Friday, January 19, 2007

A Trip to Science, a Tip for Scientists

At Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory last week (, I had the great pleasure and privilege of working with brilliant international post-doctoral scientists and graduate students whose research interests lie in the challenging fields of cancer, neuroscience, plant genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics. Much of their writing is necessarily laden with passive descriptions of methodology, objective analyses of results, and detached statements of conclusion—hallmarks of the disinterested scientist.

Despite living in such an empirical world, these scientists realize that they must write convincingly for a successful funding proposal. To ground them on the difference between writing objectively and persuasively, I explained that the significance of the grant application appears not in the content language (the hard data) but in the context language (the interpretive expressions).

Much easier said than done? You bet. The content is the unchangeable, factual information; the context is the dynamic commentary that makes or breaks the writer. On the positive side, the context language could make writers appear insightful, focused, concerned, and credible; on the negative side, it could make them seem inobservant, careless, hyperbolic, or incredulous. A lot is at stake here.

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: