Robert Izzard's Pages of Astronomical Happiness

  Teaching • Scientific Writing

I am no longer teaching at the University of Bonn. The following information remains purely for the curious.

Welcome to the homepage of Scientific Writing - 6951

The Scientific Writing course consists of weekly two-hour classes which will be held from 10(.15)am-12pm every Wednesday at the Argelander Institute for Astronomy, room 0.008 in the Winter Term only (2014/15). The classes consist of approximately 45 minutes of tutorial followed by fun and interactive sessions. You are expected to take your own notes although class slides are provided in digital form (see the timetable below). The course does not carry credit points but any assignments may naturally be tied in to other (credit-worthy) coursework and hence prove invaluable in the writing of your upcoming thesis. The course is taught primarily by Robert Izzard. Please use the feedback page : the login code will be given out in the class.

Scientific Writing will start again on 8th October 2014.

Course Abstract
Good communication is the key to making yourself known in the scientific world. If you cannot write, and cannot write well, your papers will struggle to to make an impact - assuming they are published at all.
Why do so many good scientists struggle to put their thoughts on to paper? This course aims to overcome that hurdle, to show that because you are a scientist you can think and write in a logical, clear and precise way. Most of the course is about how to structure your articles, but a sizeable fraction is also about style and the English language. Classes are mostly interactive with the emphasis on learning by doing.

Students' comments
  • Currently writing my first paper, all lectures were useful to me.
  • I was mandated to write a paper with my collaborators at NRAO after a 3-month visit late last year and after the first four lessons I had to write the paper again. Thanks!
  • The class was very good and always fun.
  • (After the classes) I started picking on all of my friends showing me their presentations. ... It's easy to listen to your non-monotonic voice, sooner or later another joke and meanwhile some real content.
Unless otherwise stated, all classes will be in room 0.008 of the AIfA, starting at 10.15am
Please only print the slides if you have to! Save paper, save trees, save the AIfA printing bill. Please note that these downloads are only available from within the University of Bonn and the MPIfR. If you need access from elsewhere, please let me know your IP address (range).
Homework: read one of the articles in this directory.
Class Date Slides

1 Welcome, introduction and overview. Also: questionnaire. 08/10/2014 Original Slides 3.3MB PDF - Printable Slides 16MB PDF
2 Reading and the logical structure of articles 15/10/2014 Original Slides 1.4MB PDF - Printable Slides 1.9MB PDF - Guardian article on titles
3 Abstracts 22/10/2014 Original Slides 2.3MB PDF - Printable Slides 1.8MB PDF - Abstract exercises - Keywords list
4 Before you start: planning, brainstorming, crystallising ideas 29/10/2014 Original Slides 1.6MB PDF - Printable Slides 1.6MB PDF
5 The body of an article 05/11/2014 Original Slides 2.1MB PDF - Printable Slides 2.8MB PDF
6 Figures, tables, equations. 12/11/2014 Original Slides 8.1MB PDF - Printable Slides 6.1MB PDF
How to make figures and presentations that are friendly to colourblind people
Display filters for the GIMP
Colour Scheme Designed
Wainer 1984 article Statistical Computing and Graphics
Anscombe 1973 at JSTOR
7 Language and Style 1: Sentences to paragraphs 19/11/2014 Original Slides 805KB PDF - Printable Slides 1.1MB PDF
8 Language and Style 2: Verbs and punctuation 26/11/2014 Original Slides 2.6MB PDF - Printable Slides PDF
9 Language and Style 3: Style, common mistakes and jargon 10/12/2014 Original Slides 3.2MB PDF - Printable Slides 3.1MB PDF
10 Information sources, citations, plagiarism and ethics. 07/01/2015 Original Slides 4.6MB PDF - Printable Slides 4.1MB PDF
Note change of venue!
11 Criticism and peer review 14/01/2015 Original Slides 2.1MB PDF - Printable Slides 1.5MB PDF
12 Tools for writing, other topics, course review. Closing questionnaire. 21/01/2015 Original Slides 6.9MB PDF - Printable Slides 4.7MB PDF
Useful links for class 12:
Comprehensive TeX Archive Network
LibreOffice - OpenOffice
Microsoft Paint
Recommended Reading
The Elements of Style (Strunk and White, 2008 edition, ISBN 978-0205632640). The classic book on writing style. Amazon link
You can find this in PDF form online! e.g. here
Eloquent Science: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Better Writer, Speaker, and Scientist (Schultz 2010; ISBN 978-1878220912). This book is written for meteorologists, but most of the principles are equally applicable to astronomers. I cannot recommend this book highly enough! Buy it now! Amazon link - see also the Eloquent Science Blog.
Scientific Writing for Young Astronomers (EDP Sciences, ed. C. Sterken; Book 2 especially, ISBN 978-2-7598-0506-8, see In two volumes, this offering from Astronomy and Astrophysics is based on their lecture course so this is more a proceedings than a guide. The sections on the publishing process and language editing are worth a look.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED). You should not use a dictionary in class, you will have no time, but no doubt you will need one at some point. The Oxford dictionary is one of the best and, of course, you will want to use the original British English dialect! Note that from the AIfA you can access the OED website at for free! (ISBN 978-0199206872) Amazon link
Fowler's Modern English Usage is a classic guide to English language style, usage, literary technique and grammar. It is more useful as a reference work but, if you have time and fancy a laugh, sit down and enjoy the witty discourse on the English language. (ISBN 978-0198610212) Amazon link
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