Spelling Matters – Even in Science

April 14, 2014

When I was in grad school, I worked part time as a teaching assistant.  One semester, I gave my lab students a vocabulary quiz in the form of a crossword puzzle; they responded with unanimous outrage.  As one put it, “I didn’t major in science because I wanted to worry about my spelling.”

I couldn’t quite convince them that spelling is as important to scientists as to people in any other field.  After all, mitosis and meiosis differ by only two letters; biologically, they differ by amoebas and humans.

Grammar can be another sticking point for students.  When I took marks off their papers, they’d often say, “Oh, but you knew what I meant.”  Maybe.  But the job of a writer (and a scientist) is to make sure the reader doesn’t have to guess.

Fortunately, there’s now hope for the grammatically-confounded scientist.  Dr. Lorraine Lica has created a wonderful web page explaining why “that” and “which” are not the same, and why you should care.  And then she explains how to use them.  With the help of set theory.  And Venn diagrams.

I may just have died and gone to geek heaven.

2 Comments on ‘Spelling Matters – Even in Science’

  1. Oh, so true! Spellings and grammar are so important!
    In one of my volunteer jobs, I had to approve protocols for science research. An important criteria for approval was that the scientist wrote the description of their experiment in clear and concise English, preferably at a grade 8 reading level. This description might have to be the basis of any press releases about the research in the future. The people in publicity would not want to guess at what the scientist “meant” in their protocol.

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    1. It’s like I tell my science students too – what’s the point of inventing cold fusion if you can’t tell anyone how you did it? Writing and communication skills matter in EVERY discipline.

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