I’ve been to dozens of conference poster sessions, but I struggle to think of a single thing I’ve learned from them. I don’t think I’m alone, considering the antipathy toward academic posters I’ve noticed among colleagues and librarians.
Plain language advocates Cheryl Stephens and Katherine McManus teamed up with the Society for Technical Communication’s Autumn Jonssen and EAC-BC’s Amy Haagsma to organize the first Communication Convergence mini-conference as part of the Vancouver celebrations of International Plain Language Day, October 13. Because IPL Day coincides with Thanksgiving this year, we celebrated one weekend earlier, on October 5.
The afternoon included a networking buffet lunch, followed by three panel discussions. I was a panellist on the first, which explored the tendency for different communication fields to apply a common range of methods. Joining me were:
- Joe Goodwill, editor and technical publisher
- Heidi Turner, professional writer; and
- Pam Drucker, technical communicator.
Frances Peck moderated.
The second panel looked at the real-world demand on communicators and featured
- Elizabeth Rains, managing editor
- Eric Jandciu, strategist for teaching and learning initiatives in the Faculty of Science at UBC
- Maureen Nicholson, program head of professional communication at Douglas College,
- Eva Hompoth, image consultant; and
- Christabelle Kux-Kardos, information and referral coordinator for the Sunshine Coast Community Resource Centre.
Katherine McManus moderated.
The third panel, hosted by
- Lisa Mighton, director of communications and community liaison at the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at UBC
- Paula LaBrie, marketing communications specialist;
- and Cheryl Stephens, who moderated,
was more of an open discussion asking where we—as a community of communicators dedicated to plain language—go from here.
We had eleven speakers and three moderators, as well as plenty of comments and questions from the floor, so although the format made for invigorating discussion, I couldn’t capture everything that everyone said in my notes. Not pretending to do all of the participants justice, I’ll just give an overview of my impressions and the points I found most interesting. Because there was a lot of overlap among the three sessions, I’ll focus on the day’s themes rather than the specifics from each panel. (Find photos of the Communication Convergence event on IPL Day’s Twitter.)
Writing and editing for the audience (sometimes easier said than done)
We all agreed that the audience is paramount when we craft our communications. Joe Goodwill pointed out the importance of considering the audience’s cultural context, which can be very different from our own.
What can get especially tricky is when your work has to go through several layers of approval, said Heidi Turner. Frances Peck agreed: often at each of those levels managers and directors reintroduce jargon and officialese and undo all of the work you’ve done to make that text accessible. Turner always tries to advocate for plain language, telling those clients for whom she writes grants that “A funder won’t want to give you money just because you use big words,” but from a business standpoint she ultimately has to give her clients what they want, and sometimes they don’t have a very good idea of who their readers are.
How do you write for disparate audiences? Sometimes you have to create more than one document, and Stephens reminded us that there will always be some people we can’t reach with our writing. But if your hands are tied, Elizabeth Rains said to “use the plainest language possible that will satisfy your readers’ needs.” She firmly believes that “no matter what type of information you have, it can be explained simply. And you may find that you can use that same language to explain concepts to very, very different audiences.”
Tools and resources
Pam Drucker’s work as a technical communicator has evolved over the years; today, she no longer works on large manuals but instead writes individual articles or topics. Her most consulted resources include the
- Microsoft Manual of Style
- Simplified Technical English (get a free copy here)
- The Art of Readable Writing by Rudolf Flesch
She also uses structured writing techniques (e.g., Information Mapping).
Plain language as a right
Beyond the arguments that clear communication is more efficient and will get better results, what motivates many advocates of plain language is that we feel it’s a human rights issue. Information can be life altering, sometimes life saving. Citizens need to understand their government’s legislation to participate in a democracy. People with health issues deserve to understand their treatment options to achieve the best health outcomes. What can we do get people the information they need?
Christabelle Kux-Kardos works with immigrants and seniors, among others, to help them access community and government services. Her approach is to do what she calls a literacy audit: she tries to step back and try to see the world through the lens of a new client. This process has shown her that some services, even essential ones, have poor signage and are hard to find, particularly if you don’t know the language well or aren’t comfortable with technology. She sees it as her responsibility to point out to those services what they could be doing better. A lot of her work, she said, involves talking with her clients to tease out the right questions. What don’t they know that they need to know? Often they don’t know what they don’t know.
Nicholson reminds us that for some people, there is value in misrepresentation. “There are circumstances in which people are vested in obfuscating,” she said. “We have to be loud enough to cut through the clutter.”
Beyond comprehension to persuasion
Did the audience understand the message? Achieving understanding is always the communicator’s goal, but should it stop there? How do we persuade people to act on that information?
Hompoth, an image consultant, said that we are judged on
- how we look,
- what we do,
- what we say, and
- how we say it.
What we say accounts for 7 percent of the message, but how we say it counts for 13 percent (with other non-verbal communication making up the balance). In other words, our delivery is more important than our content.
That reality certainly jibes with health and science communications. How best to achieve persuasion is an unanswered question from a knowledge translation point of view: we can present people with evidence that smoking harms health, but evidence alone isn’t enough to convince some smokers to quit. Whether our message spurs change depends on the audience’s level of motivation.
As much as some of us may shy away from marketing, if we really want to effect change, we may have to study it. Will a course in psychology eventually be a required part of communications training?
Communication in and from academia
Those who know me know that one of my life’s missions is to try to eradicate turgid writing from academia. Academese is unnecessary, it hinders understanding and collaboration, and, because research is mostly taxpayer funded, it is undemocratic. Part of my research in knowledge translation involves finding alternative means of communicating research so that stakeholders beyond a researcher’s own colleagues can find and use it. Journal articles haven’t fundamentally changed in sixty years: if you print one out, it will still be in tiny type, packed onto a page with no space to breathe.
But we are making some gains. Many journals, North American ones, especially, are more accepting now than ever of first-person pronouns in journal articles. The style can be more conversational, and as research necessarily gets more interdisciplinary, researchers are beginning to recognize that they need a lingua franca to work together, and that lingua franca is plain language. We still have a long way to go, but we can celebrate these small victories.
Jandciu’s programs at UBC try to tackle the problem earlier, with communications courses designed specifically for science students. Although the Faculty of Science had always acknowledged that its students needed to develop communication skills, it usually left that training to first-year English courses. Feedback from graduating students, though, showed that those courses weren’t adequately preparing them to write reports and scientific articles or prepare and give presentations. Now the Faculty of Science offers a first-year course that integrates communication into science training and helps students develop scientific arguments. A third-year course has students interview researchers and develop videos and podcasts. Even funders, said Jandciu, are wanting researchers to do more outreach using social media, videos, and multimedia. Research communication can no longer be just text based.
He occasionally still hears students say, “But I’m in science because I don’t like to write,” or “I can’t do presentations,” but after the courses they realize the value of being able to communicate their scientific expertise. They begin to grasp that a lot of legislation hinges on policy makers getting sound information, and right now scientists aren’t doing a good enough job getting it out to them or to the public. “We need science students to stop thinking of communication as separate from their science,” said Jandciu.
Jeff Richmond, a journalist, responded that a lot of blame is put on “the media” for distorting research. And although it’s true that some stories can get sensationalized, if you talk to individual journalists, they typically have the sincerest of intentions. How does the distortion happen, and how we can express ideas in plain language without altering the facts?
Increasing awareness and uptake of plain language
We were all preaching to the converted at Communication Convergence—we all understand the value of plain language. But not everyone thinks the way we do. Nicholson said that we know that clear communication is the ethical choice, but when it comes to convincing others, some people and organizations simply won’t respond unless you show them the economic benefits.
And Stephens said that although professional legal associations support plain language, there’s still a culture of resistance among practising lawyers. I believe the key is in subtle shifts—a kind of quiet rebellion. There are several tacks to plain language; do what you can within the bounds of the culture, but start gathering evidence that what you are doing is producing results.
Does the public at large realize what they’re missing when communication isn’t clear? How can we raise awareness of plain language?
Paula LaBrie suggested that we all find a way to celebrate International Plain Language Day at our workplaces and spread the word about it. Lisa Mighton said we should always look for opportunities to turn our work into a media story.
The ideas from the crowd reinforced the community’s need for a central repository of plain language information: research, case studies, history. I urged everyone to join the Clear Communication Wiki and start contributing to it. It has the potential to become a valuable resource, but it needs a critical mass of participation.
My key takeaway from Communication Convergence is that being able to say “I don’t understand” is a privilege. The most disenfranchised among us may not realize that there’s an alternative to confusing communication or may feel that revealing their lack of comprehension might make them look ignorant, compromising their position.
We communicators need to acknowledge our privilege and use it to push for change. “By not calling people on their poor communication practices,” said McManus, “we’re making people—maybe generations of people—put up with a lack of information. It becomes the responsibility of communicators not to just throw up our hands and give up.”
Mary Russell, representative from the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers, gave us a glimpse into her bag of tricks for indexing health and science texts.
“If you wear an editor’s hat,” she warned, “you’ll have to get comfortable sitting on your hands.” The terminology in health and science can be quite daunting, with eponyms, an idiosyncratic mix of British and American spelling, chemical names, drug names, botanical names, and so on. Medicine and science are full of alternative names, abbreviations, and precise distinctions between categories of varying complexity. You’ll have to use more cross-references and know your audience so that you can guide your readers to the terms preferred in the text.
Eponyms—diseases or body parts named after a person or place—are common in medicine and can be tricky because punctuation and possession can be lost. (Should it be “Braxton Hicks contractions” or “Braxton-Hicks contractions”?) Double-check with an authoritative source to get these right.
The use of British versus American spellings may also seem inconsistent; a book published in the U.S. may use British spelling because that’s what the profession uses. “Follow the profession,” said Russell, “not necessarily the nationality of your audience.”
Chemicals can have many alternative names—for example, vinegar can be known as a dilute solution of acetic acid, ethanoic acid, glacial acetic acid, among other names. If you have room in your index, offer your readers the most common of these as multiple access points.
Drug names “can get frightfully complicated,” said Russell. “Drug names really test your typing, because they simply do not make sense.” Drugs have a class name, a drug group, a drug name, and a trade name. It’s important to provide as many of these as possible in the index, because people may be looking up drug names and side effects in a crisis situation, and your index is the entry point.
For scientific names, classification to the level of genus and species is usually all that’s needed. Plant names are very structured, but common names and cultivars can add confusion. Although sometimes you may see zoological names inverted (species, genus), don’t do that with botanical names.
If you’re working in health and science indexing, you can turn to several different types of resources to guide you and help you understand terminology and conventions.
Dictionaries and thesauri
Specialized subject dictionaries are great resources. Sometimes they’re available as an app, which may be cheaper to buy than the print edition—or you can get a short-term subscription for your project.
For medicine, refer to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s medical subject headings (MeSH). MeSH terms can clarify the hierarchy of terms, alert you to alternative terms, help with alternative spellings, help with politically correct terms, and clarify the use of abbreviations.
Russell recommended the following style guides:
- The New Oxford Dictionary for Scientific Writers and Editors
- The American Medical Association Manual of Style
- Scientific Style and Format (by the Council of Science Editors)
Name authorities and taxonomies
Many scientific areas have authorities that can be consulted online:
- International Code of Botanical Nomenclature
- International Code of Zoological Nomenclature
- International Code for Nomenclature of Bacteria
- ICTV Virus Taxonomy
- Merck Index Online
Get to know indexers who also work in science and medicine, and talk to subject experts, perhaps the work’s author or editor, to get a handle on the terminology that the audience is likely to look for.
I just sent this note in response to Industry Canada’s consultation paper, Seizing Canada’s Moment, and I encourage anyone who has an opinion about Canada’s science and technology strategy to write in as well. You can send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 7, 2014.
I’m not naive enough to believe that anyone at Industry Canada will actually read my note, nor do I think it’ll actually make any kind of a difference, but I thought I should at least make some effort to engage. I didn’t want to pass up an explicitly offered opportunity to speak up.
I tend to shy away from posting anything overtly political on my professional blog, but I’ve made this one exception. Thanks to Cheryl Stephens for drawing my attention to the original consultation paper.
To the Honourable James Moore, Stephen Harper, and Industry Canada:
I’m writing in response to Seizing Canada’s Moment: Moving Forward in Science, Technology and Innovation, the consultation paper in which you solicited “the views of stakeholders from all sectors of the ST&I [science, technology & innovation] system—including universities, colleges and polytechnics, the business community, and Canadians—to help identify solutions that reflect the realities of today’s ever-changing global innovation landscape.” As one of those stakeholders, both as a science communicator and as an engaged citizen, I’d like to offer a few of my thoughts about the Government of Canada’s ST&I strategy. My opinions here are informed by my handful of years in physics research as well as my career of over a dozen years as a writer and editor:
- In 2002 I founded a national journal for undergraduate physics students to introduce them to the process of peer review and scholarly publication; the Canadian Undergraduate Physics Journal published until 2010.
- I have, since 2004, edited more than 175 academic journal articles, dissertations, book chapters, and books in physics, earth sciences, chemistry, and engineering, among other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.
- I have also edited popular science books and am co-author of an upcoming book about personalized medicine for a general audience.
I’m neither the scientist making the groundbreaking discoveries nor the entrepreneur applying research results to create a new product or process, but I’d like to believe that those of us in communications have a critical role to play in the exchange of information and knowledge. We are, as Peter Levesque of the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization has said, the grout that joins the tiles.
Your consultation paper includes several questions for discussion:
- Building on the advice provided by the Expert Panel on Federal Support for Research and Development, what more can be done to improve business investment in R&D and innovation?
- What actions could be taken, by the government or others, to enhance the mobilization of knowledge and technology from government laboratories and universities, colleges and polytechnics to the private sector?
Mobilization of knowledge and technology depends, fundamentally, on a free and open exchange of information.
Although I applaud the country’s researchers for helping Canada become “the only G7 country to increase its number of scientific papers about the world average in recent years,” these papers do precious little good if other researchers and people in business can’t
- find them,
- read them, and
- understand them.
Research can’t be done in a (figurative) vacuum; new discoveries are fuelled by previous knowledge, and both researchers and innovators in business need full, unimpeded access to this body of knowledge to drive scientific progress. What Canada needs is the following:
- A robust network of libraries that serves as a comprehensive archive of scientific information, as well as a metadata-rich cataloguing system that allows Canadians to search the entire network’s content in a centralized location. This kind of network would allow everyone in the ST&I sector to easily find publications on the latest research, as well as encourage interdisciplinary cross-fertilization. Some of the most innovative ideas can arise when mathematicians talk to musicians, or when architects talk to psychologists. Further, a centralized catalogue would let Canadians find not only all papers published in open access journals (see next item) but also those published under a “green open access” models, where the paper appears in a pay-to-access journal but is self-archived by the researcher for free access in an institutional repository.
- Open access to all Canadian-made research. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) recognize that if they have funded research, we Canadian taxpayers have paid for it, and we deserve to be able to see the results of that research—i.e., the publications—without having to pay for them again in subscription or access fees. Privatizing the National Research Council Press (today Canadian Science Publishing) such that it has to put its papers behind a paywall is a step in exactly the wrong direction. Paywalls stifle innovation because many of those businesses that could be applying the research have neither the access to an academic library’s subscriptions nor the budget to pay $30 to read each paper, without knowing whether it will ultimately be useful. Mandating open access, however, although a good first step, isn’t enough: to offset the loss of revenue from the reader, open access publishers often have to charge the researcher or the researcher’s institution for the privilege to publish. A system of Government of Canada subsidies to cover part or all of those publishing costs would allow scientists to focus their budgets on research rather than on publication.
- Plain language knowledge translation and mobilization. High-level research can involve specialized language which, coupled with academia’s deeply ingrained habit of producing dense writing, can hinder understanding of new discoveries. In the long term, the ST&I sector would benefit from a plain language overhaul of all of its communications. For now, communication professionals skilled at distilling research knowledge into usable information for other researchers, industry, policy makers, and ordinary citizens will have a critical role to play in bridging the gap between scientific discovery and innovation.
Developing Innovative and Entrepreneurial People
- How can Canada continue to develop, attract and retain the world’s top research talent at our businesses, research institutions, colleges and polytechnics, and universities?
“Canada has rising numbers of graduates with doctoral degrees in science and engineering,” according to your consultation paper. “This valuable resource of highly qualified and skilled individuals needs to be better leveraged.” As you acknowledge, these researchers are trained, world-class experts. Wouldn’t it behoove us to listen to what they have to say?
To attract and retain skilled researchers, we have to foster an environment in which they feel fulfilled and secure in their work. In other words, we need a government commitment to evidence-based policy making and a system that allows researchers room to explore. If the government wants industry to work with our scientists, it should be prepared to serve as a role model and do the same. Science is about discovering the laws of nature—these are laws none of us can defy. Only by learning more about them, rather than denying them, will we be able to harness them to our advantage.
Further, for our scientists to succeed, we have to give them room to fail, without the fear that they’ll lose their jobs or grants. Researchers who “push the frontiers of knowledge” are bound to run into a few dead ends. When we learn about scientific progress, we get a sanitized version of history, where discoveries are made regularly, linearly. What non-scientists don’t see are the frustrations, the setbacks, and the outright failures that come with every step forward. These difficulties are part of science, but in the rush to commercialize research, the value they add to the sum of human knowledge is likely to be overlooked.
Excellence in Public and Post-Secondary Research and Development
- How might Canada build upon its success as a world leader in discovery-driven research?
- Is the Government of Canada’s suite of programs appropriately designed to best support research excellence?
Although I understand that this government’s focus is on developing commercial applications of science, the fact is that you can’t apply what you don’t have. Investment in pure science is just as important as developing new technologies; what discoveries will turn out to have useful applications in the future are almost impossible to predict with certainty. Who could have imagined that Max Planck’s musings about quantum theory in the early 1900s would pave the way for the now-ubiquitous laser? And if Galileo hadn’t turned his telescope to the sky—out of curiosity rather than for commerce—and discovered that moons orbit other planets, we might still be terrified of eclipses and bewildered by the tides. (Incidentally, how many years do you figure the whole of civilization was set back by the Church’s persecution of Galileo and its denial of his theories?)
Support for pure science is also what will bring us the next generation of inquisitive, creative, scientific minds. James Day, a UBC superconductivity and physics education researcher, once said to me, “Kids who become interested in science usually get into it in one of two ways: through dinosaurs or through stars.” Neither paleontology nor astronomy are probable sources for the kinds of commercialization this government seems to be after—but to neglect these and other pure sciences in favour of those you somehow deem more likely to yield new products or processes is to deprive future generations of Canadians the opportunity of carrying on our scientific researchers’ impressive legacy.
Gulrez Shah Azhar. “Access to information is crucial for science.” The Lancet, Vol. 377, April 23, 2011, p. 1404.
Emily Chung. “No more free access to Canadian science journals,” CBC News. March 8, 2011. http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/no-more-free-access-to-canadian-science-journals-1.1044255.
Industry Canada. Seizing Canada’s Moment: Moving Forward in Science, Technology and Innovation. Ottawa: Industry Canada, 2014.
Carl Lagoze and Herbert Van de Sompel. “The open archives initiative: building a low-barrier interoperability framework.” Proceedings of the ACM/IEEE Joint Conference on Digital Libraries, Roanoke VA, June 24–28, 2001, pp. 54-62.
Peter Levesque. “Knowledge mobilization as readiness for care.” Institute for Knowledge Mobilization. November 24, 2010. http://www.knowledgemobilization.net/archives/261
Richard Van Noorden. “Open access: The true cost of science publishing” Nature, Vol. 495, March 27, 2013, pp. 426–429. http://www.nature.com/news/open-access-the-true-cost-of-science-publishing-1.12676
After reviewing Darcy Cullen’s Editors, Scholars, and the Social Text, which offered an insightful introduction to the world of scholarly publishing in the humanities, I found myself wondering which principles and practices within that book also applied to publishing in the sciences. I was hopeful that Science in Print: Essays on the History of Science and the Culture of Print, edited by Rima D. Apple, Gregory J. Downey, and Stephen L. Vaughn (published by the University of Wisconsin Press), might shed some light on the issue.
In 2008 the Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison sponsored an international conference on the culture of print in science, technology, engineering, and medicine; nine of the conference sessions were chosen to be included in Science in Print, released earlier this fall. The essays include
- Meghan Doherty’s piece on how William Faithorne’s The Art of Graveing and Etching, a manual on the engraver’s craft, reflected standards of accuracy that he also applied to engravings for the Royal Society, which in turn reinforced scientific rigour among Royal Society members;
- Robin E. Rider’s look at the importance of typography in late-eighteenth-century and early-nineteenth-century mathematical textbooks;
- Lynn K. Nyhart’s overview of a decades-long series of publications, all arising from a German expedition to sample plankton in the world’s oceans;
- Bertrum H. MacDonald’s tribute to the Smithsonian Institution’s role in scientific publication and information interchange between Canadian and American scientists in the late 1800s;
- Jennifer J. Connor’s semi-biographical piece on George M. Gould, who in the late nineteenth century edited several medical journals and advanced ideas of editorial autonomy within medical journal publishing;
- Kate McDowell’s probe of how evolution was presented in children’s science books between 1892 and 1922;
- Sally Gregory Kohlstedt’s look at how textbooks and teacher resource books approached the burgeoning interest in nature study in the early twentieth century;
- Rima D. Apple’s investigation into the influence of various publications, particularly government dietary guidelines, on fostering the primacy of meat in the American diet;
- Cheryl Knott’s comparison between the reaction to Stewart Udall’s environmental treatise, The Quiet Crisis, published in 1963, and the reception to the book’s twenty-fifth-anniversary edition, published in 1988.
Being a bit of a math and typography nerd, I found resonance in Robin Rider’s essay, in which she says,
The visual culture of mathematics, done well, offers “enormous advantages of seeing,” as Edward Tufte would say. Readers learn much from the way mathematics is presented in type. Good typography highlights and reinforces ideas; indifferent typography (or worse) obscures ideas and stymies the reader. (p. 38)
—particularly since that last sentence applies just as well to non-mathematical texts.
Although not addressed as a specific topic in the book, the issue of the motivation behind academic publishing does rear its head in more than one essay. Both Lynn Nyhart and Jennifer Connor remark that the contributors to scientific and medical journals are generally not paid for their contributions. Writing about medical editor George M. Gould, Connor says,
After [publisher] William Wood of New York refused him permission that same year to reprint articles from its medical journals in his Year-Book—a digest of material that reached, according to Gould, thousands of readers—he distributed a circular about the relations between the medical profession and “lay publishing firms of medical journals.” Publishers do not pay physicians for their contributions, he noted, although they presumably profit from them; and, in this case, no other publisher—even those who do pay contributors—had objected to reprinting extracts. But above all, this publisher’s decision was wrong because it prevented the dissemination of medical knowledge. (p. 116)
Lynn Nyhart argues that publishing itself motivated scientific progress:
Maintaining the commitment to publish, I would suggest, was in fact what made these projects successful and important as science. (Conversely, the lack of a strong commitment to publishing following many voyages often resulted in the collected specimens languishing in boxes for years without ever being analyzed.) (p. 67)
Science in Print also looks beyond the academic realm at trade and popular science publishing, and the closing chapter by Cheryl Knott makes reference to Priscilla Coit Murphy’s book What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, saying
According to Murphy, it is the book (as opposed to the author) that launches social and political movements as it takes on a life of its own in ways the author and publisher could not have foreseen. (p. 201)
Knott reinforces this concept by showing how the evolution of the environmental movement and a changing political climate affected the success of The Quiet Crisis, an environmental book by former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. It became a best-seller after it was first published in 1963 but saw a tepid reception when it was expanded, updated, and reissued in 1988. Knott discovered that readers often cite and recommend the original edition, even if they’d clearly read the newer one. She notes, “Such mix-ups indicate that many readers do not make the careful distinctions between editions that collectors, bibliographers, and librarians make.” (p. 217) In my experience, although publishers are aware of this reality, they are sometimes in denial about it as they try to find new ways of repackaging and marketing existing content. How do you capitalize on the cachet of a successful original edition while offering readers the new information they need?
Although Science in Print did offer me some new perspectives and gave historical context to the development of scientific publishing, particular in North America, I have to say that didn’t enjoy the experience of reading the book as much as I would have wanted, for a variety of reasons. I’ve been struggling for weeks to write a cohesive review of this book (and some may remark that I’ve failed), likely because I found that Science in Print itself lacks cohesion. I’m no stranger to reading and reviewing anthologies; despite being an assembly of contributions from different authors, they must still have an internal rhythm and logic—like a good album put together from a collection of singles. Science in Print takes too much of a scattergun approach, attempting to present numerous topics ostensibly connecting science and print culture that are really quite disparate. Perhaps a more effective approach would have been to select more of the conference sessions to publish but to group them by topic or genre and issue each of these as a separate volume, which would have allowed for more meaningful comparisons among contributors’ viewpoints.
And although I understand that scholarly presses generally don’t do much substantive editing, this is once instance in which a manuscript really could have benefited from a skilled stylistic editor’s hand. Take, for instance, this opening to one of the essays:
Educators in the early twentieth century faced the dilemma of how to build the skills of teachers so that they could teach directly from nature in a new progressive pedagogy emerging in the late nineteenth century known as nature study. (p. 156)
Most stylistic editors would be able to offer at least a couple of suggestions to make that sentence more engaging and approachable while conveying exactly the same information. (I should say that I don’t mean to pick on this one contributor—whose content was otherwise pretty interesting—I just wanted to offer an example.)
Finally, one aspect of the book that may have contributed to my discomfort while reading is the design (ironic, given Robin Rider’s astute analysis of the importance of good typography): the pages are dense, the type is small, and the lines are long. Robert Bringhurst, in The Elements of Typographic Style, writes, “Anything from 45 to 75 characters is widely regarded as a satisfactory length of line for a single-column page set in a serifed text face in a text size… A line that averages more than 75 or 80 characters is likely to be too long for continuous reading.” (v. 2.4, pp. 26–27) Science in Print definitely falls into the latter category. I would suggest that readers try the ebook and reflow the text to a comfortable line length, but it appears that the only available ebook version is a fixed-layout PDF. I haven’t read any other books published by University of Wisconsin Press, but if this book is based on a standard design template, the press may benefit from revisiting that template and revising it for readability.