision was made in response to a comment, say that and explain why. Recognize that if a detailed response to a reviewer comment is necessary, the inclusion of at least some portion of the response in the revision is frequently merited, even if it is a rebuttal. Most of the questions that occur to reviewers will occur to other readers.

4. In general, focus on clearly identifying what revisions were made, or requested but not made, and explaining why they were or were not made. Avoid responses that are not clearly tied to specific changes in the text or figures, or that don't specifically rebut certain suggested changes.

5. Include an introductory statement that briefly outlines the main elements of the response, especially if major changes were made, or suggested but not made. This can be helpful simply because it allows the editor or reviewer to estimate quickly how much time the review will take to complete.

Pretty simple, really! In my experience, most authors do it well.

Roger Samelson
College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University

Why early-career scientists should review papers

MWR Chief Editor Dave Schultz offers concise tips on reviewing on his blog at