Guest post by Eric Sanford
In medical school, we usually have five lectures’ worth of new material to memorize each day. Since we can’t simply remember it all, we are always seeking “high yield” resources (a term used so often by med students that it quickly becomes a joke): those concise one or two-pagers that somehow contain 95 percent of what we need to know for our exams. My quest of finding the highest yield resources has continued in full force after becoming a PhD student.
A major goal of mine has been to improve my scientific communication skills (you know, writing, public speaking, figure-making… i.e. those extremely-important skills that most of us scientists are pretty bad at), and I’ve come across a few very high yield resources as I’ve worked on this. Here are my favorites so far:
Resonate, by Nancy Duarte:
The best talks are inspiring, but “be more inspiring” is not easy advice to follow.
This book teaches you how to turn your content into a story that inspires an audience.
I received extremely positive feedback and a lot of audience questions the first time I gave a talk where I tried to follow the suggestions of this book.
This was both the most fun and the most useful of all my recommendations.
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward Tufte:
Tufte is probably the most famous “data visualization” guru, and I think this book, his first book, is his best one. (I’ve flipped through the sequels and would also recommend the chapter on color from “Envisioning Information.”)
This book provides a useful framework for designing graphics that convey information in ways that are easy (easier?) for readers to understand. Some pointers include removing clutter, repeating designs in “small multiples”, labeling important elements directly, and using space consistently when composing multiple elements in the same figure.
The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, pages 18-25:
Pages 18-25 are especially high yield and provide concrete advice (with examples) on how to make stylistic changes that make writing both more efficient, specific, and enjoyable to read.
Words to Avoid When Writing, by Arjun Raj
Turns out this blog’s creator has learned a few things about science writing!
This is an important list to review when writing a grant or publication: each of the words, while commonly used, are a sign of sloppy thinking.
Each word has a worked example for how to replace it with something better.
Raj Lab basic Adobe Illustrator (CC) guide, by Connie Jiang
If you have access to Illustrator, this is a fantastic resource for making or improving scientific figures.
Worth reading each page, but also a great reference for specific problems or questions.
There are many other great resources out there that are also worth going through if you have the time (Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Bizup and Williams is another excellent writing guide), but for me these ones above had the highest amount-learned-per-minute-of-concentration-invested.
Guest post by Eric Sanford