Book Review English Technical Editing Usability

What Scientists Want: The ‘Write’ to be Understood



For an upcoming writing project in my EH 603 (Editing for Publication) class, I have chosen to do a book review on ‘Writing Science in Plain English’ by Anne E. Greene (2013). I spent quite some time browsing numerous book titles on Amazon, all loosely falling within the parameters of technical editing, before I was able to narrow down on Greene’s book.

What initially caught my eye was the blurb of the book, which states that by following a few key principles, “writers from all scientific disciplines can learn to produce clear, concise prose…” Now, most writers would agree that writing clearly and effectively is a goal not limited to any particular type of writing. After all, doesn’t every author want to be understood – no matter what the subject?

And yet, clarity of the message becomes all the more important when tackling complex subject matters like those in specialized scientific fields. When readers misunderstand crucial information, it not only causes an author frustration but may also have other far-reaching consequences – such as hampering knowledge and ideas exchange across disciplines. Hence, the overarching subject of Greene’s book is definitely a welcome one.

First Impressions

Greene is well-placed to discuss the topic at hand as she not only teaches scientific writing but is also a biologist by training (“About the author,” n.d.). This science background, I believe, gives her an edge over other authors writing on the same subject and I expect to see a more nuanced and multifaceted approach on effective scientific writing in her book.

Upon receiving my print copy of Greene’s book, I was instantly drawn to its cover. A clean yet sophisticated science theme graces its front. I skimmed through and right away, was pleased to note that each chapter not only offers explicit examples of poor writing accompanied by improved revisions (always a plus point!), but also includes exercises for readers to practice their new-found knowledge.

I have since read through the first few chapters and appreciate that, so far, Greene seems to cover a lot of basic yet important writing concepts such as audience awareness, tone, passive vs. active voice, etc. all from a scientific perspective and with examples from diverse fields such as biology, chemistry, anthropology, astronomy, etc.

Target Publication

I estimate that it will take me about two weeks to finish reading the rest of Greene’s book and I intend to write the book review for IEEE* Transactions on Professional Communication, a journal devoted to applied research on professional communication including business and technical communication. (*IEEE = Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)

I believe that Greene’s book will be a good fit for the readers of this journal – in particular, members of IEEE. As the organization’s website notes, the IEEE Professional Communication Society (which publishes the journal) aims to “foster a community dedicated to understanding and promoting effective communication in engineering, scientific, and other technical environments.” Furthermore, it endeavors to “help engineers, scientists, and other technically oriented professionals to communicate better in the workplace-both in speaking and in writing…” (“Our mission,” n.d.).

These are promises that Greene herself makes in the book’s first chapter, when she notes that the principles in the book “will help improve everything you write, whether it is a lab report, a grant proposal, a research paper, or a press release” (p. 3). Additionally, Greene states that the book will help scientific professionals from various disciplines and at all levels, be it “a geologist, chemist, physicist, biologist or social scientist… a first- or fourth-year undergraduate, a graduate student, a postdoctoral fellow, or a professor” (p. 4).

Although my decision to read and review this book is motivated primarily by obligations of coursework, I hope that reading Greene’s book will help me pick additional pointers on good technical and scientific writing – especially as I hope to eventually enter this field.

Sources Consulted:

About the author. (n.d.). The University of Chicago Press website. Retrieved March 25, 2017 from

Greene, E. A. (2013). Writing science in plain English. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Our mission. (n.d.). IEEE Professional Communication Society website. Retrieved March 25, 2017 from