Things to remember when speaking in class or writing documents for this seminar:


Journalistic vs scientific sriting styles: Unfortunately we learn much of our style from journalistic usages. In this seminar, we will not use journalistic writing, but will use scientific writing styles. I won't go into all of the differences, but some are reflected in the following sections.

Word usages:

"They": Don't say "they" unless you have previously said who "they" are. Two reasons:
  1. Vague: We need to know who said, did or studied whatever we are referring to. A corollary is "scientists found that ..." -- there are many kinds of scientists -- it's not likely that microbiologists are doing any of the research we are looking at in this seminar. Unfortunately we learn this latter usage from journalistic writing.
  2. Externalizes Control: Even as a member of society, we too often use the term "they" to refer to whoever is doing something that affects us, perhaps referring to "the government" or "Caltrans" (like when road work is affecting us). We need to know who "they" are, and even understand when "they" are "we". This also applies to the "scientists" corollary described above: not only is it excessively vague, but it suggests that we are studying the work of scientists from the perspective of a journalist, which is not the case.
variables: Variables hold values. If you're referring to values, say values. For example: "Design methods to determine hydraulic variables include ..." -- These methods do not determine the variables themselves, but determine their values. Instead, say "Design methods to determine values for hydraulic variable include ..."

comprise vs composed of:  Comprise is active voice; compose is passive voice. A group can be composed of things [passive voice]. Or a group can comprise things, or even in reverse, things can comprise a group [active voice]. Just don't say "comprised of" unless you are referring the the active compilation of a group of things. "The constellation Gemini is composed of Castor, Pollux, and six other stars" is correct, as is "The planning committee was comprised of Hieronymous, Francesco, and Malvolio," assuming that you're referring the active creation of that committee, not describing the composition of the committee. Equally correct is "The planning committee was composed of Hieronymous, Francesco, and Malvolio," if you're describing the composition of the committee.

its vs. it's: "its" is the possessive pronoun, "it's" is a contraction of "it is". One way to remember this is that contractions always require an apostrophe, but possessive pronouns never use apostrophes -- "its" is not unique -- consider "their", "his", "her", "your", "my", "our" and of course "its".

between vs. among: "between" is between two things, "among" is among more than two things.

effect vs. affect (as verbs): You effect an outcome (bring it into being), but if you have an effect on something, you're affecting it.


Pronouncing "processes": Pronounce the final 'e' in the plural "processes" as a soft 'e'. This is in contrast to the pronunciation of the hard final 'e' in "analyses" or "hypotheses" which are the plural of "analysis" and "hypothesis". "Processes" is not the plural of "processis," it's the plural of "process" as are the other albeit limited set of "-ess" plurals like "stresses", "tresses", "actresses", and "harnesses." My theory on the use of a hard 'e' in "processes" is that it probably evolved from someone using it incorrectly in a presentation at a conference, and that some in the audience when hearing it thought that "it must be the right way to say it, because this person is smarter than I am" and this mistake spread like a virus in American academia...

Special Characters (subscripts, superscripts, international characters, etc.)

Subscripts/superscripts: There are multiple ways of doing this, but this is one way. Say I want to enter CO2 -- In Word I would go ahead and type it as CO2, and then finish the sentence, or maybe the paragraph if there are others to fix. Then I would mark the 2, and use the right-click button to select Font from the context menu, then check the subscript box. If right-click doesn't work, you can get there from the Format menu.

Special characters, like the third letter in the Spanish "Niņo" as in "El Niņo" which I'm not sure if you're seeing. Or also Greek characters. Again, there are multiple ways of doing this. Here are two:

1. In Word, use Insert/Symbol, and you should be able to enter these as part of the same font you're using, since these days most fonts are international. It may try to use a Symbol font, which works ok, but it's best to stay in the same font.

2. Using the Character Map program in Windows, or whatever is comparable on the Mac.

In Word, there are also many keyboard shortcuts to special characters, but these have changed over the years, so you should just look that up.  One I use a lot that has worked for many years, in a variety of programs, is Alt-248 (on the numeric keypad) for the degree symbol ° .

For longer equations with a lot of formatting, you can quickly get beyond the above methods. Word is not actually the best choice, but you can get by with its Equation Editor (must be installed), or the Eq field code.


Creating PDFs

I need to have your reports (interpreted articles and final paper) in pdf format. How does one do this? Here are some suggestions:

1. If you have Adobe Acrobat on your computer, the full program not the free Reader, you can use Distiller to create a pdf. You just specify Acrobat Distiller as the printer, and print it, specifying what to name the file and where to put it.

2. If you don't, we have Adobe Acrobat installed on a few machines around the department, including the scanner computer in 290. It used to be on the map library computer, but I'm not sure if that survived upgrades. You just need to have your word document on a zip disk or in a network folder, and open it up on that machine, and use Distiller (as described above) to print it to a pdf file.

3. There are various cheap or shareware programs out there that can do things like convert a postscript to a pdf, which is a bit more complicated, but basically requires: (1) outputting to a postscript printer, but specifying going to a file; then (2) using the converter to make the pdf from that.  There are others that claim to work like Distiller; an intriguing looking one is at but please understand that I haven't tried it, and don't know if there are any downsides to using it.

The abstract

An abstract must stand on its own -- it is not a description of the paper. Remember that most people will only see your abstract -- the full text may not be available -- so it needs to get your message across, not advertise your paper. It never refers to the paper.
Things not to include: "Studies ... are reviewed." "I will discuss ..."
Instead of "Significant variables predicting erosion rates are reviewed," say "Erosion rates are best predicted by slope, soil permeability, ..."