5 books on writing every scientist should read

Writing is a craft that every scientist must learn. And what better way to learn a skill than from a good book? In this post, I propose not one but 5 reference books. These are my favorite books about writing, the ones I keep coming back to in order to sharpen my pen. May they be as useful to you as they are to me!

1. Writing Science: How to Write Papers That Get Cited and Proposals That Get Funded by Joschua Schimmel

This book is the best resource I have come across on the craft of science writing (and I can tell you I’ve read a billion of them). You will find everything you need to know about storytelling, article structure, and paragraph and sentence composition. Understand the book thoroughly, apply the principles it describes, and you will travel the road to academic success like a German autobahn at midnight on a Wednesday: at full speed, and free of traffic. However, before you buy your new BMW leather gloves, I must warn you that this book has a small hitch.

The challenge of this book is that it goes into great detail and refinement, which at times makes it difficult to follow, especially for young scientists who do not have much writing experience. In addition, the examples Schimmel provides are, in my opinion, often hard to understand for people who are not experts in his field (he is a professor of environmental science at the University of California, Santa Barbara). Therefore, before you delve into the book, I would recommend that you learn the basics of scientific writing. For example, you can start by reading my Ultimate Guide to Scientific Writing, which is easily accessible to novices. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with these core principles, you can move on to sharpening your writing saw with Schimmel’s book.

2. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

“The Elements of Style” is the style bible for American English. In 2011, Time magazine named it one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923.

The Element of Style is a little book that encompasses about 50 principles and practical tips for good writing, composition, and punctuation. The advice provided by the book is straightforward and easily applicable. Everything I like!

3. How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul Silvia

“How to Write a Lot” is the book you need if you want to improve your writing productivity. Paul Silvia, the author, is not only an expert in scientific writing, but he is also a researcher in psychology (I had the pleasure of meeting him when he presented his research at the University of Graz).

In this book, Silvia exposes the specious barriers we, scientists, raise to avoid writing, such as “I don’t have time to write,” “I need to read a few more papers,” or “I write better when I’m inspired” (Sound familiar? :-)). He also provides motivational tools and shares a lot of information about the writing and publishing process. His style is witty and elegant. Boy, do I wish I could write as well!

4. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

With this book, we leave the academic world to enter another form of inspiration, that of the famous and immensely prolific author of thrillers Stephen King. I don’t read King’s books or watch the movies adapted from them. They are too creepy for me. But this book is different.

The book starts by telling the story of how he became a writer and then explains how he writes. It is beautifully written and full of good advice and inspiration to improve your writing skills as well as your writing process.

5. Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker

This book is the ideal companion for any Ph.D. student. It covers all the steps involved in writing a doctoral dissertation, from choosing your topic to dealing with your supervisor, writing first drafts, revising them, etc.

I have never met Joan Bolker, the author, but she seems to be a lovely person. Her style is warm and comforting, full of anecdotes and inspiration. I wish I had known about this book when I was a Ph.D. student.

That’s it for today, wonderful reader! I hope you’ll find a book, or even better, several books in this list to inspire you and accompany you on your writing journey.

All the best,

Gaya

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