Unit 1: Communicating as a Scientist
Communication is an integral part of the research you perform as a scientist. Your written papers serve as a gauge of your scientific productivity and provide a long-lasting body of knowledge from which other scientists can build their research. The oral presentations you deliver make your latest research known to the community, helping your peers stay up to date. Discussions enable you to exchange ideas and points of view. Letters, memos, and résumés help you build and maintain relationships with colleagues, suppliers, employers, and so on.
Scientific communication is not limited to formal papers and presentations for your peers. As a scientist, you engage in communication activities with yourself, too. Drafting a research proposal, for example, helps you understand the context and motivation for your future work and helps you focus on specific, realistic objectives. Adding entries in your laboratory notebook helps you crystallize your ideas and creates a track record of your thinking or experiments. Using mathematical or chemical notations helps you tackle complex concepts. Graphing data helps you answer research questions.
Finally, scientists are increasingly considered to be accountable to society at large; hence, you must know how to communicate successfully with people from a variety of backgrounds. For example, you may find yourself communicating in the classroom to help students develop their knowledge, sharpen their skills, and refine their attitudes. You may also volunteer or be called upon to write or speak about science for a broader, nonspecialist audience.
This Nature Education series on English Communication for Scientists aims to help you communicate more effectively as a scientist, specifically in the English language. Although it was developed with nonnative speakers of English in mind, it should prove useful for native speakers, too. It includes the following six units,
all illustrated with commented examples of documents, presentations, and so on.
Communicating as a Scientist (the present introductory unit) will help you understand what makes communication effective and will help you identify your purpose and analyze your audience, among others, in terms of its level of specialization. It then proposes basic strategies to address less specialized audiences and mixed audiences, whether orally or in writing.
Writing Scientific Papers will help you select and organize a paper’s content, draft it more effectively, and revise it efficiently. Among others, it offers advice on using verbs optimally, provides general rules for text mechanics (abbreviations, capitalization, hyphens, and so on), and points out frequent shortcomings for speakers of specific language groups.
Writing Correspondence will help you write an effective first-contact e-mail, demonstrate your qualifications for a job in an application letter and résumé, and prepare clear, accurate, and concise memos and progress reports. In particular, it discusses how to select an appropriate tone for corresponding in English.
Giving Oral Presentations will help you select and organize the content of an oral presentation, create effective slides to support it, deliver the presentation effectively, and answer questions usefully. It also offers tips on how to deliver a presentation as a non-native speaker of English and how to handle stage fright and mishaps.