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Table of Contents
Unit1 Communicating as a Scientist
Unit2 Writing Scientific Papers
Unit3 Writing Correspondence
Unit4 Giving Oral Presentations
Unit5 Interacting During Conference Sessions
Unit6 Communicating in the Classroom

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Communication is an integral part of the research you perform as a scientist. Your written
papers serve as a gauge of your scientific productivity and provide a long-lasting body of
knowledge from which other scientists can build their research. The oral presentations you
deliver make your latest research known to the community, helping your peers stay up to
date. Discussions enable you to exchange ideas and points of view. Letters, memos, and
rsums help you build and maintain relationships with colleagues, suppliers, employers, and
so on.

Scientific communication is not limited to formal papers and presentations for your peers.
As a scientist, you engage in communication activities with yourself, too. Drafting a research
proposal, for example, helps you understand the context and motivation for your future work
and helps you focus on specific, realistic objectives. Adding entries in your laboratory
notebook helps you crystallize your ideas and creates a track record of your thinking or
experiments. Using mathematical or chemical notations helps you tackle complex concepts.
Graphing data helps you answer research questions.

Finally, scientists are increasingly considered to be accountable to society at large; hence,

you must know how to communicate successfully with people from a variety of backgrounds.
For example, you may find yourself communicating in the classroom to help students develop
their knowledge, sharpen their skills, and refine their attitudes. You may also volunteer or be
called upon to write or speak about science for a broader, nonspecialist audience.

This Nature Education series on English Communication for Scientists aims to help you
communicate more effectively as a scientist, specifically in the English language. Although
it was developed with nonnative speakers of English in mind, it should prove useful for native
speakers, too. It includes the following six units, all illustrated with commented examples of
documents, presentations, and so on.
Communicating as a Scientist (the present introductory unit) will help you understand what
makes communication effective and will help you identify your purpose and analyze your
audience, among others, in terms of its level of specialization. It then proposes basic
strategies to address less specialized audiences and mixed audiences, whether orally or in

Writing Scientific Papers will help you select and organize a paper's content, draft it more
effectively, and revise it efficiently. Among others, it offers advice on using verbs optimally,
provides general rules for text mechanics (abbreviations, capitalization, hyphens, and so on),
and points out frequent shortcomings for speakers of specific language groups.

Writing Correspondence will help you write an effective first-contact e-mail, demonstrate
your qualifications for a job in an application letter and rsum, and prepare clear, accurate,
and concise memos and progress reports. In particular, it discusses how to select an
appropriate tone for corresponding in English.

Giving Oral Presentations will help you select and organize the content of an oral
presentation, create effective slides to support it, deliver the presentation effectively, and
answer questions usefully. It also offers tips on how to deliver a presentation as a non-native
speaker of English and how to handle stage fright and mishaps.

Interacting During Conference Sessions will help you create, promote, and present scientific
posters effectively, chair a conference session or moderate a panel, and finally take part in a
panel discussion. It includes advice on how to introduce and wrap up sessions, introduce
speakers, and manage time.

Communicating in the Classroom will help you prepare, run, and evaluate your classroom
sessions. As an alternative to mere lecturing, it focuses on defining learning outcomes,
designing learning activities, and facilitating active classroom sessions.
1.1Understanding Communication
Effective communication is about getting your message across. Specifically, it involves
capturing your audience's attention, ensuring your audience understands the idea you are
trying to convey, and encouraging your audience to do something with that information, such
as remember it, apply it, or provide feedback. A message is not just information; rather, it is
the interpretation of the information. It says what the information means for the audience. It
is to information what conclusions are to results. If information is the answer to the question
What? (as in "What did you find in your research?"), then the message is the answer to the
question So what? (as in "What do your findings mean to your audience?").

Effective communication, therefore, is centered on the audience: It is audience-friendly, just

as effective software is user-friendly. In your communication, focus on what your audience
needs or wants to learn, not on what you feel like telling them. Strive to see things from their
perspective. Keep in mind all the potential members of your audience (at least those who
matter for your purpose), not just those who have expertise or interests similar to your own.
Taking the medium into account.

To select your content, consider not only your audience but also the inherent qualities of the
medium you use. Specifically, distinguish between written and oral communication.
Readers of a document do not need to read everything. They can select what they read and
when they read it, they can read at their own rhythm, and they can reread parts of the
document as many times as they wish. In written documents, you can therefore convince your
audience through solid, detailed evidence, and you should structure this evidence to enable
selective reading.

In contrast, attendees at a presentation cannot select what they listen to or in what order they
listen to it. They are usually less interested in details they could more easily read in a
document. On the other hand, they can get to know you (the speaker) as a person and, ideally,
they can interact with you through questions or discussion. In oral presentations, you
convince an audience by selecting cogent arguments, by articulating them logically, and,
especially, by delivering them effectively. When an oral presentation builds on a written
document (such as a conference presentation with a paper in the proceedings, a Ph.D.
defense, a grant interview, and so on), you must be much more selective in your presentation
than in your document the idea is not to say out loud everything that you have already put
in writing.

Showing respect for your audience

When communicating about science, one main challenge is to respect the intelligence of the
audience without overestimating its knowledge of the topic or field. For fear of being
insultingly simple, conference speakers often make their presentations too complicated.
Many attendees may wish the presentation were aimed at a lower level, although their pride
may prevent them from admitting this to the speaker. In contrast, few attendees will complain
that a presentation was "too simple" for them. Still, attendees react negatively to speakers
who address them as if they are stupid. Perhaps the one thing an audience never forgives is a
lack of respect.

Respect is about how you say things (your tone) more than about what you say. In general,
dare to say things the way they are. If you need something from your supervisor, go ahead
and ask for it. If your experiments failed, say so. If you receive an off-topic question, feel
free to flag it as such. As you do so, however, strive to help (not offend) your audience.
Politely ask your supervisor (state why you need what you need). Present useful lessons from
your failures. Finally, offer to discuss the off-topic question in private.

Respect and tone are hard to define, but they have more to do with intent than with set rules.
For example, if you are a Ph.D. student, it might be appropriate to address your supervisor
by his or her first name; it depends on him or her and on the institutional culture (a question
of rules). Still, starting an e-mail as Dear Leilah or as Dear Dr. Delmont indicates distance
rather than respect per se. You could very well call your supervisor Dr. Delmont and at the
same time show disrespect in the way you phrase your e-mail, such as by demanding
something instead of asking for it (a question of intent).
Given that your intent when communicating about science is to make the audience
understand, make it a habit to write and speak in a simple, straightforward way. Instead of
striving to imitate the intricate style of many papers, explain things as simply as you would
to a colleague, face to face. Show respect to your audience by avoiding undue informality
and by crafting and proofreading your text carefully, but do not believe that you have to write
or speak in a special way to "sound scientific." Above all, focus on your purpose: Get your
message across.

1.2Identifying Your Purpose and Audience

When you communicate, your purpose is not what you want to do; instead, it is what you
want your audience to do as a result of reading what you wrote or listening to what you said.
Thus, it involves the audience. To communicate effectively (that is, to achieve your purpose),
you must adapt to your audience. Therefore, you must know your audience.

Knowing your purpose and audience helps determine your strategy. If your purpose or
audience is unclear, clarify it as best you can, possibly by asking others. For a public thesis
defense, for example, the audience is usually strongly heterogeneous. It includes your jury,
your colleagues, your friends, and perhaps your family. The purpose depends largely on how
your institution sees the event. Some institutions feel that you must primarily address the
jury, no matter who else is in the room, as it is your only chance to convince them of your
worth. Other institutions see the defense as a way to broaden the visibility of your work and
will want you to address a larger audience including the jury.

Audiences vary. They can be small or large. They can be reasonably homogeneous in what
they already know or in what they are interested in, or they can be heterogeneous. Some are
reasonably well known, as when you address a letter or memo to a specific person; others are
less well defined, as when you publish an article in a magazine. Whenever possible, however,
distinguish between specialists and nonspecialists, and between primary readers and
secondary readers.
Readers and listeners vary in how much they know about the topic you discuss and about
your broader scientific field. Specialists will likely want more detail. They can apply detailed
information in their own work, or they might need it to be convinced of the validity of your
conclusions. Nonspecialists, on the other hand, need more basic information, especially in
the introduction. Nonspecialists also require more interpretation, typically with the
conclusions. They also need simpler vocabulary (or definitions), as they have not mastered
the technical terms of your field.

Specialism is relative. Any audience can be seen as including both more specialized and less
specialized members, all the more so when it is ill defined. Even a scientific paper published
in a journal, which you can see as a specialized publication, will likely be read by newcomers
to the field who are less specialized. Even referees on the program committee of a conference
cannot have an equal degree of expertise in all the proposals they must evaluate. In other
words, do not assume that a scientific audience is necessarily composed of "people like you."
On the contrary, you may well be the most specialized person on the planet in your specific
topic. Effective scientific communication, and in particular effective writing, strives not to
exclude readers or listeners. A well-written scientific paper makes sense, at least in its broad
lines, to anyone with a scientific background.

Readers might also vary in how familiar they are with the context. When you are writing a
document (for example, a letter) to a single person or to a small, well-defined group of people,
you might be tempted to jump directly to the heart of the matter, assuming context is
unnecessary. This person or group of people, who are your primary readers, may indeed know
the context. Still, they may not be mindful of it when they read your document. Moreover,
your document might end up being read by people you did not identify, such as those who
were forwarded your document by a primary reader or perhaps those who will obtain your
document in the future. These people, who are your secondary readers, will not know or
remember the context. An effective document makes sense to both primary and secondary
1.3Writing or Speaking for Specific Audiences
As a scientist, you may find it challenging to present your work or to explain scientific
concepts in general to a less specialized audience. More challenging still, however, is
addressing a mixed audience of both specialists and nonspecialists. Here are specific tips for
these two situations.

Writing or speaking for nonspecialists

Whether you are addressing specialized or less specialized audience members, it is a good
idea to convey early the motivation for the work you report so that they can relate to it
that is, you must bridge the gap between what they know or are interested in and what you
will present. With nonspecialists, this gap is wider than with specialists. You might find it
harder to convey the motivation for your work.

Nonspecialists lack comparison points. If you mention an absolute value, such as a power
consumption of 5 mW, they might not know whether that is a small or a large amount for the
device you describe, and they might not even know whether it is little or much in general.
You can suggest that the power consumption is low or high by writing something like "as
little as 5 mW" or "as much as 5 mW," but it is more helpful to provide the missing
comparison point in the form of a relative value, as in "30 percent less than the most
economical device to date" or "three times the average power consumption of devices of type
X." Frequently, you can usefully combine an absolute value with a relative one, as in "5 mW,
which is 30 percent less than . . . ".

One type of comparison that is useful to all audiences but particularly to less specialized
ones, including students, is the analogy. When you draw a parallel between a new concept
you are trying to explain and one that is familiar to (or easily grasped by) the audience, you
increase the probability that your audience will understand the concept and remember it. For
example, you might say that the human genome encoded in DNA is like instructions stored
in a library. The power of an analogy depends on how familiar the audience is with the
comparison point (here, the library), and also on how consistently you can carry the analogy
through your document or presentation. For example, if you can go on to meaningfully
compare chromosomes to books in this library and genes to the pages in these books, then
you have a more powerful analogy.

Nonspecialists also lack visual references; they cannot automatically picture what you are
talking about. Visual material appropriate for all audiences but crucial for nonspecialists
can include drawings and photographs. Drawings, which can abstract unnecessary details
to focus on the essential idea, are best for conceptual explanations. In contrast, photographs,
with their visual richness, give a better idea of what the "real thing" looks like. Thus, to
explain a new chemical process, use a process flow diagram to discuss the flow of chemicals
through the installation, but use a photograph of the pilot plant to provide a feel for size,
appearance, and so on. Here, too, provide a comparison point for size, such as including a
person in the photograph.

Writing or speaking for a mixed audience

The essential strategy to addressing a mixed audience from the unavoidable variation in
expertise among peers to a mix of scientists and nonscientists is structure, from the whole
document or presentation to the individual sentence. You must distinguish between what
everyone needs or wants to learn and what only some of them need or want to learn, and then
structure your writing or speaking accordingly.

At the macroscopic level (the whole document or presentation), structure the content in levels
of increasing specialization or decreasing interest. For a document such as a report or paper,
place first what everyone needs or wants to know, typically in a summary or abstract (first
level). Provide more detailed information in the report or paper itself (second level), possibly
segregating in appendices what even fewer readers will need or want (third level). For a
presentation to both specialists and nonspecialists, and especially when your time is limited,
aim for the less specialized audience members in the presentation itself (first level), but
foresee enough time afterwards for specialists to ask questions (second level) and perhaps
create a companion document with more detailed information (third level). Feel free to
include more specialized moments in the presentation itself, so you can hint at your deeper
understanding, but make sure that these moments do not prevent less specialized attendees
from understanding the remainder of the presentation.

At the microscopic level (the sentence), express in the main clause what is new or interesting
to the majority of your audience members and relegate to a subordinate clause what fewer of
them want or need to know. For example, consider the following sentences:

We have opted for connectors made of gold. Gold exhibits both high electrical conductivity
and excellent resistance to corrosion.

Those who are well aware of the properties of gold might find the second sentence
uninteresting or even patronizing, whereas the information is useful to less specialized
readers. A better option is to subordinate the second clause, which is new to some audience
members, to the first one, which is new to all members of the audience, in this way:

We have opted for connectors made of gold, given its high electrical conductivity and
excellent resistance to corrosion.

In this revised version, the properties of gold are not presented independently but as a
justification for the choice made. The new, compound sentence is more interesting for all
readers, yet no information is lost for the less specialized ones.


Communicating is an integral part of being a scientist. To communicate effectively, strive to

convey a message (the so what), not just information (the what). Focus on your purpose,
which is what you want your audience to do after reading what you wrote or listening to what
you said. To this end, be audience-friendly that is, identify what the audience needs or
wants to learn.
Audiences are seldom homogeneous; audience members might be more or less familiar with
what you will discuss in terms of both content (they might be more or less specialized) and
context (they might be primary or secondary readers). Communication is more effective
when it satisfactorily addresses the needs of a broader audience. In particular, a scientific
paper should make sense at least in broad terms to anyone with a scientific background,
both today and in the future. To reach this goal, strive to write or speak in a simple,
straightforward way.

Effective communication bridges the gap between the knowledge and interest of the audience
and the content of the document or presentation. When your audience is less specialized or
less motivated, the gap is wider and bridging it is harder. When writing or speaking
specifically for nonspecialists, remember to include the comparison points they lack.
Mention relative values instead of or in addition to absolute ones, use analogies, provide
visual representations (with an idea of scale), and so on. When writing or speaking for a
strongly heterogeneous audience, include first what everyone is primarily interested in and
later what only some of the audience needs or wants to learn. In all cases, beware of
overestimating the audience's knowledge of your topic or field (a common mistake, in
particular in conference presentations), yet always respect its intelligence.

1.5Test Your Knowledge

Now that you have learned about understanding communication, put your knowledge to the

This test contains 8 questions.

1.6Learning Activities
Now that you have put your knowledge of understanding communication to the test, try your
hand at these learning activities.

A1 Make an inventory of the ways in which you communicate primarily with yourself
about your work, through laboratory notebooks, graphs, mathematical or chemical formulas,
a preliminary version (not shown to others) of documents or slides, and so on. Evaluate your
satisfaction with this communication in terms of both quantity and quality. Specifically,
evaluate its usefulness after a while can you understand the notes or graphs you made
months or years ago, and can you understand the reasons for making them? How can you
improve the communication with yourself about your work?.

A2 Make a high-level inventory of the scientific communication for which you were part
of the audience within the past six months or past year: the journals or magazines you read,
the Web sites you consulted, the presentations you attended, and so on. For each item in this
inventory, characterize yourself as an audience. Do you consider yourself specialized or less
specialized in the topic or field discussed? Were you a primary reader or a secondary one? If
possible, think of what a similar inventory would have looked like a few years ago. In what
sense were you a different audience than you are now?.

A3 In the previous inventory or simply in recent months, think of all the communication
instances that have frustrated or possibly offended you as an audience member. For each, try
to identify the reason for your frustration. Was the content too complicated? (Did you perhaps
feel excluded as a nonspecialist?) Was the structure confusing? Was the tone inappropriate?.

As a scientist, you are expected to share your research work with others in various forms.
Probably the most demanding of these forms is the paper published in a scientific journal.
Such papers have high standards of quality, and they are formally disseminated and archived.
Therefore, they constitute valuable, lasting references for other scientists and for you, too.
In fact, the number of papers you publish and their importance (as suggested by their impact
factor) are often viewed as a reflection of your scientific achievements. Writing high-quality
scientific papers takes time, but it is time well invested.

As you may have noticed, however, many scientific papers fail to usefully communicate
research work to their audience. They focus on the authors instead of on the readers by failing
to clarify the motivation for the work or by including unnecessary details. Or they try to
impress the readers rather than inform them. As a result, they are interesting to or
understandable by only a small set of highly specialized readers. Effective scientific papers,
in contrast, are interesting and useful to many readers, including newcomers to the field.

This unit will help you write better scientific papers in English. In particular, it will help you
select and organize your content, draft your paper, and revise your writing so that your final
paper is useful to a broad audience not just a few specialists.

2.1Structuring Your Scientific Paper

Scientific papers are for sharing your own original research work with other scientists or for
reviewing the research conducted by others. As such, they are critical to the evolution of
modern science, in which the work of one scientist builds upon that of others. To reach their
goal, papers must aim to inform, not impress. They must be highly readable that is, clear,
accurate, and concise. They are more likely to be cited by other scientists if they are helpful
rather than cryptic or self-centered.

Scientific papers typically have two audiences: first, the referees, who help the journal editor
decide whether a paper is suitable for publication; and second, the journal readers themselves,
who may be more or less knowledgeable about the topic addressed in the paper. To be
accepted by referees and cited by readers, papers must do more than simply present a
chronological account of the research work. Rather, they must convince their audience that
the research presented is important, valid, and relevant to other scientists in the same field.
To this end, they must emphasize both the motivation for the work and the outcome of it, and
they must include just enough evidence to establish the validity of this outcome.

Papers that report experimental work are often structured chronologically in five sections:
first, Introduction; then Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussion (together, these three
sections make up the paper's body); and finally, Conclusion.

The Introduction section clarifies the motivation for the work presented and prepares
readers for the structure of the paper.

The Materials and Methods section provides sufficient detail for other scientists to
reproduce the experiments presented in the paper. In some journals, this information is placed
in an appendix, because it is not what most readers want to know first.

The Results and Discussion sections present and discuss the research results, respectively.
They are often usefully combined into one section, however, because readers can seldom
make sense of results alone without accompanying interpretation they need to be told what
the results mean.

The Conclusion section presents the outcome of the work by interpreting the findings at a
higher level of abstraction than the Discussion and by relating these findings to the
motivation stated in the Introduction.

(Papers reporting something other than experiments, such as a new method or technology,
typically have different sections in their body, but they include the same Introduction and
Conclusion sections as described above.)
Although the above structure reflects the progression of most research projects, effective
papers typically break the chronology in at least three ways to present their content in the
order in which the audience will most likely want to read it. First and foremost, they
summarize the motivation for, and the outcome of, the work in an abstract, located before the
Introduction. In a sense, they reveal the beginning and end of the story briefly before
providing the full story. Second, they move the more detailed, less important parts of the
body to the end of the paper in one or more appendices so that these parts do not stand in the
readers' way. Finally, they structure the content in the body in theorem-proof fashion, stating
first what readers must remember (for example, as the first sentence of a paragraph) and then
presenting evidence to support this statement.

The introduction
In the Introduction section, state the motivation for the work presented in your paper and
prepare readers for the structure of the paper. Write four components, probably (but not
necessarily) in four paragraphs: context, need, task, and object of the document.

First, provide some context to orient those readers who are less familiar with your topic and
to establish the importance of your work.

Second, state the need for your work, as an opposition between what the scientific
community currently has and what it wants.

Third, indicate what you have done in an effort to address the need (this is the task).

Finally, preview the remainder of the paper to mentally prepare readers for its structure, in
the object of the document.

Context and need

At the beginning of the Introduction section, the context and need work together as a funnel:
They start broad and progressively narrow down to the issue addressed in the paper. To spark
interest among your audience referees and journal readers alike provide a compelling
motivation for the work presented in your paper: The fact that a phenomenon has never been
studied before is not, in and of itself, a reason to study that phenomenon.

Write the context in a way that appeals to a broad range of readers and leads into the need.
Do not include context for the sake of including context: Rather, provide only what will help
readers better understand the need and, especially, its importance. Consider anchoring the
context in time, using phrases such as recently, in the past 10 years, or since the early 1990s.
You may also want to anchor your context in space (either geographically or within a given
research field).

Convey the need for the work as an opposition between actual and desired situations. Start
by stating the actual situation (what we have) as a direct continuation of the context. If you
feel you must explain recent achievements in much detail say, in more than one or two
paragraphs consider moving the details to a section titled State of the art (or something
similar) after the Introduction, but do provide a brief idea of the actual situation in the
Introduction. Next, state the desired situation (what we want). Emphasize the contrast
between the actual and desired situations with such words as but, however, or unfortunately.
One elegant way to express the desired part of the need is to combine it with the task in a
single sentence. This sentence expresses first the objective, then the action undertaken to
reach this objective, thus creating a strong and elegant connection between need and task.
Here are three examples of such a combination:

To confirm this assumption, we studied the effects of a range of inhibitors of connexin

channels . . . on . . .

To assess whether such multiple-coil sensors perform better than single-signal ones, we
tested two of them the DuoPXK and the GEMM3 in a field where . . .

To form a better view of the global distribution and infectiousness of this pathogen, we
examined 1645 postmetamorphic and adult amphibians collected from 27 countries between
1984 and 2006 for the presence of . . .
Task and object
An Introduction is usually clearer and more logical when it separates what the authors have
done (the task) from what the paper itself attempts or covers (the object of the document). In
other words, the task clarifies your contribution as a scientist, whereas the object of the
document prepares readers for the structure of the paper, thus allowing focused or selective

For the task,

Use whoever did the work (normally, you and your colleagues) as the subject of the sentence:
we or perhaps the authors;
Use a verb expressing a research action: measured, calculated, etc.;
Set that verb in the past tense.

The three examples below are well-formed tasks.

To confirm this assumption, we studied the effects of a range of inhibitors of connexin
channels, such as the connexin mimetic peptides Gap26 and Gap27 and anti-peptide
antibodies, on calcium signaling in cardiac cells and HeLa cells expressing connexins.

During controlled experiments, we investigated the influence of the HMP boundary

conditions on liver flows.

To tackle this problem, we developed a new software verification technique called oblivious
hashing, which calculates the hash values based on the actual execution of the program.
The list below provides examples of verbs that express research actions:

apply We applied Laklter's principle to . . .

assess We assessed the effects of larger doses of . . .
calculate We calculated the photoluminescence spectrum of . . .
compare We compared the effects of . . . to those of . . .
compute We computed the velocity predicted by . . .
derive We derived a new set of rules for . . .
design We designed a series of experiments to . . .
determine We determined the complete nucleotide sequence of . . .
develop We developed a new algorithm to . . .
evaluate We evaluated the efficacy and biocompatibility of . . .
explore We explored the relationship between . . .
implement We implemented a genetic algorithm for . . .
investigate We investigated the behavior of . . .
measure We measured the concentration of cadmium in . . .
model We modeled the diffraction behavior of . .

For the object of the document,

Use the document itself as the subject of the sentence: this paper, this letter, etc.;
Use a verb expressing a communication action: presents, summarizes, etc.;
Set the verb in the present tense.

The three examples below are suitable objects of the document for the three tasks shown
above, respectively.

This paper clarifies the role of CxHc on calcium oscillations in neonatal cardiac myocytes
and calcium transients induced by ATP in HL-cells originated from cardiac atrium and in
HeLa cells expressing connexin 43 or 26.
This paper presents the flow effects induced by increasing the hepatic-artery pressure and by
obstructing the vena cava inferior.

This paper discusses the theory behind oblivious hashing and shows how this approach can
be applied for local software tamper resistance and remote code authentication.

The list below provides examples of verbs that express communication actions

clarify This paper clarifies the role of soils in . . .

describe This paper describes the mechanism by which . . .
detail This paper details the algorithm used for . . .
discuss This paper discusses the influence of acidity on . . .
explain This paper explains how the new encoding scheme . . .
offer This paper offers four recommendations for . . .
present This paper presents the results of . . .
proposes This paper proposes a set of guidelines for . . .
provide This paper provides the complete framework and . . .
report This paper reports on our progress so far . . .
summarize This paper summarizes our results for 27 patients with . . .

The body
Even the most logical structure is of little use if readers do not see and understand it as they
progress through a paper. Thus, as you organize the body of your paper into sections and
perhaps subsections, remember to prepare your readers for the structure ahead at all levels.
You already do so for the overall structure of the body (the sections) in the object of the
document at the end of the Introduction. You can similarly prepare your readers for an
upcoming division into subsections by introducing a global paragraph between the heading
of a section and the heading of its first subsection. This paragraph can contain any
information relating to the section as a whole rather than particular subsections, but it should
at least announce the subsections, whether explicitly or implicitly. An explicit preview would
be phrased much like the object of the document: "This section first . . . , then . . . , and finally
Although papers can be organized into sections in many ways, those reporting experimental
work typically include Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussion in their body. In any
case, the paragraphs in these sections should begin with a topic sentence to prepare readers
for their contents, allow selective reading, and ideally get a message across.

Materials and methods

Most Materials and Methods sections are boring to read, yet they need not be. To make this
section interesting, explain the choices you made in your experimental procedure: What
justifies using a given compound, concentration, or dimension? What is special, unexpected,
or different in your approach? Mention these things early in your paragraph, ideally in the
first sentence. If you use a standard or usual procedure, mention that upfront, too. Do not
make readers guess: Make sure the paragraph's first sentence gives them a clear idea of what
the entire paragraph is about. If you feel you cannot or need not do more than list items,
consider using a table or perhaps a schematic diagram rather than a paragraph of text.

Results and discussion

The traditional Results and Discussion sections are best combined because results make little
sense to most readers without interpretation.

When reporting and discussing your results, do not force your readers to go through
everything you went through in chronological order. Instead, state the message of each
paragraph upfront: Convey in the first sentence what you want readers to remember from the
paragraph as a whole. Focus on what happened, not on the fact that you observed it. Then
develop your message in the remainder of the paragraph, including only that information you
think you need to convince your audience.

The conclusion
In the Conclusion section, state the most important outcome of your work. Do not simply
summarize the points already made in the body instead, interpret your findings at a higher
level of abstraction. Show whether, or to what extent, you have succeeded in addressing the
need stated in the Introduction. At the same time, do not focus on yourself (for example, by
restating everything you did). Rather, show what your findings mean to readers. Make the
Conclusion interesting and memorable for them.

At the end of your Conclusion, consider including perspectives that is, an idea of what
could or should still be done in relation to the issue addressed in the paper. If you include
perspectives, clarify whether you are referring to firm plans for yourself and your colleagues
("In the coming months, we will . . . ") or to an invitation to readers ("One remaining question
is . . . ").

If your paper includes a well-structured Introduction and an effective abstract, you need not
repeat any of the Introduction in the Conclusion. In particular, do not restate what you have
done or what the paper does. Instead, focus on what you have found and, especially, on what
your findings mean. Do not be afraid to write a short Conclusion section: If you can conclude
in just a few sentences given the rich discussion in the body of the paper, then do so. (In other
words, resist the temptation to repeat material from the Introduction just to make the
Conclusion longer under the false belief that a longer Conclusion will seem more

The abstract
The readers of a scientific paper read the abstract for two purposes: to decide whether they
want to (acquire and) read the full paper, and to prepare themselves for the details presented
in that paper. An effective abstract helps readers achieve these two purposes. In particular,
because it is typically read before the full paper, the abstract should present what the readers
are primarily interested in; that is, what they want to know first of all and most of all.

Typically, readers are primarily interested in the information presented in a paper's

Introduction and Conclusion sections. Primarily, they want to know the motivation for the
work presented and the outcome of this work. Then (and only then) the most specialized
among them might want to know the details of the work. Thus, an effective abstract focuses
on motivation and outcome; in doing so, it parallels the paper's Introduction and Conclusion.
Accordingly, you can think of an abstract as having two distinct parts motivation and
outcome even if it is typeset as a single paragraph. For the first part, follow the same
structure as the Introduction section of the paper: State the context, the need, the task, and
the object of the document. For the second part, mention your findings (the what) and,
especially, your conclusion (the so what that is, the interpretation of your findings); if
appropriate, end with perspectives, as in the Conclusion section of your paper.

Although the structure of the abstract parallels the Introduction and Conclusion sections, it
differs from these sections in the audience it addresses. The abstract is read by many different
readers, from the most specialized to the least specialized among the target audience. In a
sense, it should be the least specialized part of the paper. Any scientist reading it should be
able to understand why the work was carried out and why it is important (context and need),
what the authors did (task) and what the paper reports about this work (object of the
document), what the authors found (findings), what these findings mean (the conclusion),
and possibly what the next steps are (perspectives). In contrast, the full paper is typically read
by specialists only; its Introduction and Conclusion are more detailed (that is, longer and
more specialized) than the abstract.

An effective abstract stands on its own it can be understood fully even when made
available without the full paper. To this end, avoid referring to figures or the bibliography in
the abstract. Also, introduce any acronyms the first time you use them in the abstract (if
needed), and do so again in the full paper (see Mechanics: Using abbreviations).

2.2Drafting Your Scientific Paper

Effective writing is readable that is, clear, accurate, and concise. When you are writing a
paper, try to get your ideas across in such a way that the audience will understand them
effortlessly, unambiguously, and rapidly. To this end, strive to write in a straightforward way.
There is no need to write about science in unusual, complicated, or overly formal ways in an
effort to "sound scientific" or to impress your audience. If you can tell a friend about your
work, you are off to a good start.

To construct sentences that reflect your ideas, focus these sentences appropriately. Express
one idea per sentence. Use your current topic that is, what you are writing about as the
grammatical subject of your sentence (see Verbs: Choosing between active and passive
voice). When writing a complex sentence (a sentence that includes several clauses), place the
main idea in the main clause rather than a subordinate clause. In particular, focus on the
phenomenon at hand, not on the fact that you observed it.

Constructing your sentences logically is a good start, but it may not be enough. To ensure
they are readable, make sure your sentences do not tax readers' short-term memory by
obliging these readers to remember long pieces of text before knowing what to do with them.
In other words, keep together what goes together. Then, work on conciseness: See whether
you can replace long phrases with shorter ones or eliminate words without loss of clarity or

The following screens cover the drafting process in more detail. Specifically, they discuss
how to use verbs effectively and how to take care of your text's mechanics.

Much of the strength of a clause comes from its verb. Therefore, to express your ideas
accurately, choose an appropriate verb and use it well. In particular, use it in the right tense,
choose carefully between active and passive voice, and avoid dangling verb forms.

Verbs are for describing actions, states, or occurrences. To give a clause its full strength and
keep it short, do not bury the action, state, or occurrence in a noun (typically combined with
a weak verb), as in "The catalyst produced a significant increase in conversion rate." Instead
write, "The catalyst increased the conversion rate significantly." The examples below show
how an action, state, or occurrence can be moved from a noun back to a verb.
Instead of Write
Make an examination of . . . examine
Present a comparison of . . . compare
Be in agreement . . . agree
Perform an analysis of . . . analyze
Produce an improvement in . . . improve

Using the right tense

In your scientific paper, use verb tenses (past, present, and future) exactly as you would in
ordinary writing. Use the past tense to report what happened in the past: what you did, what
someone reported, what happened in an experiment, and so on. Use the present tense to
express general truths, such as conclusions (drawn by you or by others) and atemporal facts
(including information about what the paper does or covers). Reserve the future tense for
perspectives: what you will do in the coming months or years. Typically, most of your
sentences will be in the past tense, some will be in the present tense, and very few, if any,
will be in the future tense.
Past tense
Work done
We collected blood samples from . . .
Groves et al. determined the growth rate of . . .
Consequently, astronomers decided to rename . . .

Work reported
Jankowsky reported a similar growth rate . . .
In 2009, Chu published an alternative method to . . .
Irarrzaval observed the opposite behavior in . . .

The mice in Group A developed, on average, twice as much . . .
The number of defects increased sharply . . .
The conversion rate was close to 95% . . .
Present tense
General truths
Microbes in the human gut have a profound influence on . . .
The Reynolds number provides a measure of . . .
Smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease . . .

Atemporal facts
This paper presents the results of . . .
Section 3.1 explains the difference between . . .
Behbood's 1969 paper provides a framework for . . .

Future tense
In a follow-up experiment, we will study the role of . .
The influence of temperature will be the object of future research . . .

Note the difference in scope between a statement in the past tense and the same statement in
the present tense: "The temperature increased linearly over time" refers to a specific
experiment, whereas "The temperature increases linearly over time" generalizes the
experimental observation, suggesting that the temperature always increases linearly over
time in such circumstances.

In complex sentences, you may have to combine two different tenses for example, "In
1905, Albert Einstein postulated that the speed of light is constant . . . . " In this sentence,
postulated refers to something that happened in the past (in 1905) and is therefore in the past
tense, whereas is expresses a general truth and is in the present tense.
Choosing between active and passive voice

In English, verbs can express an action in one of two voices. The active voice focuses on the
agent: "John measured the temperature." (Here, the agent John is the grammatical
subject of the sentence.) In contrast, the passive voice focuses on the object that is acted
upon: "The temperature was measured by John." (Here, the temperature, not John, is the
grammatical subject of the sentence.)

To choose between active and passive voice, consider above all what you are discussing
(your topic) and place it in the subject position. For example, should you write "The
preprocessor sorts the two arrays" or "The two arrays are sorted by the preprocessor"? If you
are discussing the preprocessor, the first sentence is the better option. In contrast, if you are
discussing the arrays, the second sentence is better. If you are unsure what you are discussing,
consider the surrounding sentences: Are they about the preprocessor or the two arrays?
The desire to be objective in scientific writing has led to an overuse of the passive voice,
often accompanied by the exclusion of agents: "The temperature was measured" (with the
verb at the end of the sentence). Admittedly, the agent is often irrelevant: No matter who
measured the temperature, we would expect its value to be the same. However, a systematic
preference for the passive voice is by no means optimal, for at least two reasons.

For one, sentences written in the passive voice are often less interesting or more difficult to
read than those written in the active voice. A verb in the active voice does not require a person
as the agent; an inanimate object is often appropriate. For example, the rather uninteresting
sentence "The temperature was measured . . . " may be replaced by the more interesting "The
measured temperature of 253C suggests a secondary reaction in . . . ." In the second
sentence, the subject is still temperature (so the focus remains the same), but the verb
suggests is in the active voice. Similarly, the hard-to-read sentence "In this section, a
discussion of the influence of the recirculating-water temperature on the conversion rate of .
. . is presented" (long subject, verb at the end) can be turned into "This section discusses the
influence of . . . . " The subject is now section, which is what this sentence is really about,
yet the focus on the discussion has been maintained through the active-voice verb discusses.
As a second argument against a systematic preference for the passive voice, readers
sometimes need people to be mentioned. A sentence such as "The temperature is believed to
be the cause for . . . " is ambiguous. Readers will want to know who believes this the
authors of the paper, or the scientific community as a whole? To clarify the sentence, use the
active voice and set the appropriate people as the subject, in either the third or the first person,
as in the examples below.

Biologists believe the temperature to be . . .

Keustermans et al. (1997) believe the temperature to be . . .
The authors believe the temperature to be . . .
We believe the temperature to be . . .

Avoiding dangling verb forms

A verb form needs a subject, either expressed or implied. When the verb is in a non-finite
form, such as an infinitive (to do) or a participle (doing), its subject is implied to be the
subject of the clause, or sometimes the closest noun phrase. In such cases, construct your
sentences carefully to avoid suggesting nonsense. Consider the following two examples.
To dissect its brain, the affected fly was mounted on a . . .
After aging for 72 hours at 50C, we observed a shift in . . .

Here, the first sentence implies that the affected fly dissected its own brain, and the second
implies that the authors of the paper needed to age for 72 hours at 50C in order to observe
the shift. To restore the intended meaning while keeping the infinitive to dissect or the
participle aging, change the subject of each sentence as appropriate:

To dissect its brain, we mounted the affected fly on a . . .

After aging for 72 hours at 50C, the samples exhibited a shift in . . .

Alternatively, you can change or remove the infinitive or participle to restore the intended

To have its brain dissected, the affected fly was mounted on a . . .

After the samples aged for 72 hours at 50C, we observed a shift in .
In communication, every detail counts. Although your focus should be on conveying your
message through an appropriate structure at all levels, you should also save some time to
attend to the more mechanical aspects of writing in English, such as using abbreviations,
writing numbers, capitalizing words, using hyphens when needed, and punctuating your text

Using abbreviations
Beware of overusing abbreviations, especially acronyms such as GNP for gold
nanoparticles. Abbreviations help keep a text concise, but they can also render it cryptic.
Many acronyms also have several possible extensions (GNP also stands for gross national

Write acronyms (and only acronyms) in all uppercase (GNP, not gnp).

Introduce acronyms systematically the first time they are used in a document. First write the
full expression, then provide the acronym in parentheses. In the full expression, and unless
the journal to which you submit your paper uses a different convention, capitalize the letters
that form the acronym: "we prepared Gold NanoParticles (GNP) by . . . " These capitals help
readers quickly recognize what the acronym designates.

Do not use capitals in the full expression when you are not introducing an acronym: "we
prepared gold nanoparticles by "

As a more general rule, use first what readers know or can understand best, then put in
parentheses what may be new to them. If the acronym is better known than the full
expression, as may be the case for techniques such as SEM or projects such as FALCON,
consider placing the acronym first: "The FALCON (Fission-Activated Laser Concept)
program at"
In the rare case that an acronym is commonly known, you might not need to introduce it. One
example is DNA in the life sciences. When in doubt, however, introduce the acronym.
In papers, consider the abstract as a stand-alone document. Therefore, if you use an acronym
in both the abstract and the corresponding full paper, introduce that acronym twice: the first
time you use it in the abstract and the first time you use it in the full paper. However, if you
find that you use an acronym only once or twice after introducing it in your abstract, the
benefit of it is limited consider avoiding the acronym and using the full expression each
time (unless you think some readers know the acronym better than the full expression).

Writing numbers
In general, write single-digit numbers (zero to nine) in words, as in three hours, and
multidigit numbers (10 and above) in numerals, as in 24 hours. This rule has many
exceptions, but most of them are reasonably intuitive, as shown hereafter.

Use numerals for numbers from zero to nine

when using them with abbreviated units (3 mV);

in dates and times (3 October, 3 pm);

to identify figures and other items (Figure 3);

for consistency when these numbers are mixed with larger numbers (series of 3, 7, and 24

Use words for numbers above 10 if these numbers come at the beginning of a sentence or
heading ("Two thousand eight was a challenging year for . . . "). As an alternative, rephrase
the sentence to avoid this issue altogether ("The year 2008 was challenging for . . . ").
Capitalizing words
Capitals are often overused. In English, use initial capitals

At beginnings: the start of a sentence, of a heading, etc.;

For proper nouns, including nouns describing groups (compare physics and the Physics

For items identified by their number (compare in the next figure and in Figure 2), unless the
journal to which you submit your paper uses a different convention;

For specific words: names of days (Monday) and months (April), adjectives of nationality
(Algerian), etc.

In contrast, do not use initial capitals for common nouns: Resist the temptation to glorify a
concept, technique, or compound with capitals. For example, write finite-element method
(not Finite-Element Method), mass spectrometry (not Mass Spectrometry), carbon dioxide
(not Carbon Dioxide), and so on, unless you are introducing an acronym (see Mechanics:
Using abbreviations).

Using hyphens
Use hyphens in English to clarify relationships in chains of words. Thus, low temperature
impact (without a hyphen) suggests a low impact of the temperature, whereas low-
temperature impact (with a hyphen) suggests the impact of or at low temperature. Such
hyphens, useful for (nouns used as) adjectives, are unnecessary for adverbs. For example, a
highly interesting paper does not need a hyphen; in this phrase, highly can only qualify
interesting (not paper).

In general, do not use a hyphen with a prefix, namely an element that is not a word in itself
and that is added at the beginning of a word to modify its meaning. Thus, write multichannel,
nonlinear, preamplifier, postdoctoral, realign, etc. As an exception to this rule, use a hyphen
to separate vowels that would otherwise be read together, as in pre-embryo, or when the
original word is written with a capital, as in pre-Columbian.

Punctuating text
Punctuation has many rules in English; here are three that are often a challenge for non-native

As a rule, insert a comma between the subject of the main clause and whatever comes in front
of it, no matter how short, as in "Surprisingly, the temperature did not increase." This comma
is not always required, but it often helps and never hurts the meaning of a sentence, so it is
good practice.

In series of three or more items, separate items with commas (red, white, and blue; yesterday,
today, or tomorrow). Do not use a comma for a series of two items (black and white).
In displayed lists, use the same punctuation as you would in normal text (but consider
dropping the and).

The system is fast, flexible, and reliable.

The system is


2.3Revising Your Scientific Paper

Writing is an iterative process. Do not hope to write a perfect paper in one pass. Instead, work
in several passes, focusing on progressively smaller aspects of your document in each pass.
First, focus on selecting the right content for your paper and on structuring this content
effectively from the document as a whole all the way down to individual paragraphs. Next,
refine your writing at the sentence level to convey your ideas in a clear, accurate, and concise
way. Finally, ensure that your document is correct: Check not only the grammar and spelling,
but also the numbering of figures and tables, the validity of cross-references, the accuracy of
dates, etc.

Beyond a good dictionary and a good grammar reference, you can use several types of
software tools to check your document for correctness. Your text processor likely includes a
spelling checker and perhaps a grammar checker. You can also build a personal list of
attention points and look for these in your paper using simple or complex text searches.
Finally, you can regard the Web as a corpus and search it discerningly for usage.

Automated spelling and grammar checkers do not understand what you write: They only
check your text for symptoms of problems. Consequently, use them prudently. Closely
examine the words or sentences they flag, but do not accept their proposed alternatives too
readily. For example, if you wrote mouses instead of mice (the plural of mouse), a spelling
checker may propose mousse and mouse's as alternatives (neither of which would be correct
here), but not mice. You would then have to look up mouse in a dictionary to find the correct
plural. Grammar checkers are typically even less accurate at proposing correct alternatives:
Unless you know the language well, they may be more confusing than helpful.

To check the grammar and many more aspects of your text, a useful approach is to build your
own personal list of attention points over time, then use your text processor's Find function
to search for these points in your paper. For example, if you tend to focus on the observation
of phenomena rather than the phenomena themselves by using sentences such as "An
increase of the temperature was observed" you might add the word observe to your list.
Then, each time you find observe in your text, you can decide whether to revise your sentence
(for example, by writing "The temperature increased"). If your text processor allows you to
search for patterns in addition to phrases, you can perform even more powerful checks. For
example, you might search for the pattern "it is . . . that" to find suboptimal main clauses such
as "It is clear that," "It is evident that," and "It is a surprise to us that" (best replaced by
"Clearly," "Evidently," and "Surprisingly").
You can verify correct or idiomatic use of English via Web search. For example, if you
wonder whether to write "we participated to a meeting" or "we participated in a meeting,"
you can search the Web for both phrases (with quotation marks) to see whether one is found
significantly more often than the other (here, it would be the second one). This method is, of
course, not authoritative popular does not necessarily mean correct but it can be helpful
if used carefully. You may find a more representative sample by shortening the phrases you
search for (in this example, perhaps by dropping the word we). If you do, be careful not to
lose the relevance by shortening a phrase too much. For example, if you search for
"participated to" only, your search will count irrelevant instances, such as "we participated
to the best of our abilities." In any case, do not trust the counts alone: Look at the search
results themselves to make sure they are relevant. Finally, include enough alternatives in your
search. If you regard a meeting as a location rather than an activity, you may prefer to write
"we participated at the meeting," an option you would, of course, not have found by searching
for the initial two phrases.

2.4Advice for Specific Language Groups

A foreign language is all the more difficult to master when it differs from one's native
language in unexpected ways. The following three situations are particularly challenging:
The foreign language uses concepts not present in the native language. Examples include
inflection (as in whom versus who), conjugation (he does, we do, we did, etc.), and gender
(he, she, it), which are not employed in all languages.

The foreign language uses concepts that are present in the native language in a different way
or to a different extent. Examples include prepositions (used differently in different
languages), gender (a word that is masculine in one language may not be so in another), and
moods and tenses (not all moods or tenses of one language are necessarily present in another,
and, if they are, they may be used differently).

The foreign and native languages use words that have similar forms but different meanings
(so-called false friends), or the foreign language uses two different words for two meanings
rendered by the same word in the native language (such as make and do, both rendered by
the same word in many languages).

English has many false friends with Germanic and Romance languages. Probably the most
common are actually (meaning in fact rather than currently), and eventually (meaning in the
end rather than possibly). Other examples are become (meaning begin to be rather than get,
as in the German bekommen), high school (designating grades 9 through 12 rather than
college or university, as in the French haute cole), and fabric (meaning cloth rather than
factory, as in the Spanish fbrica). You can search the Web for more examples that exist
between English and your native language, or you might start a personal list of words you
often confuse. Then, every time someone corrects such a confusion in your writing, you can
add that false friend to your list.

Among the words often confused in English because they translate to the same word in other
languages are the following five pairs.

Teach/learn I teach quantum mechanics to first-year students.

I learned this material from two Nobel laureates.
Experience/experiment I learned a lot from experience. (I am an experienced researcher.)
To test our hypothesis, we performed three experiments (according
to our group's standard experimental procedure).
Remember/remind I must remember to send her a copy of my paper.
Please remind me to do so.
Make/do If I make a mistake, I will have to do the experiment all over again.
(Usage for make and do is complex. When in doubt about your
planned use, look it up in the dictionary or verify usage through a
discerning Web search.)
Less/fewer In less time, I will be able to complete fewer experiments.
(Time is uncountable, experiments are countable. The same comment
applies to the use of much [uncountable] and many [countable].)
Advice for speakers of German and Dutch
In addition to the false friends and often confused words mentioned earlier, speakers of
German and Dutch must pay special attention to several other common mistakes.
Mind the difference between the following related words:

Lend/borrow (both translating as ausleihen Can I borrow your calculator for a minute?
in German and lenen in Dutch) Sure, I will lend it to you.
Then/than (both translating as dan in Dutch) If x is larger than y and y is larger than z, then x
is larger than z.
If/when If I decide to join you, I will meet you at noon. [=
in the event that]
When I make up my mind, I will let you know.
[= at the time that]
Must not/need not You must not use your calculator. [= are not
allowed to]
You need not bring anything. [= are not required
Since/for I have been working on this problem since 2008.
I have been working on this problem for two

Beware of Dutch constructions that are uncommon or incorrect in English, such as the use of
also as the first word of a sentence. Thus, the Dutch sentence "Ook de temperatuur heeft een
invloed op . . . " does not translate as "Also the temperature has an influence on . . . " A more
correct rendering in English is "The temperature, too, has an influence on . . . "

Be alert for unnecessary hyphens, such as a hyphen between an abbreviation used as an

adjective and a noun. Write, for example, the FFT algorithm (not the FFT-algorithm) and
the Web application (not the Web-application or the Webapplication).
Finally, beware of abusive abbreviations. Do not carry over into English the Dutch habit of
abbreviating expressions such as onder andere (o.a.), met betrekking tot (m.b.t.), and ter
attentie van (t.a.v.). In English, it is uncommon to write a.o. for among others, w.r.t. for with
respect to, or f.a.o. for for the attention of.

In English, abbreviations such as the ones above are used mostly for Latin expressions, as in
e.g. for exempli gratia, i.e. for id est, or b.i.d. for bis in die. Still, these Latin expressions are
probably best replaced by their English equivalents (for example, that is, and twice daily).

Device for speakers of French, Spanish, and other Romance languages

In addition to the false friends and often confused words mentioned earlier, speakers of
Romance languages must pay special attention to several other common mistakes.
Beware of noun phrases that use chains of prepositions, in particular the preposition of. Thus,
rather than "the variation of the temperature of the surface of the sea," write "the variation in
sea-surface temperature."

Speakers of Romance languages tend to write in indirect ways, often burying the main idea
in several layers of subordinate clauses. Spanish, in particular, overuses constructions such
as "A estas alturas, se podra decir sin riesgo a equivocarse que . . . ," which can usually be
removed entirely in both the original language and the English rendering. Use subordinate
clauses to convey subordinate ideas, not to hide the message.

In many Romance languages (French being a notable exception), the subject pronoun can be
dropped. Remember to always include subject pronouns in English, in particular the
impersonal it. For instance, write "It is interesting," not "Is interesting."

Finally, do not insert a space in front of any punctuation mark in English the way you
sometimes would in French. Similarly, do not insert a space before the percent (%) and
degree () signs.
Advice for speakers of Chinese and Japanese
Conceptual differences between English and Chinese or Japanese are numerous: Native
speakers of Chinese or Japanese easily make mistakes with singular versus plural forms,
subject-verb agreement, and articles. Speakers of Chinese may further be challenged by
genders and verb tenses. Although these broad issues cannot be summarized here, another
area of frequent confusion is worth noting: the order of a person's first and last names.

In English, and as the terms indicate, a person's first (or given) name comes first, and his or
her last (or family) name comes last. For publications and other administrative purposes in
English-speaking contexts, remember to write and say your first name first. Independent of
this formal sequence, feel free to indicate to other people what you would like to be called in
conversation, especially if you prefer not to be called by your first name, as is typical in
informal settings in other cultures. Indicating what you would like to be called is helpful to
your peers, who often feel insecure about what to call their colleagues from China or Japan.

Scientific papers, like any other form of professional communication, are about getting
messages across. To make sure you focus on the so what, create your scientific paper in a
top-down fashion. First, work on the macrostructure: Select the content for your paper and
organize it in a reader-friendly way, paying special attention to the beginning and the end.
Then, work on the mid-level structure: Deliver one message with each paragraph using clear,
accurate, and concise sentences. Finally, work on the microstructure: Polish your paper all
the way down to the smallest details of the language.

At the macrostructure level, present the content in the order in which the audience will most
likely want to read it. In particular, place first in an abstract what readers are primarily
interested in, that is, the beginning of the story (the motivation), in the form of a context, a
need, a task, and an object of the document; and the end of the story (the outcome), in the
form of findings, conclusions, and perhaps perspectives. Write your abstract so that it can be
understood even by the least specialized of your target readers, independent of the full paper.
With the full paper, strive to convince your audience that your work is important, valid, and
relevant. In the Introduction section, emphasize again the motivation for your work. Structure
this section like the first half of the abstract (context, need, task, and object of the document),
but in more detail. In the Conclusion section, emphasize the outcome of your work. Structure
this section like the second half of the abstract (findings if needed, conclusions, and
perspectives), but with more detail. In the body of the paper, present just enough evidence to
establish the validity of this outcome.

At the paragraph level, present first (typically in the very first sentence) what you want your
readers to remember before developing this message in the rest of the paragraph. With each
sentence, convey one idea: Structure the sentence in a way that reflects your idea, with the
topic in the subject position, the action in the verb, and the main information in the main
clause. Use verbs well: Choose the right verb, put it in the right tense and voice, and make
sure it has a meaningful subject.

After you have designed and drafted your paper, revise it for correctness using whatever tools
are most helpful to you. Beyond spelling and grammar checkers, consider text searches, both
in your paper (searching for your own list of attention points) and on the Web (checking
usage discerningly through popularity).

2.6Test Your Knowledge

Now that you have learned about writing scientific papers, put your knowledge to the test.
This test contains 10 questions.

2.7Learning Activities
Now that you have put your knowledge of writing scientific papers to the test, try your hand
at these learning activities.

A1 Select a paper and analyze its abstract in light of the structure proposed in this unit.
For each sentence (or perhaps each clause within a sentence), determine what it conveys:
context, need, task, object of the document, findings, conclusions, and/or perspectives. Check
whether these components are presented in a logical order, and note which components (if
any) are missing.

A2 As a follow-up to activity A1, rewrite the abstract to improve it. If some components
are missing, look for the missing information in the Introduction and Conclusion of the paper.
If this information is not there either, use your own knowledge of the field to make an
educated guess.

To make activities A1 and A2 directly useful, carry them out on the draft paper of a colleague,
then share your analysis (A1) and rewriting (A2) with him or her.

A3 Each time you read a scientific paper from your field, look for the verbs that express
a research action and create a list of them. Be critical, however: Only add specific verbs such
as measure, compare, or simulate, not generic verbs such as do, perform, or carry out.

A4 Each time a scientific paper frustrates you by not including information you wish to
have (for example, by not explaining an abbreviation or by failing to clarify the motivation
for the work), ask yourself what, exactly, is missing and why it is important to you as a reader.
Remember these frustrations: They will give you a better idea of what readers wish to find
in a paper. Then, when you are writing a paper of your own, remember to provide this type
of information to your readers.

A5 When you receive corrections on your writing in English, learn from them. Make sure
you understand the problem and the rule or principle behind the correction. If you do not
understand, ask. If you do understand the problem but cannot easily spot it when proofreading
your text, try to turn it into something you can search for with the Find function of your text
processor. Maintain your Find list actively. After a while, you may notice that you can
remove some searches because you now use the correct form spontaneously and

Written correspondence is essential to scientific practice. Letters, e-mail, and memos allow
you to build and sustain relationships with your colleagues, so everything you write should
represent your character and abilities fairly. Because scientists are often busy people, your
written letters and e-mail should be concise and specific. Readers tend to look at letters, e-
mail, and memos quickly, so you should use shorter paragraphs than in a formal scientific
paper or report. In addition, think carefully about the audience and purpose of the
communication to whom are you writing, and what do you hope to accomplish? and
the tone that you use. Finding a balance in tone can be tricky. For instance, how might you
explain your qualifications in a job letter with confidence but without seeming arrogant? How
might you remain polite when declining a job offer? Thinking carefully about your audience
and your tone can help you answer these types of questions and write effective professional

Personal versus professional e-mail
As you know, e-mail is a popular, easy way to stay in contact with friends and family. The
e-mails you send to your friends are most likely informal. For example, an e-mail about
dinner plans might be only a few lines long and use the same language you would use if you
were talking in person.

When you are communicating with someone professionally, however, e-mail is more
important. In fact, e-mail is often the main mode of communication for scientists so how
you write an e-mail can shape what other scientists think of your character. A well written e-
mail can impress the reader and show that you are thoughtful and responsible, whereas a
poorly written e-mail can damage productive relationships or keep you from forming new
ones. Therefore, before sending an e-mail, you must carefully consider your audience and
the tone you will use.
Organizing an e-mail
Like all written correspondence, an e-mail message has a salutation, in which you greet the
recipient; a body, which includes the main text of your message; and a closing. It also has a
subject line that appears alongside your name and the date in the recipient's inbox.

The subject line might well be the most important part of your e-mail because it helps the
recipient decide whether your message needs immediate attention or whether it can wait until
he or she has more time to answer. The subject line you write should be descriptive but
succinct. You may be tempted to use humor to get your recipient's attention, but this is risky
when communicating with someone you do not know well. In such cases, your recipient
could end up confused at best or offended at worst. Avoid this problem by writing subject
lines that briefly describe the content of your message or state the key point you wish to

Crafting a good subject line can help you plan the rest of your e-mail. Once you have placed
your main idea in your subject line, you can put that same point in the first paragraph of your
message so that it stands out a practice sometimes called frontloading. Any related ideas
that require immediate attention should also come as early in the message as possible. If you
bury requests or questions in the middle or at the end of the message, your reader may lose
interest or delete the e-mail before he or she reaches your request. Avoid this problem by
summarizing your main points, questions, or requests in the first paragraph, then elaborating
only if needed in the body of the e-mail. If your message is urgent, say so both in your subject
line and early in the e-mail (but consider calling the recipient instead, if possible).

Considering audience, purpose, and tone

Before you send an e-mail, think about the person who will receive it. Do you know this
person? If so, how do you know him or her, and how well? Is he or she in a position of
authority over you? For example, if you are a student, are you writing to someone who is a
professor or an established researcher?
Next, think about why you are writing this e-mail to your recipient. Are you writing to ask
for information about the recipient's research, as in a request for data or a journal article? Do
you want to study with the recipient as a student, or perhaps work for him or her as a
postdoctoral researcher? Having clear answers to questions like these will help you draft a
specific, focused e-mail. You should know exactly what you want and from whom you want
it before you sit down to write.

Questions about audience and purpose will help you determine the appropriate tone to use in
your message. E-mail is convenient, but it cannot convey the same subtleties you can convey
in person, and many misunderstandings may occur as a result. When you talk to people face-
to-face, you can show respect through your voice and body language. You might talk louder
and faster if you are excited, and you might show your approval by listening attentively,
nodding, or smiling. Because you cannot do that in written communication, you must instead
use language and tone carefully to convey your meaning to the recipient.

Be especially careful with your tone if you are writing to someone who is not at the same
professional level or status as you are. If you are writing to someone who holds the same
status as you for instance, if you are a student writing to another student, or if you are a
scientist writing to another scientist of equal rank at your organization you might be able
to assume some level of familiarity. In contrast, if you are writing to someone who holds a
position of authority, use language that is respectful and polite, even if you are writing to
express disagreement. Likewise, if you hope that the recipient of your e-mail will help you
with a problem or grant you a request, be respectful (without seeming to beg and without
flattery) and acknowledge his or her time.

Establishing a respectful tone

Being careless with your tone can lead to misunderstandings or cause offense to your reader.
Because e-mail is a quick way of communicating, people often make the mistake of being
too casual with their audience. Many scientists are informal once they have established a
good relationship with a colleague, but do not automatically assume that you can be casual
in your own e-mail. Instead, be formal until the person you are writing to indicates through
his or her own language that familiarity is appropriate.

As you aim for a respectful tone, take care not to flatter your correspondent unnecessarily or
use language that is too deferential. Some readers may be uncomfortable with flattery, or
they may not know how to respond gracefully when someone they do not know compliments
them heavily. Be careful with your salutation, too. Greetings such as "Dear Esteemed Sir"
may be common in some countries, but the simpler "Dear Sir" or "Dear Professor" are more

The following is an example of an e-mail that uses flattery:

Dear Esteemed Sir,

I very much enjoyed your recent paper in the Journal of Bacteriology. Your results were
impressive, and your methods were very solid. I have worked with P. aeruginosa in my
Ph.D. research as well, and I would like to continue working in this area under your
knowledgeable guidance. Would you kindly tell me whether you have any postdoctoral
positions available in your highly regarded laboratory?

Thank you for your time,

Pierre Raskolnikov

In contrast, this e-mail asks the same question and also pays the recipient a compliment, but
it does so without flattery:
Dear Sir,

I enjoyed your recent paper in the Journal of Bacteriology. I have worked with P.
aeruginosa in my Ph.D. research as well, and I would like to continue working in this area
under your guidance. Would you please tell me whether you have any postdoctoral
positions available in your laboratory?
Thank you for your time,
Pierre Raskolnikov

Because your e-mails should be formal until you know the recipient well, do not use the kind
of abbreviated language that is common in text or SMS messages. Instead of writing "cld i
talk 2 u?", for example, use full sentences: "Could I talk to you?" Likewise, avoid trying to
be funny when you are building a new relationship. Humor is difficult to convey in e-mail,
and readers may misunderstand your meaning. Do not use emoticons faces made out of
punctuation marks, like :^) or :^( to show that you are being friendly or witty. Instead,
craft your tone and language carefully to convey the message you want to send.

E-mailing a peer
Pay careful attention to tone in every e-mail you send even when writing a message to a
fellow student. In most cases, you can adopt an informal tone when writing to a peer.
Consider the following example, in which one student is e-mailing another student in his lab
to ask about a piece of equipment.

From: Stefan Kovi

Subject: Gel box?
Date: March 29, 2010 2:44:19 PM CDT
To: Heather Wrench

Heather: Do you know whats up with the gel box? The leads arent staying in anymore.
What should I do?

Here, the subject line is brief. It notes only that the message is about the gel box a piece
of equipment used in molecular biology but it does not specify the contents of the e-mail.
The tone of the e-mail itself is informal. The message contains only a brief salutation that
identifies Heather by her name and not a title or honorific, and the language is casual and
colloquial. Stefan's question uses the more familiar "what's up with" rather than "what is
wrong with" to ask about the condition of the equipment. The subject line and the casual tone
of the message are appropriate for an e-mail sent between two students.

Contrast this message with the following sample, in which Stefan is e-mailing the principal
investigator in his laboratory about the same problem.

From: Stefan Kovi

Subject: Problems with the gel box leads
Date: March 29, 2010 2:44:19 PM CDT
To: Kitty Jones

Dear Kitty,
When I was setting up the gel box yesterday, I noticed that the leads no longer fit properly.
Should I try to fix them, or should we look into other options?

Thank you for your time,


This time, the subject line is detailed and specific. Kitty can tell right away without reading
the e-mail that something is wrong with the gel box leads. She can now decide whether
she needs to read the full e-mail to understand the problem.

Because Stefan is addressing his supervisor, he uses a formal salutation ("Dear Kitty"), and
his language is more formal than the language he used when writing to another student. It is
clear from this letter that Stefan is writing to someone with authority.

A note about salutations: In this example, Stefan addresses Kitty Jones by her first name.
This may be appropriate for someone you know well, such as your Ph.D. advisor, a professor
you have been working with for quite some time, or a supervisor in your organization.
However, if you do not know your recipient personally, or if you are new to a laboratory or
organization, use a formal title (such as "Professor", "Dr.", or "Ms.") until the recipient grants
you permission to use his or her first name. In most cases, your recipient will grant you that
permission by responding with language like "Please call me Kitty" or by signing an e-mail
with his or her first name.

E-mailing a scientist you do not know

As with e-mailing a professor, be sure to use a formal tone when writing to someone you do
not know. In the following example, a student who is finishing his Ph.D. is e-mailing an
established scientist to ask about postdoctoral opportunities in the scientist's lab. As you read,
look for problems in tone that suggest that this writer has misjudged his audience.

From: Jackson Lunk

Subject: Postdoc?
Date: April 26, 2010, 10:05:32 AM CDT
To: Donald Smith

Hey Prof. Smith,

Im finishing my Ph.D. this spring and am looking for a postdoc. I found your lab page and
thought Id ask if you have any positions open. If you could get back to me soon, thatd be

Hope to hear from you,

Jackson Lunk

In this sample, Jackson has written an e-mail that is so casual that it can and most likely
will cause offense. Jackson's tone does not properly convey respect for Professor Smith
or acknowledge their difference in status. The salutation "Hey Prof. Smith" is too
friendly, especially since Jackson is writing to ask for a job. Upon reading this e-mail,
Professor Smith might assume that Jackson will be equally disrespectful in person.
In addition, the last sentence of the e-mail "If you could get back to me soon, that'd be
great" is both too demanding and too casual. It comes too close to ordering Professor
Smith to respond, and it does so in a tone that suggests that Jackson and Professor Smith are
closer than they really are.

The closing of Jackson's message is likewise problematic. "Hope to hear from you" may be
optimistic, but again, it is not appropriately respectful. It is customary to thank the reader for
his or her time and consideration, especially when asking for something.

Overall, Jackson's e-mail probably will not leave Professor Smith with a good impression.
As a result, Professor Smith may be hesitant to consider Jackson for a position in his

In contrast, consider this example:

From: Kevin Li
Subject: Positions for postdoctoral researchers?
Date: April 29, 2010, 4:32:02 PM CDT
To: Donald Smith

Dear Professor Smith,

My name is Kevin Li, and I am finishing my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Brown

University in May. I heard your presentation at the BMES Annual Meeting, and my
experience in kinesiology and mechanical design overlaps well with your current work on
gait analysis and prosthetic development. Id like to continue working in this area, and I
wondered whether you might have any postdoctoral positions available in your laboratory.
Are you currently hiring additional researchers?

Thank you for your time,

Kevin Li
This e-mail has all the signs of a balanced, respectful request: an appropriate salutation ("Dear
Professor Smith"), enough information to show the purpose of the e-mail, a clear request
using formal language, and a closing that thanks Professor Smith for his time. This is a
message that will capture the recipient's attention and, most likely, receive an equally
respectful response.

Establishing the context of an e-mail

When you are writing an e-mail, establish the context early in your message. If your
recipients are particularly busy, they may not remember that you first e-mailed them the week
before or that you met them at a conference. Consider reminders such as "As we discussed
last week . . . " or "I wanted to follow up on yesterday's conversation about . . . " These
phrases will help your reader remember previous discussions about the topic at hand.

If you do not know your reader personally, establish the context by introducing yourself and
explaining how you know of the recipient. For instance, in the previous example, Kevin Li
introduces himself to Donald Smith by explaining that he is a Ph.D. student, and he sets the
context for his e-mail by noting that he heard Professor Smith present a paper at a recent
conference. The reference to the conference will explain how Kevin knows about Professor
Smith's research, and Professor Smith will not be surprised by Kevin's interest in working
for his lab.

You might also set the context for an e-mail by referring to someone you and the recipient
both know, or (if you are a student) by mentioning your supervisor's name. In the following
example, a graduate student is writing to a professor to ask whether the professor would be
willing to meet with him at an upcoming conference. As you read the example e-mail, note
how the student refers to his Ph.D. supervisor.

From: Ian McDean

Subject: Possible meeting at AAAS conference?
Date: August 2, 2010, 12:27:55 PM EDT
To: Kate Hernandez
Dear Dr. Hernandez,

I am a graduate student in Dr. Emily Lenders lab, where I am conducting research on

artificial photosynthesis. I will be attending the upcoming AAAS conference, and Emily
suggested that I contact you about possibly making an appointment to meet. While at the
conference, would you be willing to meet with me to discuss my research?

Thank you for your time,

Ian McDean

Here, Ian provides context for his request both by identifying his area of research and by
noting that he works for someone Dr. Hernandez already knows. Upon reading the e-mail,
Dr. Hernandez will understand that Ian is contacting her because Dr. Lender suggested he do

Managing e-mail
Scientists and other professionals often receive a great deal of e-mail, and managing large
numbers of messages can be difficult. However, effective e-mail management can help you
avoid problems with tone and structure, so it should be an important goal.

Problems with tone often arise when people write e-mail too quickly or without careful
thought. To help prevent these problems, check your e-mail when you know you will have
enough time to read your messages carefully and write polite, thorough responses. When
hurried, you might read incoming messages too fast, and you might fail to realize that your
responses sound impolite or leave important questions unanswered. Your recipient could
interpret an incomplete or abrupt answer as deliberate insult, even if you simply wanted to
respond as soon as possible. It is better to take some extra time to write a good e-mail than
to send a poorly written e-mail immediately.
If you are unable to answer an e-mail thoroughly in a timely fashion, send the recipient a
polite note acknowledging his or her message and asking for some extra time to respond.
You need not explain why simply state that you would like to take some time to think
about the message, but you will respond as soon as you can.

Likewise, if you have sent an e-mail and not received a response from your correspondent,
be patient. He or she might also have decided to take the time to send you a thorough
response. In addition, be aware of any time differences between your state or country and the
state or country in which your recipient lives, as these differences can sometimes delay a

If you are e-mailing a colleague who works at the same institution or corporation that you
do, consider calling the person instead. You might be able to handle some questions or
problems more effectively in a ten-minute phone call than in multiple e-mails. Similarly, do
not use e-mail to handle matters that can be addressed more readily or tactfully in person than
in writing. Some complicated issues are best reserved for in-person communication.

3.2Memos and Progress Reports

Determining your audience and purpose
Like e-mail messages, memos are common in many workplaces. A memo may serve as an
informal proposal to pitch a new idea to a supervisor or manager. It can also provide a quick,
concise way for scientists to brief each other or their supervisors about the status of a project.
As with e-mail, carefully consider who will be reading your message and what you hope to
convey before you prepare your memo. For example, if you are writing a memo to propose
a new project to your supervisor, you must explain why the project is necessary and
worthwhile. If you are updating your reader on the status of a project, you may need to focus
on how much the project has cost so far and when you think it will be completed. Then, when
you begin to prepare your memo, ask yourself: Why am I writing this? Who will read it, and
what will interest them the most? Answering these questions will help you determine the
appropriate tone and structure for your memo.
A progress report is a specific kind of memo that summarizes recent and future work on a
specific project. The exact content and format of a progress report may vary, but the purpose
is the same: to let your audience know if the work is going smoothly, where you have
encountered problems, and whether you are able to keep to the initial plan. Progress reports
may also explain whether you can finish the project on time and within budget.

Choosing your tone

Memos are less formal than scientific papers or lengthy technical reports, but they should
still show a respectful and professional tone. Unlike e-mail messages, memos should remain
formal even if you know your audience well. The goal of a memo is to convey essential
information quickly, so you should not distract your audience even if you are only trying to
be friendly. For this reason, memos typically do not include greetings or closings.

Choosing your tone carefully is especially important if you need to deliver bad news in your
memo. For example, if you are updating your manager to tell him or her that your project is
running behind schedule, you should be forthright and honest do not adopt a tone of false
cheerfulness or optimism. It is your professional responsibility to explain the situation
exactly as it is, not to withhold bad news to keep your audience happy. If you have bad news
to deliver, express your dismay using words like "unfortunately" or phrases like "I regret to
tell you that . . . ", and explain how you will solve the problem.

Memo or report structure and content

The format of a memo is often similar to that of an e-mail message. (Note, however, that if
your organization has a set format for memos, you must follow that format.) Both e-mail and
memos feature certain information in their headers, but unlike e-mail, memos do not include
a salutation or a closing. As with e-mail, the body of a memo may include headings,
subheadings, or bullet points to highlight important information although too many bullet
points will make the most important ideas difficult to identify. If you mention colleagues in
a memo, send them a copy of the memo and list their names next to "cc:", just as you would
include them in the "cc:" line of an e-mail. In addition, if you need to include another
document (such as a preliminary budget or a detailed timeline) as an attachment, note this in
the memo and include the title of that document.

The same basic rules also apply to progress reports which are a specialized type of memo.
Managers usually review written progress reports quickly, so emphasize key ideas and
important issues at the top of any paragraphs or bulleted lists. State early in the memo whether
the work will be completed on time and on budget, and also note any problems you have

The most important part of the progress report is the introduction. Here, remind the audience
what the project is and why it is important. Explain who is affected by the project, when the
work began, and when you expect it to end. Finally, outline in specific terms the overall status
of the project so readers can see at a glance where you are and what you have left to do.

The body of your progress report should open by noting the current status of the project.
Provide an outline of what parts of the project you have already completed: What important
tasks have you finished? What decisions and discoveries have you made? Next, describe
what work you still have to complete. Use chronological order to show your audience what
steps are yet to come and how long you think those steps will take.

Even though it seems counterintuitive, you should also describe any problems that have
arisen during the project. Your audience needs to know if something went wrong along the
way, and they will want to know how you responded. If you solved those problems, explain
how. If you did not solve them, show that you have at least one solution in mind. Think about
what problems might arise, too. This will show your audience that you have thought carefully
about the project and how you will complete it.

End your progress report by summarizing the current status of the project, good news, and
key problems. State again whether the project will be completed on time and on budget.
3.3Job Letters
Writing a job letter
Formal letters differ in some key ways from e-mail and even from professional memos. The
purpose of a formal letter is often serious: It may be a formal application for a job, a formal
statement of a job offer (containing legally binding language and contract details), a formal
thank-you note following an interview, a formal document from your employer offering a
promotion, or even a formal performance review that will go into your permanent employee
file. These matters are generally too important to handle in an informal medium like e-mail
or a memo. In addition, recipients may want a document that can be signed and filed in a
traditional way.

Job letters and cover letters or the letters you write to an organization to apply for a job
are an excellent example of formal correspondence. If you seek a competitive position in
your field, you will likely need to write this type of document, which expresses your interest
in a particular job and showcases your qualifications. To write a strong cover letter, you must
first understand your audience. Find out as much as you can about the company, university,
or research organization beforehand, then tailor your letter to suit that audience in tone,
content, and emphasis. Resources for information about companies and university research
groups include corporate or university Web sites, patent databases, journal databases,
newspapers and trade journals, or colleagues in your professional organizations.

Structuring a job letter

If you are writing a job letter for an entry-level position, consider keeping the length of your
letter around two-thirds to three-quarters of a page. The structure of a letter written for an
entry-level position will differ from the structure of a letter written by a master's or Ph.D.-
level researcher. Typically, a more advanced position will require a lengthier cover letter. In
all cases, however, remember that your readers are extremely busy. Therefore, keep your
letters from extending beyond two pages, unless the job advertisement specifically requests
more details about research or work experience.
Most standard job letters consist of three main sections an opening, a middle, and a

Opening: In the opening, introduce yourself and your purpose for writing. Identify the
position you are seeking by name and state how you learned of the position. Establish that
you have at least the minimum requirements for the job by listing your specific academic
degree and any immediately relevant work experience.

Middle: In the middle part of the letter, emphasize how your skills directly relate to the
responsibilities listed in the job advertisement. One way to do this is by expanding upon one
or two of the most interesting, relevant, or impressive items on your rsum. Also, if you
have unique work or internship experiences or if you have taken specialized courses that are
directly relevant to the needs listed in the job ad, describe them here. Such details make your
letter memorable.

Closing: As you close your letter, invite the reader to view the attached rsum. Express your
willingness to provide more information. State that you are available for an interview and
thank the reader for taking time to review your application. Do not use your closing to impose
a deadline for a response, however: Deadlines seem pushy and may have a negative effect
on your tone. Recruiters will respond to you on their own schedule.

Crafting your tone

Tone is critically important in job letters because you must convince the reader that you are
a serious, credible job candidate. Employers often want to avoid hiring someone who seems
arrogant or timid, so if the tone of your letter is too boastful or too meek, you can make a bad

In your cover letter, use first person ("I"), and refer to the person or people you are addressing
as "you" or "your company." Think of specific details you can share so that the letter is
memorable and, when providing those details, remember to sound confident (but not
arrogant) and respectful (but not passive or subservient). Use active voice when describing
your qualifications you will sound more energetic and more direct. Finally, be clear and
concise. Recruiters often read cover letters quickly, so get to the point early in your letter.

Proper tone can give an employer a good impression.

The first cover letter to the right demonstrates how poor tone can give an employer a bad
impression. Note in particular the boastful tone that the writer uses and the demands he makes
of the reader at the end of the letter.

In the second letter to the right, Wei Li applies for the same position. In contrast to Jorge's
letter, this example provides rich details that are well tailored to the needs of the position,
and it conveys this information using a respectful, confident tone. Wei's letter is a strong
model of an appropriate cover letter.

Choosing your structure and content

When you apply for a job, you will most likely submit a rsum along with your job letter.
A rsum, sometimes called a curriculum vitae or CV, is a summary of your education, work
experience, and accomplishments. Employers use rsums to decide whether to interview
you for a job, and proposal reviewers use rsums to decide whether you are qualified to do
the proposed work. Therefore, in your rsum, you should highlight those attributes most
relevant to your particular audience.

Sample rsum
Reviewers often read rsums in less than a minute; therefore, structure your rsum so that
your outstanding characteristics are easy to see. Be sure to include specific phrases that match
the terms listed in the job ad. Doing so shows the reader that you understand what the position
involves and have tailored your application to meet its requirements.

If possible, keep your rsum to one page. If, however, you have several publications or a
great deal of relevant work experience, you may have to use two pages. A standard rsum
typically includes multiple sections, as illustrated in the example to the right.
Writing a career objective
As illustrated on the previous screen, after your personal data, your career objective is the
first section readers will see on your rsum. Your objective should offer a succinct, specific
statement indicating what field of work you are seeking. Avoid clichs, wordiness, jargon,
and inflated prose.

The following is an example of a poorly crafted career objective:

This example is problematic because it is full of redundant phrases like "honed and
developed" and other boastful, broad statements about ability like "my leadership and
vision." An objective statement should not brag about your skills: The recruiter will
determine how valuable your skills are during the interview. Also, unlike the author of this
statement, you should not include rewards as an objective, as that suggests overconfidence
in your abilities. Instead, your objective line should stick to the facts: It should go directly to
the type of position you seek.

Now, consider a second objective that is much more appropriate to the situation:

Note that this example is more succinct and specific than the weak example. Here, the author
refers to his or her background without bragging about his or her abilities. The author also
notes his or her interest in water quality, which shows the reader that the author's interests
overlap with the organization's research.
In some cases, you might even tailor your objective statement to one particular job
advertisement, as in the following example:

In this objective, the author has identified a very specific goal: to work in a certain capacity
for a certain company. This shows that the author has taken the time to tailor his or her rsum
to fit one particular job announcement.

Note that in the last two examples, the objective statements do not make any claims about
the quality of the applicant's abilities. Instead, they simply help the recruiter decide if the
applicant knows what he or she wants. Some recruiters skim the objective line to determine
whether you have applied for the right job. These individuals look for specific information
and key terms from the job ad as evidence that your rsum has come to the right place.

Presenting your education

When drafting a rsum, most recent graduates place their education in a section before their
employment history, especially if they are earning their degree from a prestigious university
that carries weight with employers. Regardless of the exact placement of your educational
information, you should present the schools you have attended in reverse chronological order,
with your most recent degrees listed first. If you have attended four or more different
universities, consider listing only the ones from which you have earned degrees. For instance,
in the sample rsum shown earlier, Wei Li presents her education like this:

Here, Wei lists each of the universities she attended, her area of study, and the degrees she
received. Note that the location of these universities and the dates she received each degree
are flush with the right margin so they stand out to the reader.
If you have very little relevant work experience, try to add substance to your rsum in the
educational history section. Consider listing relevant courses, particularly those that relate to
the job you are applying for. You might also provide details about specific projects you
worked on during your undergraduate training. For example:

The format here is different than in the previous examples, but the important information is
still clear. Note that the author has organized this list so that related courses are grouped; this
approach can help you highlight areas in which you have special experience.

Presenting your experience

As with your education, you should list your research and work experience in reverse
chronological order, placing your most recent job first. If you have research experience that
is directly relevant to the job you are applying for, place that information before your work
experience. Include some detail about the project and your responsibilities, but leave longer
discussion of the project for the job letter. If you have used specialized equipment or
analytical methods as part of your research, mention those skills as well.

When describing your work experience, be sure to include your job title and place of
employment. Follow the corporation or organization with the city and appropriate state,
province, or country. Consider listing your supervisor's name (if possible and prudent). Then
include a bulleted list of duties you performed at that job. For jobs you held in the past, use
active past tense verbs at the beginning of each item in the list. For jobs you currently hold,
use active present tense. Make sure that your lists are parallel that is, if the first item of
your list begins with a verb, then all the items in the list should begin with a verb. All the
verbs within a single entry also should be the same tense.
In the example below, the author has not written a parallel list:

This list is not parallel because two of the items begin with verbs ("designed," "supervise")
and one begins with a noun ("skill"). If the author used certain methods to perform certain
kinds of data analysis, he or she should note this by a phrase that begins with a verb.
Furthermore, the verbs are in two different tenses: "Designed" suggests that this is a
responsibility the author held in the past, but "supervise and mentor" indicate that these are
activities in which the author currently participates.

Consider organizing your employment history into two different categories "Relevant
Employment" and "Other Employment" if you have numerous jobs that make your rsum
longer than one page. Keep the "Relevant Employment" section on the first page. Keep in
mind, of course, that too much detail can increase the length of a rsum. Employers do not
always take time to read the second pages of rsums, so your first page should highlight
your most important information. Also, be sure to put your most relevant experience and
educational details as close to the top of the first page as possible.

For example, consider how Wei Li has presented her research experience before her work
experience. This will help the reader see her skills and techniques that apply most directly to
the organization's own research.

Note that all the items in Wei's lists are parallel each item begins with a verb, and the
verbs are all in the same tense.
Formatting your resume
Because readers often scan a rsum quickly, the format you use influences how easily they
find important information. Your task, then, is to make key details stand out while still
following a professional format.

Using fancy or novelty fonts makes reading difficult, and it may prompt recruiters to question
whether you are serious about your career. Instead, use fonts that are easy to read, such as
Times New Roman or Arial. Although it may be appropriate to print your cover letter and
rsum on paper made especially for professional correspondence, avoid using colored paper,
paper with graphics, or cardstock for your application. These tricks may lead your reader to
think you spent more time making your application pretty than you did preparing the content.
Proofread your rsum carefully to avoid careless errors in spelling, grammar, or format.
These errors will suggest that you do not pay attention to detail or that you complete work in
a hurry qualities that employers want to avoid.

Consider how Wei Li has formatted her rsum (right).

Using a professional tone

Your rsum should be as objective and specific as possible in its tone. You can accomplish
this best in the bullet points made after each job listing, where you provide brief details about
the work you did. Do not add unverifiable information: Instead of writing "Efficiently and
effectively used excellent communication skills to manage a cross-functional team in
designing a superior, innovative, and inexpensive ventilator system for the X-5000," write
"Managed a cross-functional team in designing a new ventilator system for the X-5000." Do
not make sweeping claims about your creativity, excellence, and effectiveness: Recruiters
will judge you for themselves when they interview you.

Instead of making sweeping value claims about yourself, try to include word choices that
mirror the key words included in the job ad. As you choose details to emphasize in your
rsum, be as accurate, forthright, and truthful as you can be. Employers will often verify
your information online or by calling companies or institutions with whom you have worked.
Likewise, if you express proficiency in a foreign language, be prepared to demonstrate that
proficiency in the interview especially if you are applying to an international or global
organization. In short, do not ruin your chances with an employer by offering misinformation
or deliberately attempting to "sell" yourself as having qualifications you do not possess.

3.5Letters That Follow a Job Interview

Thank-you letters
Following an interview, write your interviewer a brief thank-you letter. This common
courtesy lets the interviewer know that you understand business etiquette and calls his or her
attention to your application once again. When you write the letter, mention the specific job
for which you interviewed because some recruiters might be conducting multiple job

Many job applicants will send out a standard letter, simply thanking the interviewer and
restating that they are interested in the job. If you are truly interested in a position, however,
you should write a specific, tailored letter. Take a few notes fairly soon after your interview
not only on the kinds of questions you received, but also on the information that your
interviewer shared with you. Later, you'll be able to write an effective thank-you letter by
choosing a few specific and relevant details from your notes. These unique details can set
your letter apart from the form letters submitted by your competitors. Still, keep your letter
short this is not the time to provide more information about your credentials.
You may be interviewed by several people, and you will make a good impression if you send
them all a thank-you letter. If you have access to the e-mail addresses of your interviewers,
and if earlier correspondence suggests that they welcome and respond readily to e-mail, that
may be an acceptable way to send your letter. Whether you send a hard copy letter or an e-
mail, try to send your thank-you letter within a week after the interview.

To the right is a sample thank-you letter that Wei Li sent to Great Lakes Coastal Science
Corporation following her interview. Note that the tone she uses here is professional and that
she has selected one point from the interview for elaboration. This shows the interviewer that
she has thought about the position since she interviewed a sign she is serious about the

Note that this letter is quite brief barely half a page and does not overload Ms.
Livingston with unnecessary detail or chatter. The letter serves its purpose well: It thanks the
interviewer for her time and lets her know that the applicant is still interested in the position.

Letters of refusal and acceptance

If you have been offered a job, let the company know as soon as is reasonably possible
whether you accept or decline the position. Even if you verbally express your intent, you
should still send the organization a formal letter. In the following example, Wei has written
to accept a job offer with Great Lakes Coastal Science Corporation:

Note that Wei's tone is respectful and enthusiastic, but she does not flatter Ms. Livingston or
the company. The company itself may require that she sign a formal contract (the information
from the Human Resources Department that Wei refers to), but this letter confirms that she
will accept the position she has been offered.

Even if you are declining a job offer, you should still remain professional and positive in
your tone. Briefly explain your reasons for not taking the job. Make sure you are courteous
and that your reasons are believable and legitimate. You want the company to understand
that they did not waste their time interviewing you and that you took their offer seriously.
Remember that you might want to interview at this same company again someday, and
interview committees can have a long memory if you leave a bad impression in your letter
of refusal.

In the letter below, Wei has written to another company to let them know she has chosen to
accept the offer from Great Lakes Coastal Science Corporation instead:

In this letter, Wei declines the job at GM2 politely and respectfully. Her reason here is
legitimate: The position at Great Lakes is closer to her own research. Note, however, that she
still expresses interest in GM2's research even as she declines; in this way, she shows respect
for the company and for the interviewer's time. If she applies for a job at GM2 in the future,
this letter will reflect well on her professionalism.

Regardless of whether you are writing an e-mail, a memo, or a job application, remember
that your written communication must represent your abilities and character well. Using an
appropriate tone is essential: Consider your language carefully so you do not come across as
arrogant, overconfident, or too demanding. In virtually all correspondence, focus on being
concise and accurate. Present your key points early in e-mails and letters, and format your
rsum so that key points stand out from the rest of your text.

Before you send an e-mail, memo, or letter, ask yourself: Who will read this document, and
what tone is appropriate given your relationship with the reader? Have you been respectful
and polite, even when you must describe a problem or decline a job offer? Have you included
enough information for your reader to understand the context of your message? These
questions ensure that your written communication helps you build and maintain a
professional relationship with your colleagues.

3.7Test Your Knowledge

Now that you have learned about writing correspondence, put your knowledge to the test.
This test contains 7 questions.
3.8Learning Activities
Now that you have put your knowledge of writing correspondence to the test, try your hand
at these learning activities.

A1 You have just graduated from college or university with your bachelor's degree. You
would like to continue studying toward a Ph.D., but you are not sure whether the professor
you would like to study with is currently taking new students. Write a series of e-mails in
which you initially contact the professor, explain your interest in the lab, and list your
qualifications, and then follow up on his or her response to you.

A2 Write a memo to your supervisor stating the results of an experiment or other research
you have just completed. Ask yourself the following questions: What will my supervisor
need or want to know about this experiment? What parts of this experiment were successful,
and why are the results important? What parts were unsuccessful, and how will I fix that in
my next experiment? Will I still be able to finish my project on time? Use the answers to
these questions to write your memo.

A3 You are a postdoctoral researcher in a university laboratory. Upon checking your e-

mail, you find the following message from a professor at a different university asking whether
you would share some of your work. Write a response to this professor in which you thank
her for her interest and send her the paper she has requested.

To: Friedrich Elter

From: Jeanne-Marie Beauchamp
Dear Dr. Elter,

We met last week at the European Nuclear Conference in Barcelona, where I attended your
talk on reverse field pinch plasmas. In your talk, you referred to a research paper that you
recently submitted to the Journal of Fusion Energy. Would you be willing to send me a pre-
print of this paper at your earliest convenience?
Thank you for your time,

A4 One of the key functions of a good rsum or CV is to identify and describe the
qualifications you have that are unique. Consider your own academic career or work
experience, and make a list of specific jobs you have held and courses you have taken that
could be attractive to an employer in your field. Once you have made the list, add in two to
three phrases that describe each item in more detail. Then group the items on your list by
putting your work experiences together and your coursework or academic research together.
Finally, within each group, organize your experiences chronologically by placing more
recent experience at the top of each group and older experience at the bottom.

A5 Find a job announcement for a position in your field. Using what you have learned,
write a letter in which you apply for the position, explain your qualifications, and express
interest in hearing from the organization. Pay special attention to your tone; be confident in
your credentials, but do not be arrogant.

Oral presentations are a richer medium than written documents. They allow you to establish
stronger contact with the audience and better convince them of your viewpoint through verbal
and nonverbal delivery, as well as the ensuing interaction. Oral presentations have a price,
however, in terms of the audience's time. If you give a poor 15-minute presentation to an
audience of 200 people, you have wasted the equivalent of 50 hours of work more than a
week of someone's work time. Preparing effective oral presentations, like writing effective
scientific papers, takes time, but it is time well invested.

Still, many oral presentations are ripe for improvement. Think of the last large conference
you attended. With typically three to four talks an hour, eight hours a day over several days,
such conferences can expose you to dozens of presentations. What fraction of these delivered
a message that was useful to you (that is, how many of them did more than simply provide a
great deal of complicated information)? What fraction of the presentations did you find
fascinating (that is, how many got your undivided attention from the speaker's first word to
his or her last)?. An effective oral presentation gets you to pay attention, to understand, and
to think or do things differently as a result of it.

This unit will help you prepare and deliver more effective oral presentations in English. It
will help you select and organize a presentation's content, create slides (if appropriate),
deliver the presentation, and answer audience questions. It illustrates each of these tasks using
three example presentations, which exemplify different levels of specialization.

The first is a 15-minute conference presentation by John Creemers on "PREPL, a putative

oligopeptidase deleted in patients with hypotonia-cystinuria syndrome." It is clearly meant
for a specialized audience, yet scientists from other fields should be able to understand the
overall story presented.

The second is a 10-minute presentation by Marie Verbist on her "Automated alignment

procedure for stitching with a focused ion beam" to an audience of fellow PhD students.
Because the attendees can come from all fields of science and engineering, Marie's
presentation is less specialized than John's: it is meant to spark interest for her work in
everyone present.

The third is a six-minute presentation by Jean-luc Doumont on "What you should know about
TeX" to an audience of scientists. For this short, nontechnical presentation, Jean-luc chose
not to use slides.

You can watch all three presentations in the section Delivering Your Oral Presentation.

4.1Structuring Your Oral Presentation

Like scientific papers, oral presentations at a conference or internal seminar are for sharing
your research work with other scientists. They, too, must convince the audience that the
research presented is important, valid, and relevant to them. To this end, oral presentations
like papers must emphasize both the motivation for the work and the outcome of it, and
they must present just enough evidence to establish the validity of this outcome. Also like
papers, they must aim to inform, not impress.

In contrast, presentations differ from papers in at least three ways: They are more localized
in space and time, they impose a sequence and rhythm to the audience, and they normally
include some level of interaction. These three differences affect the selection of a
presentation's content.

Unless they are recorded or broadcast, presentations have a more clearly defined audience
than papers: They address "the people in the room," here and now. The audience might still
be diverse, but less so than for papers. Papers can be forwarded in unpredictable ways and
may be read many years from now, so they should be lasting and largely self-contained. In
contrast, presentations can have more specific purposes. For example, a presentation at a
conference normally aims to present recent advances, whereas a presentation at a Ph.D.
symposium aims to inform other Ph.D. students (in other fields) of one student's line of
Whereas papers can be read in any order and at the reader's own pace, presentations impose
both the sequence and the rhythm of content on their audience. They are therefore harder to
follow and should be much more selective in what they contain. The idea is not to say out
loud everything that is already written in the proceedings paper or dissertation. Written
documents are for convincing with detailed evidence; oral presentations, on the other hand,
are for convincing with delivery both verbal and nonverbal.

Finally, presentations normally include interaction in the form of questions and answers. This
is a great opportunity to provide whatever additional information the audience desires. For
fear of omitting something important, most speakers try to say too much in their
presentations. A better approach is to be selective in the presentation itself and to allow
enough time for questions and answers and, of course, to prepare well by anticipating the
questions the audience might have.

As a consequence, and even more strongly than papers, presentations can usefully break the
chronology typically used for reporting research. Instead of presenting everything that was
done in the order in which it was done, a presentation should focus on getting a main message
across in theorem-proof fashion that is, by stating this message early and then presenting
evidence to support it. Identifying this main message early in the preparation process is the
key to being selective in your presentation. For example, when reporting on materials and
methods, include only those details you think will help convince the audience of your main
message usually little, and sometimes nothing at all.

The opening
In its intent and structure, the opening of an oral presentation is similar to the Introduction of
a scientific paper, which provides the context, need, task, and object of the document, with
three main differences:

The context as such is best replaced by an attention getter, which is a way to both get
everyone's attention fast and link the topic with what the audience already knows (this link
provides a more audience-specific form of context).
The object of the document is here best called the preview because it outlines the body of the
presentation. Still, the aim of this element is unchanged namely, preparing the audience
for the structure of the body.

The opening of a presentation can best state the presentation's main message, just before the
preview. The main message is the one sentence you want your audience to remember, if they
remember only one. It is your main conclusion, perhaps stated in slightly less technical detail
than at the end of your presentation.

In other words, include the following five items in your opening: attention getter, need, task,
main message, and preview.

The body
To make your body's structure easy to remember, for both you as a speaker and your
audience, think of it as a tree (or hierarchy) rather than a chain. Identify two, three, four, or
a maximum of five statements you can make to support your main message: These are your
main points. Next, think of two to five statements to support each main point: These are your
subpoints. Together, these main points and subpoints represent about as much detail as your
audience can absorb in a single oral presentation.

Even if you think of your presentation's body as a tree, you will still deliver the body as a
sequence in time unavoidably, one of your main points will come first, one will come
second, and so on. Organize your main points and subpoints into a logical sequence, and
reveal this sequence and its logic to your audience with transitions between points and
between subpoints. As a rule, place your strongest arguments first and last, and place any
weaker arguments between these stronger ones.

The closing
After supporting your main message with evidence in the body, wrap up your oral
presentation in three steps: a review, a conclusion, and a close. First, review the main points
in your body to help the audience remember them and to prepare the audience for your
conclusion. Next, conclude by restating your main message (in more detail now that the
audience has heard the body) and complementing it with any other interpretations of your
findings. Finally, close the presentation by indicating elegantly and unambiguously to your
audience that these are your last words.

Starting and ending forcefully

The first few sentences and last few sentences of an oral presentation are particularly
important because they shape the first and last impressions you make on your audience. They
are also particularly difficult since they correspond to moments of transition (starting and
ending) during which your stage fright is likely to peak. Thus, they deserve special attention.
At the beginning of any presentation, you must get the attention of the audience and you
must do so quickly. Whether audience members are still happily chatting or already silent
(for example, because a chairperson introduced you), they are not yet engaged. As with a
paper, you can spark their interest for your research by stating the need for your work, but
you must first secure their full attention with an attention getter.

An effective attention getter can take many forms: It can be a question, a statement, an
anecdote (humorous or not), an analogy, a quotation, an object, a picture projected on the
screen, and so on. Whatever its form, it has three qualities:

An effective attention getter is short. It is not a goal in itself, but rather a means to focus the
audience's undivided attention on the need (which is the true motivation for the work

An effective attention getter is audience-oriented. It bridges the gap between something the
audience is familiar with or cares about and the topic of the talk. As a counterexample,
beginning a presentation by saying "My name is Irma Kodowski and I would like to talk to
you today about . . . " is not effective, because it is strongly self-centered. Wait until the task
to talk about yourself.
An effective attention getter is relevant and appropriate, as opposed to out-of-place or
overdramatic. As a counterexample, starting your presentation with a joke unrelated to the
topic will likely strike the audience as irrelevant. Starting with a humorous anecdote directly
related to the topic is at least relevant; whether it is also appropriate depends on the situation.
Usually, less specialized audiences require more creative attention getters because they are
more distant from the topic. For audiences of specialists, a simple link with a familiar context
("As most of you know, . . . ") or with the previous speaker ("As Dr. Chandrasekhar just
pointed out, . . . ") may suffice.

At the end of a presentation, you must indicate elegantly yet unambiguously to the audience
that you have said your last words, thus giving them the signal to applaud. Although there
are many ways to do so, one that works well is to make the link back to your attention getter:
By referring back to your initial question, analogy, picture, etc., you indicate that you have
completed the loop. In contrast, beware of conventional yet extrinsic closes. "So, that's all I
had for you today," suggests that you ran out of things to say; you should prepare a deliberate
close instead. "Thank you for your attention," is weak; make your audience thank you for
delivering a great presentation instead. "I will be happy to answer any questions you have,"
is premature; you should save this prompt for after the applause.

Your attention getter and close should be your very first words and very last words,
respectively. Resist the temptation to preface your attention getter with filler words ("well,
um, so, yes") or unnecessary courtesies ("Good morning everyone. Let me first thank the
organizers for . . . "). To make sure you start and end your presentation sharply, you might
want to learn your first few and last few sentences by heart.

Revealing your presentation's structure

To be able to give their full attention to content, audience members need structure in other
words, they need a map of some sort (a table of contents, an object of the document, a
preview), and they need to know at any time where they are on that map. A written document
includes many visual clues to its structure: section headings, blank lines or indentations
indicating paragraphs, and so on. In contrast, an oral presentation has few visual clues.
Therefore, even when it is well structured, attendees may easily get lost because they do not
see this structure. As a speaker, make sure you reveal your presentation's structure to the
audience, with a preview, transitions, and a review.

The preview provides the audience with a map. As in a paper, it usefully comes at the end of
the opening (not too early, that is) and outlines the body, not the entire presentation. In other
words, it needs to include neither the introduction (which has already been delivered) nor the
conclusion (which is obvious). In a presentation with slides, it can usefully show the structure
of the body on screen. A slide alone is not enough, however: You must also verbally explain
the logic of the body. In addition, the preview should be limited to the main points of the
presentation; subpoints can be previewed, if needed, at the beginning of each main point.

Transitions are crucial elements for revealing a presentation's structure, yet they are often
underestimated. As a speaker, you obviously know when you are moving from one main
point of a presentation to another but for attendees, these shifts are never obvious. Often,
attendees are so involved with a presentation's content that they have no mental attention left
to guess at its structure. Tell them where you are in the course of a presentation, while linking
the points. One way to do so is to wrap up one point then announce the next by creating a
need for it: "So, this is the microstructure we observe consistently in the absence of annealing.
But how does it change if we anneal the sample at 450C for an hour or more? That's my
next point. Here is . . . "

Similarly, a review of the body plays an important double role. First, while a good body helps
attendees understand the evidence, a review helps them remember it. Second, by
recapitulating all the evidence, the review effectively prepares attendees for the conclusion.
Accordingly, make time for a review: Resist the temptation to try to say too much, so that
you are forced to rush and to sacrifice the review at the end.

Ideally, your preview, transitions, and review are well integrated into the presentation. As a
counterexample, a preview that says, "First, I am going to talk about . . . , then I will say a
few words about . . . and finally . . . " is self-centered and mechanical: It does not tell a story.
Instead, include your audience (perhaps with a collective we) and show the logic of your
structure in view of your main message.

4.2Creating Presentation Slides

Presentation slides are optional. A presentation is not a set of slides: It is about someone
having something to say to an audience. Creating slides is therefore less important than
planning the presentation, structuring it, and delivering it well. These tasks should be your
priorities, so make sure you reserve enough time for them in your preparation. If you do opt
to support your presentation with slides, do them right: Design them so they get a message
across to your audience in a visual way.

Slides are for the audience. They should not be designed as a memory aid for the speaker. If
you feel you need a tool to help you decide or remember what to say, create notes for yourself,
but do not project these in front of the audience. Slides that are created for the speaker tend
to be overcrowded and cryptic.

Slides are for getting messages across. On each slide, state your message as a short sentence
(on a maximum of two lines, corresponding to about 1015 words), normally in the title area.
Use a full sentence with a subject and a verb for example, instead of writing "Evolution
of the temperature as a function of the time" (the what), make a point such as "The
temperature increased much faster than anticipated" (the so what). Then develop this message
in the rest of the slide.

Slides are visual aids. The audience cannot listen to what you say and read text at the same
time, except for a few words or a short statement. Because of this limitation, be as visual as
possible as you develop the message you stated in the title area. Still, ensure that whatever
material you include whether verbal or visual stands on its own. If you remove key
labels or shorten texts to a few cryptic words, your audience will not know what you mean.
As in other documents, language mistakes in slides can distract the audience from your
content. Revise your slides as carefully as you revise your papers.
4.3Delivering Your Oral Presentation

Standing next to the screen, John can steer the audience's attention toward the current slide by
pointing at it with his hand and looking at it briefly, then get the attention back to himself by
looking at the audience again.

Delivering effective oral presentations involves three components: what you say (verbal),
how you say it with your voice (vocal), and everything the audience can see about you
(visual). For all three components, maximize the signal-to-noise ratio: Amplify what helps,
filter out what hurts.

Verbally (and as a general rule), do not write down and memorize or read your full text,
because then your presentation will sound like what it is: a recited written text. Instead,
memorize the outline of your presentation that is, a tree structure of main points and
subpoints and speak ex tempore, reinventing the words as you go along. As you do, you
will occasionally need to think about what to say next and find the most appropriate words
to say it. Instead of using filler words (um, er, you know, I mean, etc.), simply pause. If you
say um, you get about half a second of thinking time and the audience is likely to notice the
um and be irritated by it. If you keep silent, you can get up to two or three seconds of thinking
time without the audience noticing anything. Even if attendees do notice the silence, they
will simply think that you are choosing your words carefully and there is nothing wrong
with that.

Despite pointing often at the screen, Marie nicely faces the audience with her body at all times,
keeps her hands down between gestures, and maintains eye contact with the attendees.

Vocally, vary the tone, rate, and volume of your voice as a function of the meaning,
complexity, and importance of what you are saying. You need not invent a new intonation
pattern: You simply need to amplify your normal pattern.
Visually, control your body. Adopt a stable, confident position; move only when you have a
positive reason to do so (for example, move closer to the audience for taking questions), not
when your body seems to ask for it. When you make a gesture, make it large and deliberate;
between gestures, bring your hands down and do not fidget. Establish eye contact: Engage
the audience by looking them straight in the eyes.

At all times, make sure you address the audience. Even if you have slides, tell the audience
your story in a stand-alone way; do not just explain your slides. In particular, anticipate your
slides. You should know at all times what your next slide is about so you can insert an
appropriate transition.

Delivering as a non-native speaker

To keep the audience engaged , Jean-luc emphasizes his points with facial expressions, purposeful
gestures, and especially a high dynamic range in his vocal delivery.

If you are a non-native speaker of English, you may find it more challenging to speak ex
tempore in English than in your native language. Still, even imperfect extemporaneous
English is more likely to engage the audience than reciting a more polished, less spontaneous
written text. To improve your delivery and overall presentation as a non-native speaker,
practice more, pace yourself, and support your spoken discourse with appropriate slides.

While all speakers benefit from practicing their presentations multiple times, consider
investing more time in such practice if you are less familiar with the language. Practicing
helps you identify missing vocabulary, including key technical terms (which are difficult to
circumvent), and express your ideas more fluently. As you practice, you may want to prepare
a list of difficult words (to review on the day of your presentation) or write down an
occasional complex yet crucial sentence. Still, do not feel bound to what you write down.
These notes should be a help, not a constraint.
Practicing in front of an audience (a few colleagues, for example) can help you correct or
refine your pronunciation. If you are unsure how to pronounce some words or phrases, you
can ask native speakers in advance or check online dictionaries that offer phonetic spelling
or audio rendering. Still, you may be unaware of certain words you mispronounce; a practice
audience can point these words out to you if you invite it to do so.

During your presentation, pace yourself. As a non-native speaker, you may feel you need to
search for your words more often or for a longer time than in your native language, but the
mechanism is the same. Do not let this challenge pressure you. Give yourself the time you
need to express your ideas clearly. Silence is not your enemy; it is your friend.

Pacing yourself also means speaking more slowly than you otherwise might, especially if
you have an accent in English. Accents are common among non-native speakers and
among specific groups of native speakers, too and they are not a problem as long as they
are mild. Often, they are experienced as charming. Still, they take some getting used to.
Remember to slow down, especially at the beginning of a presentation, so your audience can
get used to your accent, whether native or not.

As a non-native speaker or when speaking in front of a non-native audience, consider

supporting your presentation with slides. Effective slides (see Creating Presentation Slides)
get the message across on their own, so if attendees do not understand what you are saying,
they can still get your point from your slides. If your spoken English is imperfect or if their
understanding of English is limited, attendees are more likely to get the point from the slides
(verbal statements, illustrated visually) than from your spoken text. If you have a strong
accent or are prone to mispronounce key terms, you may want to include these terms on your
slides, integrating them as naturally as possible with the rest of the slide content. Then, as
you say a term for the first time, you might point to it casually on the slide so the audience
makes the connection between the term and how you say it.
Handling stage fright and mishaps
Most speakers, even experienced ones, are nervous before or during an oral presentation.
Such stage fright is normal and even reassuring: It shows that you care, and you should care
if you want to deliver an effective presentation. Accordingly, accept your stage fright rather
than feeling guilty about it. Instead of trying to suppress nervousness, strive to focus your
nervous energy in your voice, your gestures, and your eye contact. Do not let it dissipate into
entropy, such as by using filler words or engaging in nervous mannerisms.

Among the many ways to keep your nerves under control, perhaps the most effective one is
to focus constructively on your purpose at all times. Before your presentation, eliminate all
the unknowns: Prepare your presentation well, identify (or even meet) your audience, and
know the room. During the presentation, do what it takes to get your message across, even if
it means doing something differently than you had planned. Have a positive attitude about
the presentation at all times: Visualize what you want to achieve, not what you want to avoid.
Even with careful preparation, mishaps can occur. For example, technology may fail, you
may forget what you wanted to say, or you may accidentally say the wrong thing. As a rule,
do not apologize for what happens neither in advance nor after the fact. Although well-
meant, such apologies provide no benefit to the audience: They are noise. If you can do
something about the problem, such as fix the technology or insert what you forgot later in
the presentation, concentrate on doing so instead of apologizing. If the problem is out of your
control, then there is no need to apologize for it. As a specific example, if you feel your
command of English is poor, then do what you can in advance to improve it; in particular,
practice your presentation thoroughly. Then, on the day of the presentation, do your best with
the command you have, but do not apologize at the beginning of the presentation for what
you think is poor English. This apology will not solve anything, and it gives the attendees a
negative image of you. Rather, let the attendees judge for themselves whether your command
of English is sufficient (perhaps it is, despite what you might think). In other words, focus on
delivering results, not excuses.
4.4Answering Questions
The questions that arise after a presentation may frighten you even more than the presentation
itself, yet they are a great opportunity to reinforce your main message, correct any
misunderstandings, and provide supplementary content. You can increase your effectiveness
by preparing for questions and by giving yourself the time to answer optimally.

To prepare for questions, anticipate them. Think of what your audience might want to know
for example, details you initially planned to include but left out to keep your presentation
under the time limit. Practice your presentation in front of colleagues and let them ask you
questions. If you think slides would help you answer some of the anticipated questions,
consider creating them.

When receiving a question, do not rush into answering it. First, listen to the entire question
to make sure you understand it; do not interrupt the questioner. Then, make sure the other
attendees understand the question: If they might not have heard it, repeat it; if they heard it
but might not understand it, rephrase it. Finally, and even if you know the answer, think:
Take time to construct a concise, to-the-point answer. You will not appear more
knowledgeable by answering questions quickly; you reveal your expertise by answering them

When taking questions, Marie listens carefully, occasionally asking a question for clarification. She
can then provide a more useful answer, one that is short and to the point.

In most situations (Ph.D. defenses being a possible exception), the questions that follow a
presentation are not an exam. In other words, attendees do not ask questions to test you;
rather, they ask questions because they would like to know the answers. Accordingly, do
what you can to help your audience in one way or another. If you do not know the answer,
say so, then try to find it. You might offer to look it up ("I do not have the numbers with me,
but if you leave me your e-mail address, I can look them up and send you the answer later.").
You might refer the questioner to someone who might have an answer ("Oh, that is a strongly
biological question. I am a chemist myself, so my work focuses on the chemical processes
involved. Is there a biologist in the room who can answer this question?"). You might even
guess, as long as you make it clear that your answer is a guess ("I have never calculated it in
the case you mention, but if I had to give you an answer right now, I would guess . . . around
5 mV.").

Oral presentations, like any other form of professional communication, are about getting
messages across. To make sure you focus on the so what, create your oral presentation in
top-down fashion. First, identify your need (why something needed to be done), your task
(what you did to address the need), and your main message (the one sentence you want your
audience to remember, if they remember only one). Then construct your body as a hierarchy
of main points and subpoints that support your main message. Be selective: Do not try to say
everything you would write (or have written) in a paper. Develop your main message more
fully in your conclusion. Encapsulate your presentation with an attention getter and a close.
Finally, reveal the structure of the body to your audience with a preview at the end of the
opening (after the main message), transitions between points and between subpoints, and a
review at the beginning of the closing (before the conclusion).

If you decide to support your presentation with slides, do them right: Slides are optional, so
there is no excuse for poor slides. With each slide, get a message across. State that message
verbally in the title area as a short sentence (1015 words on a maximum of two lines).
Illustrate the message visually in the rest of the slide. Be concise, both verbally and visually:
Question the relevance of anything you plan to include on your slide, especially decoration
(backgrounds, colors, lines, etc.).

When practicing and eventually delivering your presentation to your audience, strive for a
high signal-to-noise ratio. Increase the signal: Modulate your voice for meaning, complexity,
and importance; make large, deliberate gestures; and look at your audience. In parallel,
reduce the noise: Avoid filler words (um, er, you know, etc.), and do not pace or fidget.
Address the audience do not merely explain your slides.
When taking questions, do not rush: Take time to understand and to make sure the audience
understands each question, and think before you answer. When fielding difficult questions
in particular, questions you do not know the answer to focus on your purpose. Strive
to help people, not to impress them falsely.

Finally, accept unavoidable stage fright as a reassuring symptom and a useful source of
energy, but learn to channel this energy where it is useful, lest it dissipate into entropy.

4.6Test Your Knowledge

Now that you have learned about giving oral presentations, put your knowledge to the test.
This test contains 8 questions.

4.7Learning Activities
Now that you have put your knowledge of giving oral presentations to the test, try your hand
at these learning activities.

A1 When you have completed a first draft of your presentation slides, improve them by
printing them six on a page; holding these pages like you would any printed document; and
reading all text items, including labels in illustrations. Identify those items that are too small
for you to read on these pages, as they will likely be too small for your audience to read on
the projection screen. Next, review your slides and identify all items you could remove
without loss of information: a background picture or pattern, purely decorative lines or colors,
a corporate logo on every slide, unnecessary words or font variations, etc. Then go back to
your computer and edit all items you have identified.

A2 When you believe your slides are ready, give them to someone else, such as a
colleague, and ask this person to tell you for each slide if the what and the so what are clear.
For example, if the person does not know what a given drawing represents, some information
(what) is missing: You should probably add labels. In contrast, if the person knows what a
drawing represents but does not know what you are trying to tell your audience with this
drawing, the message (so what) is missing: You most likely need to change the slide's title to
make a statement.

A3 As you practice giving a presentation supported by slides, do so at least once without

your slides to be sure you can anticipate your slides during the presentation and, ultimately,
that you will be able to go on no matter what. You can either pretend that your slides are
projected next to you and point at them as if they were there or imagine that all the equipment
broke down and you must go on without slides. Whatever you do, do not have your slides in
view on your computer screen or on a printout: practice entirely without slides.

A4 To get rid of systematic delivery shortcomings, for example using filler words such as
um, gather a few friends or colleagues (two or three is enough) and ask them to make you
speak on simple topics, as with the prompt "Tell us about your apartment." Every time you
show the undesired behavior (in this example, by saying um), they should let you know
without interrupting you, as by snapping their fingers. By focusing on the ums, you should
progressively be able to anticipate them and eliminate them. Focus on one shortcoming at a
time: If you are working on your ums, do not worry about body stability, eye contact, etc.
Keep doing the exercise until the desired behavior becomes automatic. One session of 15
minutes per shortcoming typically suffices.

A5 When you are bored by a presentation you are attending, conduct an evaluation of the
speaker. Take out a piece of paper and a pencil and write down your comments in three
categories: structure, slides, and delivery. For structure, check for the presence of the
elements discussed in this module (see Structuring Your Oral Presentation). For slides, check
if each of them conveys a message, develops it visually, and avoids unnecessary or distracting
items. Write down any frustrations, such as overly small text, poor color contrast, and unclear
drawings. For delivery, identify the quality of the signal (intonation, gestures, eye contact,
etc.) and the sources of noise (filler words, pacing, fidgeting, etc.). Draw lessons for your
own presentations from what you observe. If the speaker is a friend or colleague, offer to
share your analysis (tactfully) with him or her.
Scientific conferences and related gatherings offer plenty of formal opportunities to interact
with other scientists. At a conference, you may be asked to present a poster, which is your
chance to discuss your topic in more depth with interested attendees. At some point, you may
also be called upon to chair a presentation session. Finally, you may be invited to take part
in or perhaps even moderate a panel discussion.

Moments of interaction are harder to prepare for than one-way presentations, and too many
scientists forgo this preparation altogether. Is it not enough to be there, be yourself, and do
the best you can? Can you actually prepare something when you do not know what questions
you will be asked or what situations you will face? Of course you can. This unit shows you

5.1Giving Poster Presentations

Poster presentations may not seem as prestigious as oral presentations, but they are a great
opportunity to interact with other scientists in your field in a reasonably structured way. Just
like oral presentations, they force you to crystallize your thoughts about your research and,
in this way, focus on its essence. After the conference, you can usually hang your poster in
the hallway of your laboratory. Thus, you promote your work to passersby and have a support
at hand if you must unexpectedly present your research to visitors.

Being accepted for a poster session at a conference means you must first create the poster
itself, then prepare to interact with visitors during the session. At some conferences, you may
also have a chance to promote your poster through an extremely brief oral presentation.

Creating your poster

Typically, the scientists who attend a poster session are wandering through a room full of
posters, full of people, and full of noise. Unless they have decided in advance which posters
or presenters to seek out, they will stop at whatever catches their eyes or ears, listening in on
explanations given to other people and perhaps asking an occasional question of their own.
They may not be able to see each poster clearly for example, they may be viewing it from
a meter's distance, from a sharp angle of incidence, or over someone else's shoulder. In such
situations, they will not want to read much text on the poster not any more than attendees
at a presentation will want to read much text on a slide.

Accordingly, you should design your poster more like a set of slides than like a paper, using
all the recommendations given for slides earlier in this series (see Creating Presentation
Slides). Strive to get your messages across in a stand-alone way: State each message as a
short sentence, then illustrate it as visually as possible. In fact, one simple way to prepare a
poster is to create a set of slides, print them full-size on A4 or US-letter-size paper, and pin
the sheets next to one another like a comic strip.

If you are designing your poster as one large sheet rather than a juxtaposition of small ones,
you have more freedom in the way you organize your poster. Use this freedom to reveal the
overall structure of your content; doing so is easier with a single sheet than with a sequence
of slides. In particular, organize related pieces of content in coherent visual units. Resist the
temptation to place information "wherever it fits" in a desperate attempt to include as many
details as possible. Instead of crowding your poster, be selective in what you include so you
have the spatial freedom to organize your material into a logical structure that is recognizable
at a glance. Also, as on slides, question the usefulness of anything you plan to use, especially
frames, arrows, and colors.

Scientists often feel obliged to include a large amount of factual information on their posters:
their affiliation (with postal address, e-mail address, telephone number, etc.), bibliographical
references, funding sources, and the like. Although visitors may well want to take all or part
of this information home, few of them actually want to read it on a poster, let alone write it
on a notepad while standing in front of a poster. Such information is therefore best placed in
a one-page handout that is available at the poster's location perhaps with a reduced version
of the poster on the other side. If these details are included on the poster itself, they should
be out of the way, such as in the top-right corner or at the very bottom, so they do not interrupt
the logical flow of content on the poster.
Presenting your poster
Even though a well-designed poster stands on its own, you can add value to it through your
explanations and answers. Make sure visitors can link you to your poster: Position yourself
next to it and wear your name badge visibly. Do not just stand there, however take steps
to attract visitors to your poster, interact with them, and wrap up the exchange before they
move on.

As people start entering the room, reach out to them. Standing shyly next to your poster,
waiting for questions while hoping not to get any, is not helpful to anyone. Instead, make eye
contact with the people who pass, smile at them, and greet them with an inviting "hello" or
"welcome." If visitors do come to your poster, give them a moment to take it in, then make
it clear that you are available for discussion: Volunteer to answer questions ("If you have any
questions, I'll be happy to take them.") or offer to tell your story ("Would you like me to
explain the poster?").

When explaining your poster, be brief. You do not have a captive audience: With so many
posters to see, visitors have only limited time for yours. If they need more information, they
will let you know by asking focused questions. At that point, feel free to go into details with
more specialized or more interested individuals, but also be aware of other people who may
be waiting to ask you different questions they may not wait long before deciding to move
on. Strike a balance between talking in more depth with a few people and talking in less depth
with more people. Be ready to give the same explanations many times as new people replace
those who move on to other posters. Maintain your enthusiasm all the way to the end of the
session: The last person to see your poster might be just as important as the first.

As visitors indicate their intention to move on (usually with "Thank you"), close the
interaction on a positive note (such as by saying "My pleasure" or "Thank you for stopping
by") and, if you have not yet done so, exchange business cards or offer them a handout. If
you have made your poster or supporting material available on a Web page, be sure to display
the URL of this page prominently on your handout.
Promoting your poster
At some conferences, you will be offered the chance to promote your poster by saying a few
words about it in an extremely brief oral presentation sometimes as brief as one minute.
Should you have more time (say, five minutes), you can certainly prepare a short yet full-
fledged presentation as recommended elsewhere in this series (see Structuring Your Oral
Presentation), with an opening, a body, and a closing; you can thus cover almost everything
in your poster and, implicitly, invite attendees to join you in the poster session for a more
detailed discussion. In only a minute or two, however, you cannot hope to cover as much.
You must therefore aim to make people curious about your work curious enough to come
and see your poster. You might limit your comments to the opening of a presentation, with
specific focus on the need (Why should they care?), the task (What did you do about the
need?), and the main message.

Even without a formal opportunity to promote your poster, and especially when your poster
session is later in the conference, you may have many informal moments to introduce your
work through chance encounters during coffee breaks or social events. Instead of giving
people business cards, you might prepare and distribute small, bookmark-like handouts with
your name, affiliation, e-mail, and an invitation to come and see your poster.

No matter how you tell others about your work, make sure you identify your poster clearly,
such as by its number. There is no point in promoting your poster if people cannot find it

5.2Chairing Sessions
Chairing a session at a conference involves more than reading biographical sketches out loud
or interrupting speakers when their time is up. An effective chairperson creates a sense of
coherence throughout the (sometimes diverse) presentations. He or she brings the speakers
closer to the audience by introducing them warmly, ensures that everything runs smoothly,
and wraps up the session in a way that leaves everyone feeling good about it.
Accordingly, chairing a session is not something you improvise. Rather, it is something you
prepare for carefully as carefully as a presentation. How can you introduce speakers in a
sincere and interesting way if you have never met them? How can you pronounce their names
correctly if you have not asked for their preferred pronunciation? By being prepared,
welcoming, and enthusiastic, you make a session more engaging.

Chairing a session is not about looking smart: It is about making everyone else look smart
both the speakers and the attendees. Be firm when you need to, but always be constructive,
respectful, and professional. When speaking, be visible, but discreetly so. Place yourself on
one side rather than center stage. If the speaker is standing on one side, place yourself on the
opposite side. Establish eye contact with whoever you are talking to (primarily the audience).
When not speaking, be invisible if you can: Sit down or stand at the back of the room while
speakers are presenting. If you are standing to manage questions and answers, move out of
the way when speakers are answering questions. Most importantly, look at whoever is
speaking, whether that person is an attendee asking a question or a speaker answering one.

Introducing the session

As a chairperson, you must introduce the session before you introduce the first speaker. Let
the audience know what the session is about, how it relates to or differs from other sessions
at the conference, and how it is going to take place. By introducing the session, you are
providing the audience with a global view that will help them assimilate the details. By
making the audience feel welcome, you also incline them favorably toward the speakers.

Normally, the various speakers at a session have been grouped for a reason namely that
the topics they address fit within the same theme. This theme may be reflected in the title of
the session (although not all sessions have a title), and it may or may not be clear to the
audience. As a chairperson, start by letting the audience know about the session's theme.
Ideally, preview the session's presentations; in other words, announce all of them upfront, in
the right sequence. At this point, however, it is not necessary to mention the speakers' names
or the exact titles of the presentations. Instead, show the internal logic of the session by
announcing the topics. Here is an example:
This session on the rheology of polymer extrusion will bring together presentations on both
measurements and numerical simulations. The first two presentations will report on extrusion
experiments with novel screw designs: the first for simple extrusion and the second for
coextrusion. Then, the remaining three presentations will show advanced finite-element
simulations of the flow of material around the extrusion screw: the first of these three will . .
Before or after announcing the theme and previewing the presentations, show how the session
fits into the overall conference by relating it to other sessions. That is, show how the session
continues, or departs from, themes already covered in previous sessions so the audience can
form a global view of both the session and the conference as a whole. You might say
something like this:

This morning, we heard about polymer rheology in general and about . . . In this first
afternoon session, we are focusing on the rheology of one specific type of polymer
processing, namely extrusion.

At some point in your introduction, let the audience know how the session is going to take
place. Typically, the audience wants to know how long the session will be; whether there
will be a break and, if so, at what time; how many speakers there will be; how you plan to
take questions (that is, after each presentation or at the end of the session); etc. You may also
remind attendees to turn off their mobile phones, fill out evaluation forms for each speaker,
and so on. Reassuring the audience about such practical details will help them give their
undivided attention to the speakers.

Introducing the speakers

Introducing a speaker is much more than reading his or her name and the title of his or her
presentation out loud from a piece of paper. Typically, this information is shown on the
speaker's first slide (projected on the screen at that moment), and attendees can read it for
themselves. Therefore, your introduction will be more useful to the audience if you add
something about both the speaker and the topic that they cannot read on the screen.
Conferences are networking opportunities: They are about meeting people as much as they
are about learning about the latest developments. As a chairperson, you can help the
networking process by introducing speakers usefully. Do say the speaker's name out loud, if
only to show the audience how it is pronounced, but do not stop there. Place the speaker in
context; for example, say which institution he or she comes from (and, within this institution,
perhaps which or whose research group), which degrees he or she holds from which
universities, or what his or her research interests are. Here is an example:

Our next speaker is Markus Grossgrabenstein. Markus is originally from Germany. He

graduated two years ago as a mechanical engineer from Heidelberg University, and he is now
conducting research on combustion-generated nanoparticles in Albert Wang's group at
Stanford University.

Depending on the context, it may be appropriate (and appreciated) to say something more
personal about the speaker, especially if you know him or her personally. You might mention
an anecdote that reflects positively on the speaker, shows him or her in a different light, or is
amusing without being disrespectful. Such anecdotes, if kept short and good-humored, help
break the ice and create a connection between the audience and the speaker. In fact, speakers
are usually willing to provide interesting personal details or stories if you press them gently.
For example, you might say this:

Markus is not only a combustion expert he is also a juggler: He can keep any four things
in the air for as long as you want. I had the chance to see him in action at last year's conference
banquet, where he suddenly started juggling four dessert plates very impressive. Right
now, however, he is not here to demonstrate juggling, but rather to tell us about . . .

If you are introducing someone well-known or, more generally, if you expect applause at the
mention of the person's name, consider saying the name last, not first, to avoid interference.
In addition to doing this for speakers, you might do so for laureates or nominees, as in the
following example:
Our next award winner is from Argentina. She has been in the field for more than 25 years,
has delighted you with her witty presentations at our conferences, and has impacted
generations of students with her now famous textbook on . . . For a lifetime of achievements
in . . . , our society is pleased to present the K. Chang Award to Ofelia Quino Mendieta.

In this video, Wout De Cort is introducing both the afternoon session of a \"Ph.D. day\" and the first
speaker at this session (Marie Verbist). Given the composition of the audience (mostly Ph.D. students)
and the purpose of the day (to create links among students from different departments in science and
engineering), Wout is not afraid to add some personal information about Marie or to use humor.
However, he did check with Marie ahead of time to make sure what he planned to say was okay with

When introducing speakers, it is often difficult to choose the appropriate level of formality.
Should you refer to Susan Johnson as Dr. Johnson, as Susan, or even as Sue? The answer
depends on many factors, including the conference tradition (what do other chairpeople do?),
the atmosphere you are trying to create in your own session (formal or informal), and the
relationship you have with the speakers. One defendable option is to refer to speakers in front
of the audience in the same way you would address them in private. For example, if you
know Susan Johnson well and normally address her as Sue, it is natural to refer to her in that
way. Still, say her full name first, possibly with her title ("Our next speaker is Dr. Susan
Johnson") before going on ("Sue and I both graduated from the University of Sydney . . . ").
If you are unsure what to do, being more formal is usually safer than being less formal.

Finally, besides introducing the speaker, introduce the topic of the talk. Doing so requires
more than just saying the title of the talk out loud. Rather, you must connect this topic to
other topics in your session just like you connect this session to other sessions at the
conference. Consider the following example.

Thank you again, Ana, for this eye-opening toxicological study. Now that we know how
toxic combustion-generated nanoparticles can be, the question we all have in our head is,
"What do we do about them?" This is a question that the next presentation is going to try to
answer. Our next speaker is . . .

Managing time
As session chairperson, you are responsible for managing time. To avoid stealing time from
the audience, you must ensure that the session ends on schedule. To this end, and to avoid
stealing time from other speakers, you must ensure that each speaker stays within the agreed-
upon time limit for both the presentation itself and the question and answer period.

Keeping speakers within their time limit is no easy task. Most speakers plan to include too
much information and, when reminded of how little time they have left, they try to say
everything as quickly as possible instead of being selective. To help prevent this from
happening, be gentle but firm. Just before the session, remind speakers of their time limit and
agree with them on time signals. For example, to indicate when they have two minutes left,
you might raise your hand with two fingers up from the back of the room. This visual signal
is less disruptive to the audience than an auditory signal, such as saying out loud "two minutes
left." When the speaker's time is up, indicate this by standing up. If a speaker tries to continue,
press him or her to finish, for example by saying "Can you please come to your conclusion?"
If all else fails, interrupt the speaker, such as by saying "Your time is up; I must ask you to
stop." Interrupting someone is an unpleasant but important task. Do it respectfully, but
do it.

If the session is falling behind schedule for any reason, you unfortunately have few options
to remedy the situation. Asking speakers to speak for less than the time they prepared for is
unrealistic and will be experienced as unfair. If necessary, reduce the time foreseen for
questions and answers, and encourage the audience to delay any questions for private
conversations with the speakers. You might also reduce your introductions of the speakers
by eliminating nonessential details. Sometimes, but not always, you also have the option to
shorten any breaks.
When planning the time of your session, keep in mind not only the presentations themselves
and the questions and answers, but also the time you need to introduce the session and the
speakers and to wrap up the session. These durations may be short, but they are nonzero:
Added up, they definitely impact the overall length of your session.

Managing questions and answers

As chairperson, you can handle questions and answers more or less authoritatively. You can
designate who may ask a question and when, repeat or rephrase questions as needed, and so
on. You can also let the speaker manage the questions himself or herself. The choice depends
on your own preference and on the speaker's capacity to manage the situation; it may even
be different for different speakers in the same session. No matter which option you choose,
however, you remain responsible for three primary tasks: encouraging questions, managing
time, and tackling any issues.

At the end of the presentation, let the audience applaud first (give the signal by applauding
yourself). Then, if there is time, encourage the audience to ask questions. Do not assume too
quickly that there are no questions: After listening passively for a while, attendees may need
a few moments to think of a question and to build the courage to ask the first question.
Instead of saying something such as "Well, since there are no questions, let's move on,"
gently press the audience for questions. Show that you mean it: Leave a silence for them to
think, or use humor (perhaps with a cheerful "Ah, come on now: Who is courageous enough
to ask the first question?"). In contrast, resist the temptation to ask the first question yourself.
Even if you mean to set an example for the audience, you will actually be keeping the focus
on the speaker's area instead of shifting it to the audience.

Once the question and answer process is launched, you might get many questions too
many for the time allotted. Keep track of time, and announce the end of the period in advance,
such as by saying "We have time for two more questions" or simply "Last question." If some
attendees did not get a chance to ask their questions, encourage them to talk to the speaker
after the session. As the speaker is gathering his or her belongings and going back to his or
her seat, feel free to thank him or her with a nice word and a second round of applause:
"Thank you again, Vn Anh, for this enlightening presentation.".

Even if you let a speaker handle questions mostly on his or her own, you are responsible for
the process as a whole. If anything goes wrong, be ready to intervene. For example, if there
is little time for questions and the first attendee asks five questions at once, say something
such as "We need to give other attendees a chance to ask questions, too," and encourage the
speaker to answer only one of this person's questions at this point. Similarly, if attendees end
up starting a speech of their own under the guise of asking questions, feel free to interrupt,
asking them "So, what exactly is your question?".

Wrapping up the session

After the last presentation, wrap up the session with a pattern similar to the one used to
introduce it. Just as you previewed the presentations, recap them; for example, restate the
main message of each presentation, or draw overall conclusions from the session as a whole.
Once again connect the session to the rest of conference, in part by announcing upcoming
sessions ("If you are interested in polymer extrusion, then do not miss Wednesday's session
on . . . "). Provide the final pieces of practical information to the audience, such as where to
submit the filled-out evaluation sheets or where the coffee break will take place. End on a
positive note, with a sentence such as "Enjoy your lunch" or "I hope to see many of you at
our awards ceremony tonight."

5.3Panel Discussions
Panel discussions at conferences are a useful way to trigger an exchange of viewpoints
among experts, either with prepared statements or in response to questions from the audience.
Because they involve on-the-spot interaction, they are more difficult to prepare for than
presentations. Because they may involve divergence of viewpoints and possibly competition
for speaking time, they are also more difficult to manage than the normal questions at the end
of a presentation. For the same reasons, they are more challenging to moderate than a regular
conference session.
Panels are teams. Whether or not panelists agree on all issues, they can and should work
together to create an interesting discussion for the audience. If you are a panelist, play the
part prepare well and participate well. If you are the moderator, direct your team well,
from the beginning of the session to the end.

Preparing for the panel

Panels can take many forms. When invited to be on a panel, ask about the format. What
exactly will the discussion be about? Are you supposed to deliver a prepared statement to
open the discussion, or are you only supposed to answer questions? Will someone introduce
you, or are you supposed to introduce yourself? Who will be asking the questions: the
audience, the moderator, or the other panel participants? Are some of the questions known
in advance? Will the moderator designate who on the panel should answer a given question,
or can any panel member offer a response? Most importantly, who are the other panelists?
The answers to these questions will help you prepare appropriately.

As for a presentation, when preparing for a panel discussion, you can imagine the questions
you will likely receive and be ready to answer them. Unlike for a presentation, however, you
will be next to other people who may answer the same questions in different ways. Gathering
your thoughts on the topic is, therefore, not enough: You should also research the other
panelists' positions if you want to be ready for discussion.

Even if you cannot prepare an answer for every possible question, you can anticipate
categories of questions and prepare, for each category, a few messages you would like to get
across. As you select these messages, think of how you can convince your audience of them,
such as by using evidence or examples. Because panel discussions are more like
conversations, they lend themselves well to a slightly less formal tone than presentations. In
particular, they are a good place for supporting messages with short but relevant stories
(successes, failures, lessons learned, and so on).

Finally, even if you anticipate divergences of viewpoint, remember that a panel discussion is
not a contest: You should work constructively with the other panelists to deliver an
interesting experience to the audience. Try to meet the other panelists ahead of time so you
can learn who is who, have a feel for who each panelist is, and build rapport. Even a brief
chat just before the session will reduce your stage fright and help ensure a smoother

Participating in the discussion

During the discussion itself, follow the moderator's instructions. As a rule, speak only when
invited to, but feel free to give signals to the moderator when you would like to contribute to
the discussion. When you are speaking, keep it short: A panel discussion is about exchanges,
not monologues. Make explicit links to what other panelists have said whenever you add to
or disagree with their contributions. When you are not speaking, listen attentively to what
others are saying: Make written or mental notes. As much as possible, be a member of the
team: Strive to advance the discussion, not your own interests. If the moderator allows, feel
free to hand over to another panelist at the end of a contribution, such as by saying "This is
our usual approach at our institution, but I would be interested to hear about Dr. Brook's
experience with this issue.".

Panel discussions are not exams. If you do not know the answer to a question, dare to say so;
do not ramble on or attempt to answer another question instead. Similarly, if you believe
someone else on the panel is more qualified than you are to answer a particular question, say
so, although prudently (for example, "I have never looked at this phenomenon myself, but
perhaps Dr. Yu has?").

As with all oral communication, work on eye contact. When speaking (and only when
speaking), look at the audience though perhaps briefly at other panelists when referring to
what they said or when handing over to them. When not speaking, look at whoever is
speaking. In this way, if attendees look at you, they will follow your gaze to whatever panelist
is speaking, and that person will then benefit from their eye contact.
Moderating the discussion
Moderating a panel discussion is much harder than being a panelist or even chairing a regular
conference session. In addition to all the tasks involved in being a chairperson, such as
introducing the session and the speakers (see Chairing Sessions), you also must launch,
moderate, and summarize the discussion.

To launch the discussion, ask the panelists simple questions perhaps questions you told
them in advance you were going to ask. Limit the number of prepared questions, however:
These usually trigger unconnected rehearsed answers from the panelists, not a true
discussion. If the idea is to take questions from the attendees, encourage them to start asking
early: The longer you alone ask questions, the harder it is for the attendees to gather the
courage to ask some.

Once the discussion process is underway, facilitate it and encourage interaction. Designate
who will answer a particular question ("Jianyun, would you like to answer this one?").
Encourage other panelists to comment on the first person's response ("Thanks, Jianyun.
Sergey, do you share Jianyun's opinion?" or "Sergey, would you like to add anything to
Jianyun's comment?"). As a rule, though, do not let panelists interrupt one another: Allow
one panelist to finish his or her contribution before you designate or allow another panelist
to react. Rephrase answers, especially diffuse ones ("So, if I understand correctly, you are
saying that . . . "). Use these types of rephrased answers to launch follow-up questions ("In
that case, then, wouldn't you agree that . . . ?"). If attendees are keen to ask many questions,
guide them to keep the discussion focused ("Before we move to another aspect, any more
questions related to . . . ?"); prevent them from interrupting panelists with follow-up
questions, too. Feel free to take notes during the discussion. As always, manage the time
("Ahmed, do you have a two-minute answer to this one?").

At the end of the session, and perhaps at various points throughout it, summarize. Provide
the audience with an integrated view of what has been said one they can more easily
remember than the detailed discussion. Point out the convergences and divergences of
viewpoints while remaining neutral yourself. If possible, offer an overall conclusion from the
discussion. If time allows, check your summary with the panelists ("Frauke, did I correctly
render your viewpoint here?") and/or allow them a final statement ("Any last words, anyone?
Pedro, what about you?").

As when chairing a session, insist on meeting panelists ahead of time to make sure everyone
is clear on the process and to make final arrangements. Normally, you or another organizer
will have sent the panelists guidelines well in advance, specifying what they must prepare
(biographical information, answers to announced questions, etc.) and what the rules are (Can
they use slides? If so, how many?, etc.). Still, go over the process again immediately before
the session to avoid surprises. Make sure all panel members know who the other members
are, who sits where, who speaks first, and so on. Test the equipment, especially the
microphones all of them.

When it comes to interactive moments at a conference discussing your poster, chairing a
session, or moderating a panel discussion you must not only master the content but also
manage the process. You must launch the interaction, guide it, and wrap it up. To be able to
do so smoothly, you must prepare well, and you must do what you can to help other
participants be well prepared, too.

A poster presentation is a form of oral communication. Accordingly, design your poster like
a set of slides rather than a paper. Select a few messages and get them across by stating them
verbally and illustrating them visually. Organize these messages into a meaningful layout on
your poster. Relegate details to a handout. Then, at the conference but before your poster
session, take any chance you get to promote your poster: Make people curious about it,
encourage them to come see it, and make sure they can find it if they try. During the poster
session, be proactive. Invite attendees with a smile and a cheerful welcome. Strike up
conversation, manage the flow of questions and visitors, and be ready to repeat the same
explanations to different people. End each conversation on a positive note, ideally by giving
people a business card or, better yet, a handout.
Chairing a session is not an improvised task. To provide attendees with the global view they
need to structure their learning, take time to introduce and close the session, previewing or
recapping its contents and linking it to other sessions at the conference. To bring the speakers
closer to the audience, introduce them carefully, daring to break free from traditional, often
boring, conventions: Think about what the audience needs to know or might enjoy knowing,
as well as about what would make the speakers look good. For a smooth process, manage
time and questions gently but firmly. When speakers are in control, be discreet. When they
are in trouble, intervene.

Panel discussions are a team effort. Prepare not only for the topic or the questions you know
you will be asked, but also for the other panelists. Try to meet the other panelists before the
session begins. Make sure you are clear on the format and process. During the discussion,
follow the moderator's instructions (and give him or her hints if needed). Listen to what other
panelists are saying so you can build on their answers constructively, even if you disagree.
Keep the ball rolling: Make short contributions, hand over to other panelists (especially if
you have no answer to offer), and encourage exchanges of viewpoints.

If you must moderate a panel or, more generally, chair a session, insist on meeting the
panelists or speakers ahead of time, even if briefly, to go over the process, verify their
biographical information (including how to pronounce their names), and simply get to know
them. Much stress comes from the fear of the unknown and through a short briefing with
all people involved, you can eliminate many unknowns.

In all speaking situations, only the person currently speaking should make eye contact with
those spoken to, usually the audience. If you are visible to the audience but not speaking,
look at whoever is speaking to help redirect other people's gazes to him or her. For example,
if you are being introduced, look at the chairperson introducing you, not at the audience. If
you are the chairperson, look at the audience when asking for questions, but look mostly at
the speaker while he or she is answering.
5.5Test Your Knowledge
Now that you have learned about interacting during conference sessions, put your knowledge
to the test.

This test contains 10 questions.

5.6Learning Activities
Now that you have put your knowledge of interacting during conference sessions to the test,
try your hand at these learning activities.

A1 At the next poster session you attend (or perhaps just in the hallway of your laboratory
if it displays enough posters), select a few posters and perform the following analysis. Stand
one meter away and identify what you can and cannot read on the poster from this distance.
Then identify what you feel like reading and what you do not. Ask yourself why: Is it the
amount of text, the typography, the presence of distracting elements, or other issues? Decide
how you could improve these posters and draw lessons for your own posters.

To make the above activity directly useful, carry it out on the draft poster of a colleague, then
share your analysis and proposed improvements with him or her.

A2 As you are about to create a poster, imagine that the conference has a new rule: Your
poster cannot include text except for five sentences with a maximum of 15 words each, but
it can include as many illustrations (drawings, photographs, etc.) as you wish. Which five
statements would optimally tell about your work to your audience? How would you illustrate
these statements? How would you arrange the five blocks (statement + illustrations) logically
on your poster? What you come up with is probably a good basis for your poster. Now relax
the rule slightly: Allow yourself just a few more statements, if useful, or a few words of
explanation in addition to the illustrations. Do so only if the proposed extra words really add
value to the poster.
A3 Imagine that you must introduce your best friend in exactly three minutes before her
presentation at a conference. Obviously, you want her to look her best on all counts: You
want the audience to think highly of her, to feel like listening to her, and to like her. Write
such a three-minute introduction. When you are ready with it, bring it down to exactly 90
seconds by cutting unnecessary or boring (even if conventional) details and by writing more
concisely. Look at what you would keep and what you cut out; keep it in mind when you
must introduce someone else.

A4 You have been asked to chair a session at a conference. Imagine everything that could
go wrong, from a microphone not working to a drunk (and loud) attendee disrupting a
presentation to a fire alarm interrupting the session. Make a short list of the 10 issues you are
most afraid of, then think of how you should react as a chairperson. If some of these reactions
involve resources other than yourself (the audiovisual support team, a fire extinguisher, etc.),
make sure you know how to secure these resources.

A5 Imagine you are taking part in a panel discussion. A respected scientific authority, also
on the panel, just stated that oral presentations at conferences are unavoidably boring for
most attendees, that this is inherent to today's high specialization, and that there is nothing
we can do about it. You disagree strongly; in fact, you think that this statement is nonsense:
Oral presentations can be fascinating, even to less specialized attendees, you just know it.
Find at least ten different ways to express your own opinion and show your disagreement
with this authoritative person without making him lose face in front of the audience. You can
combine words and intonation.

For centuries, the typical communication in the classroom has been lecturing: The one who
owns the knowledge (the instructor) is supposed to give it to those who do not (the students),
like someone pours liquid into empty glasses. This approach focuses on the activity of the
instructor (is he or she covering all the material?). Students are tested on their ability to
regurgitate what the instructor said.

Learning, however, requires an active step on the part of the students and is best measured
by what these students are able to do with the material (the so-called "learning outcomes").
In this view, the activity of the students is more important than that of the instructor: Learning
results from the interaction between the students and the material to be learned an
interaction the instructor can catalyze.

This unit will help you prepare for, run, and evaluate effective classroom sessions as part of
a course. It will help you define learning outcomes and design learning activities, create a
classroom atmosphere that is conducive to student activity and encourage this activity in all
possible ways, reveal the structure of the course to the students, and evaluate your
performance as an instructor. It also provides tips on managing large groups.

6.1Preparing Your Sessions

"Well begun is half done," Aristotle said. Preparing your classroom sessions is as important
as running them. If you want to help students learn, you must first define learning outcomes,
then design learning activities that allow students to achieve these outcomes. As part of your
preparation, you must also take care of the learning environment, such as the room and any
required equipment.

Learning outcomes are the key to the whole process. They suggest activities you can design
and run for your students. They help you prioritize these activities and manage your time
during sessions. They allow you to evaluate your sessions and dictate the type of exam you
must organize to assess your students' learning.
Learning activities are activities students engage in: They are about what students do in the
classroom (and perhaps outside of it), not about what you do. Designing activities that are
adequate for the learning outcomes is the most important step. No matter how good a
facilitator you are, you will not be able to salvage an inadequate learning activity by
facilitation alone not any more than you can salvage a poorly designed oral presentation
by delivery alone.

Finally, the learning environment is an important success factor. Reserve an appropriate room
for the learning activities you have designed, and prepare or secure any equipment you need
for these activities.

Defining learning outcomes

To help students achieve specific learning outcomes, you must have a clear idea of what these
outcomes are. If you are a teaching assistant, you may have received a list of outcomes from
your professor. If you did not or if you are in charge of the course, you need to define them
for yourself.

A learning outcome is not the material to be learned: It is a capacity applied to that material.

As such, it is best expressed as a sentence that starts with:

By the end of the course, students should be able to . . .

And continues with a verb and an object, for example:

. . . balance a chemical equation.

The capacity can involve knowledge, skills, or even attitudes. Here are examples of verbs
you can use to write the corresponding types of learning outcomes.
define define the terms gene, chromosome, and allele
describe describe the method for measuring electrical resistance known as the Wheatstone bridge
identify identify the angle of incidence and the angle of refraction on a schematic diagram
list list the various organs in the human digestive tract
state state Heisenberg's uncertainly principle
Other examples: cite, explain, name

analyze analyze critically an abstract written by a classmate
apply apply the three laws of thermodynamics to . . .
design design an algorithm that . . .
measure measure the thickness of a wire with a laser beam
solve solve partial differential equations
Other examples: calculate, construct, create, critique, develop, evaluate, infer, interpret, plan,
predict, present, recognize, select, summarize, write

appreciate appreciate the importance of . . .
observe observe the safety rules for . . .
recognize recognize a situation in which they must . . .
Other examples: value, listen actively, be sensitive to

Define learning outcomes both for the course as a whole and for each module (such as each
classroom session) within the course. If you are a teaching assistant and have not been given
the outcomes by your professor, you can define them by using your best judgment, by asking
previous teaching assistants for the course, or by looking at the exam questions from previous
To be useful, a learning outcome must be specific and observable. In this respect, verbs such
as know, recall, and understand are best replaced by more observable alternatives, such as
cite, define, or describe. Besides the capacity to be developed, you can specify the means put
at the disposal of students (for example, "using pen and paper only") and the criteria used for
evaluating the capacity (for example, "in five minutes or less").

Designing learning activities

Once you have defined the learning outcomes, you can design learning activities that will
help your students develop the desired capacities. To a point, these activities are suggested
by the capacities themselves. For example, if one outcome states that "By the end of the
session, students must be able to solve a problem of chemical equilibrium," the activity must
have students working on problems involving chemical equilibria. The challenge for
preparing adequate activities is threefold:

To learn, students must be able to do what you ask them to do although perhaps with some
help and perhaps not the first time. As you design learning activities, consider their level of
difficulty and the means at the disposal of the students. In the above example, the activity
must probably go from simple to more challenging problems of chemical equilibria. You
might also provide a written summary of the method or allow students to use their textbook
or other resources during the session, possibly for the first few exercises only (depending on
the exact learning outcome).

To learn, students need feedback they must know whether what they do is correct, ideally
as they are doing it as opposed to after the fact. As you design learning activities, anticipate
how this feedback will be provided and by whom. Will the activity itself provide the means
for the students to evaluate their performance? Will students provide feedback to one
another? Will you provide it? If so, how?.

To learn, students must be motivated they must believe that the learning is worthwhile.
You can increase their motivation by designing learning activities that they can relate to. In
the above example, you might select cases of chemical equilibria that are part of their
everyday life or you might build a contextual scenario that makes your cases meaningful.

Once you have designed your learning activities, you can prepare a plan for your session.
Beyond the session's overall learning outcomes and a list of the equipment you will need,
draw up a table with three columns and as many rows as you have learning outcomes. In each
row, indicate the specific learning outcome you are striving to achieve, the corresponding
learning activity you designed, and the duration you foresee for this activity. Next to this
duration, you may want to add the time elapsed since the start of the session so you can easily
see at any time during your session whether you are on schedule.

Preparing your learning environment

Besides the learning activities, the learning environment is an important success factor in
achieving the learning outcomes, one that you can influence in many ways. Reserve a suitable
classroom, set up this room as you see fit, and prepare or secure any equipment you will

First, secure an appropriate room for the learning activities you have designed. For example,
if you want to capture an interaction with the group, you need something to write on: a
blackboard, whiteboard, or flip-chart. If you plan to have students work in subgroups, you
must be able to rearrange the tables and chairs. If you engage students in role-playing or other
activities for which they have to get up and do something, you may even prefer a classroom
without tables (chairs only) to encourage mobility.

In many universities and organizations, classrooms are at a premium; securing an appropriate

room for you session might be a challenge. Still, do not give up too easily: If you need a
different room than the one you have been assigned, ask for it, explaining what you need and
why. Consider alternatives to the rooms managed by the centralized facilities services, too:
Your department may have meeting rooms that are not officially listed as classrooms but that
you might be able to reserve for your sessions.
Next, set the room appropriately for your planned activities. Rearrange the tables and chairs
as you see fit: a hemicycle or U-shape for interacting with the whole group, small islands of
tables for activities in subgroups, and so on. Get rid of whatever stands in your way or might
distract students (many classrooms need some tidying up). Erase the board, optimize the
lighting and the temperature, and ventilate the room. By making students feel welcome, you
increase their motivation. By having everything ready for a productive session, you show
them that you are prepared and dedicated, and thus you set the tone for your sessions.

Finally, remember to prepare or secure any additional equipment you need for your activities:
a projector or a microphone, demonstration or practice material, or perhaps just chalk for the
blackboard. If you run many sessions or if you do not know what to expect in the classroom,
you may find it useful to carry your own set of basic necessities, including chalk and markers,
a travel clock, and an extension cord for any electrical equipment you plan to use.

6.2Running Your Sessions

Learning results from the interaction between students and the material to be learned.
Unfortunately, you cannot force it: You have no direct control on the learning itself. You
can, however, manage the two components of the learning interaction: students and material.
Supposedly, you already have expertise in the material to be taught you can explain it if
you must. More difficult and more important is managing your students by facilitating the
learning activities you will have them do. Having students be active is even more difficult
when the group is large.

An active learning approach requires an appropriate atmosphere. Students must feel that their
participation is encouraged. They must believe that they can try things and fail without losing
face, that is, without being judged by either their instructor or their classmates. They must be
convinced that achieving the learning outcomes is both possible and desirable for them. Such
an atmosphere is built and reinforced throughout the course. Still, whatever you can do to
"break the ice" early will make everything easier going forward.

Breaking the ice

To feel he or she is part of a group, an individual must share the nonverbal and verbal space
of this group. You can facilitate this process in two ways. First, set up your classroom in such
a way that no student is physically isolated, as by sitting far away from everyone else: To
encourage interaction, shorten the physical distance between students. Second, make each
student speak as early as possible: For example, ask students to introduce themselves at the
beginning of the first session. Such a round of introductions is also useful because it enables
you to collect relevant information and helps both you and the students learn who is who.
For the round of introductions, you might ask students to say the following:

Their (first) name, as a simple way to assert themselves;

Their situation or previous experience with the content, such as through related courses they
have already taken;

Their expectations or motivation for taking the course (if the course is elective);

Something more personal (yet not likely to elicit judgment), such as their favorite food or
favorite color.

By having the students introduce themselves as early as possible during the first session, by
listening actively to what they say, and by introducing yourself last, you send a strong
nonverbal message namely that the session will focus on students rather than you. Students
will then more easily feel like participating.

After clarifying who is who, eliminate the other unknowns about the course. Specify the
overall learning outcomes and all the practical details: when the class meets, what is expected
of the students during the course (in the classroom and outside of it) and at the end of it, when
you are available outside of class, etc. You can usefully put this practical information in
writing, typically online.
Facilitating your sessions
To learn, students must be active. In the classroom, focus on catalyzing their activity by
asking questions, making the students say and do, and running activities in subgroups.

For her session with her usual group of students, Marie-Catherine de Marneffe asks many
questions. She uses slides to reveal structure and the blackboard to interact with the group.
To keep the students motivated, she points out the usefulness of the material, both within and
outside the course.

Stimulate thinking by asking questions. Instead of (or in addition to) letting students ask you
questions, be the one asking them. Find the right question to guide their thought processes or
check their understanding. Do not hesitate to redirect one student's question to the rest of the
group ("Anyone have an answer to this question?") or to answer a question with a question.
For example, if someone asks you "How do you solve the second case?", you might guide
him or her by answering "Well, which physical phenomenon is involved here?", or "Does
this not remind you of something we did last week?", or perhaps simply "What have you
already tried?".

Make the students say and do as much as possible themselves. Every time you can have them
say or do something you would otherwise say or do yourself, go for it. Make them explain to
one another. Send them to the backboard. If appropriate, ask them to prepare a mini lecture
on a specific course topic. Reward participation by indicating verbally and nonverbally that
you value it. Not only will the students learn better by saying and doing as much as possible
themselves, you will be in a better position to help them: By listening and observing, you can
gauge their understanding, identify and build on their logic rather than yours, and provide the
feedback they need.

Consider running activities in subgroups. Students will likely be less intimidated by a few
classmates in a private discussion than by the whole group. They will also have more
opportunities to exchange with others, and thus crystallize their thoughts into language. Two
and four are nice numbers for subgroups of students: With three, two typically dominate the
discussion and one feels left out; with five or more, there are several discussions going on at
the same time.

Activities in subgroups are a very effective way to tackle an inhomogeneous group comprised
of faster and slower learners. As long as the learning outcomes are achieved, it is OK if some
subgroups finish earlier than others. You can foresee additional activities for these faster
learners or even ask them to help those who are having difficulty. In fact, once they have
achieved the outcome, you can even dismiss them early if you prefer.

No matter which method you use to render students active, show that you mean it, especially
if your students have long been used to being passive. If you ask a question and do not get
an answer right away, resist the temptation to provide the answer yourself. Give students
time. If necessary, lower the barrier by giving them a hint or by decomposing your question
into a sequence of simpler subquestions. If you have students work in subgroups, pass
through the subgroups to make sure they are working, help them through any barriers, and
provide feedback. In contrast, beware of merely telling them they will be graded on
participation: Such extrinsic motivation may well encourage students to focus on being
noticed by you more than on making thoughtful contributions.

Revealing your course's structure

With classroom meetings occurring over several weeks, students easily lose track of the big
picture. At some point, they may feel disorientated, not because the material has become too
difficult for them but because they have lost track of the overall objectives and structure of
the course. You can help them recognize this structure in much the same way you do for an
oral presentation (see Revealing Your Presentation's Structure), that is, by providing the
students with a map and regularly letting them know where they are on the map.

At the beginning of the first session, and in addition to the overall learning outcomes, provide
a plan for your sessions, with dates, times, places, and, ideally, themes or session-specific
learning outcomes. Do so in writing, whether as a hardcopy or as a Web page. Through this
plan, strive to reveal the overarching logic of the course: Do not merely provide what looks
like a list of disconnected themes.

At the beginning of each session, situate the session briefly within the overall structure.
Relate it to previous sessions, linking in particular to what students did in the last session.
Motivate students for the session by showing what it will help accomplish. Specify the
session's learning outcomes and, if useful, the method that will be used to achieve them.

At the end of each session, briefly situate the session again within the overall structure.
Summarize the main learning points or, better, have students do so. Relate the session to
the following sessions, announcing in particular the next session and motivating students for
it, not unlike a teaser for a television show. Specify what, if anything, the students should
prepare for the next session.

Managing large groups

The recommendations so far apply perfectly to small groups (up to 50 students) and to the
more hands-on parts of a course, such as practice sessions devoted to in-class exercises or
laboratory experiments. Their application is less straightforward for more theoretical classes
with large groups (potentially hundreds of students). In such cases, you might be tempted to
revert to traditional lecturing in which you speak and students listen and take notes. While
such an approach is, of course, not excluded, you should be aware of its limitations and take
steps to maximize its effectiveness or look for creative alternatives, including having
students read or watch the material at home, or having selected students prepare and give
lectures in your place for extra credit.

A lecture is a constraining situation: It brings together one lecturer and many students at the
same time in the same place for a given duration. To determine whether these constraints are
worthwhile, ask yourself what you can do in the classroom that a good book or video
sequence could not do in your place. If the communication is strictly one way, from you to
your students, you could record your lectures one year and make these video recordings
available to students the following years. One thing a video cannot do, however, is answer
student questions. Accordingly, if you do lecture in person, encourage students to ask
questions and reserve enough time for such questions and answers. Do not waste classroom
time on things students can learn in other ways.

Beyond answering questions from the students, you can ask questions yourself. You can
probably not do so as intensively as with a small group doing practical exercises, and you
can probably not ensure that everyone participates, but even a low level of student
involvement is better than no involvement at all in terms of learning dynamics. You might
consider multiple-choice questions, too, and have all students answer by raising their hands
after a moment of reflection ("Those who think that the answer is A, raise your hand. Now
those who think the answer is B . . ." etc.). Encourage thinking more than guessing, though:
Ask some students to justify their choices. In an extreme but not unrealistic case, you can ask
students to read the textbook ahead of time and replace the lecture with an interactive session
in which you pose questions to and take questions from students.

In this auditorium session, MIT's Sanjoy Mahajan helps a large group discover various
principles of physics. He asks frequent questions to the group, including multiple-choice
questions, and has students work in subgroups at times. As he captures the discussion on the
blackboard, he welcomes all arguments, whether correct or not, as a way to encourage
students to speak their mind.

Public Domain MIT OpenCourseWare (via Creative Commons).

Similarly, you can include in your lecture small exercises for students to do, possibly in pairs
or in subgroups. You cannot easily check that everyone did them or got the right answer, but
you can still ask a sample of students or subgroups for their answers and build your further
discussion upon them. You might even consider assigning such short exercises in advance,
collecting a sample of answers at the start of your lecture, and taking it from there. You can
confront answers, too: After collecting one answer from a particular student or subgroup, you
might ask "Did you all find the same answer?" and give the word to those who did not.
A tempo appropriate for a 15-minute conference presentation is seldom appropriate for a
two-hour lecture. Perhaps the best way to slow down and, more importantly, provide rhythm
(variations of tempo) for a classroom of students is to abandon slides and to write on the
board instead. Lecturers who create slides that they use year after year tend to prepare a little
less well and cover the material a little faster each year. If you write on the board, you are
more likely to think about what you write and provide better explanations.

In all classroom situations, but in particular for more theoretical topics with a large group,
encouraging interaction requires freeing students' minds from note taking by providing
appropriate written support. Students preoccupied with capturing everything they see or hear
in writing have no mental energy left for thinking about what they write down. In such cases,
the auditorium becomes no more than a giant photocopy machine the least efficient
photocopy machine in the history of mankind.

6.3Evaluating Your Sessions

You can evaluate your sessions in two ways: objectively, by checking whether you have
achieved the learning outcomes with your students; and subjectively, by asking the students
for feedback.

Formally, you can check whether the learning outcomes have been achieved by examining
students' performance on mid-term or final exams (grades, typical mistakes, and so on). Such
a check assumes, of course, that these exams adequately assess the outcomes. As a
counterexample, to assess the learning outcome "students should be able to determine the
concentration of a reactant by titration," it would be inappropriate to run a written exam and
ask students to describe the titration method: The only way to assess the outcome would be
to place the students in a laboratory, give them a solution of unknown concentration and other
necessary materials, and watch them determine the concentration by titration.

If you designed your learning activities well, you need not administer a formal exam to assess
the specific learning outcomes of a given session. By observing students during the activities
and by listening to students during the subsequent discussion of these activities, you should
be able to evaluate which outcomes have been achieved and to what extent. This less formal
assessment will help you manage time during a session and prepare optimally for your next

To know how you are doing, both along the way and at the end of the course, you can ask
students for feedback on your performance. The satisfaction of students is not an objective
in and of itself, and you do not have to do everything students ask (your objective is to make
them achieve the outcomes), but listening to students is certainly a useful tool toward self-
improvement. If you do collect feedback, show your students that you value and use their
feedback somehow, even if you do not grant all their wishes: It will encourage them to
provide feedback again in the future.

You can collect student feedback orally or in writing. To collect oral feedback, start by asking
a specific question, such as "How is the rhythm? Am I going too fast?", observe how students
react, and take it from there. Such an informal discussion, perhaps during a break, provides
you with a rich, immediate feedback, but students may not dare to say to your face everything
they think of you. In contrast, a written questionnaire is more formal, is often less accurate
(you cannot ask for clarification), and cannot easily be done as frequently as quick oral
probing. However, it offers a more objective sampling and allows students to respond
anonymously. Such a questionnaire can usefully mix multiple-choice and open questions,
and is best kept short: Students often have a global opinion, so asking them very specific
questions does not result in more accurate feedback.

Communicating in the classroom is not about teaching: It is about facilitating student
learning. In other words, it is about helping students develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes
with respect to the material to be learned. To this end, students must be active: Rather than
listening and watching, they must be speaking and doing. Your role as an instructor is to
define learning outcomes, design and run learning activities that will help students achieve
these outcomes, and evaluate your performance by assessing outcomes and students'
First, define the learning outcomes for your sessions. Instead of merely identifying the
material to be covered, identify the capacity that students must develop with respect to this
material in the form of a sentence starting with "By the end of the session/course, the students
should be able to . . . " and continuing with a verb and object expressing a specific, observable
action. Define outcomes as a hierarchy: overall outcomes for the course, specific outcomes
for each session, etc.

Next, design learning activities that allow students to achieve the learning outcomes. Usually,
the activity is directly suggested by the outcome: Have students try their hand at the capacity
they are supposed to develop. The challenge is to design a sequence of activities that has an
appropriate level of difficulty, that provides the required feedback, and that students can
relate to. To learn, students need to believe that achieving the outcomes is possible and
desirable, and they need to know how they are doing. Organize your activities into a plan for
your session.

As you run your activities during a session, focus on catalyzing students' activity. Besides
welcoming students' questions, ask them questions yourself to guide their thinking processes.
Make them say and do activities themselves as much as possible, including answering one
another's questions. To lower the barriers and increase the opportunities to participate,
consider having students work in subgroups. To succeed, you must mean it (and show to the
students that you mean it): Your role is to ensure that everything that needs to be said and
done will be said and done, but as little as possible of it by yourself. You are in charge of the
process, not (or not only) the material.

To ensure that students are usefully active, you must first create a favorable atmosphere. In
a sense, you must start by creating a group. You can do so by ensuring that every student has
a place in the group, both physically and verbally. Physically, arrange the room and the
students so nobody is left out. Verbally, have students speak as soon as possible, for example
at the occasion of a round of introductions. Eliminate other unknowns, too: clarify the
learning objectives, the planning of the sessions, etc.
At all times, evaluate your performance so you can improve what needs to be improved. After
an activity or a session, informally assess the outcomes by listening to and observing
students. At the end of the course, formally assess the outcomes with an exam that adequately
tests the capacities students have acquired. Besides these objective assessments of your
performance as an instructor, you can subjectively evaluate it by asking students for
feedback, either orally or in writing.

6.5Test Your Knowledge

Now that you have learned about communicating in the classroom, put your knowledge to
the test.

This test contains 10 questions.

6.6Learning Activities
Now that you have put your knowledge of communicating in the classroom to the test, try
your hand at these learning activities.

A1 Whenever you feel that delivering a traditional lecture is your only option, engage in
the following creativity exercise. First, make sure you have defined your learning outcomes.
Then, imagine that a new law prohibits lecturing entirely. Come up with at least five different
strategies for achieving your learning outcomes with your students, however wild these
strategies may seem: Do not worry just yet about their practical feasibility. Once you have
listed all of them, think about how realistic they are, given your constraints; think about how
you might adapt them to make them more feasible.

A2 For sessions with a reasonably small group (25 or less), choose a learning outcome
and design a game that will help students achieve it. It can be a board game, a role-playing
game, or a television-like game, and it can be played individually or in teams, as long as it is
well-defined, competitive (there must be a winner), and fun. As in the previous activity, start
without constraints and progressively refine your ideas until you arrive at something realistic.
Finally, try your game during a session and collect student feedback about it. Moreover,
evaluate for yourself whether the game allowed students to achieve the corresponding
learning outcome.

A3 Brainstorm with yourself different ways to increase student motivation or reward

student participation. For example, if you are running activities in subgroups, you could
develop intergroup contests. Still, instead of rewarding the fastest or best solutions, which
may discourage slower students, list other outcomes you could reward: the most neatly
presented lab report, the shortest (as opposed to the fastest) solution to a problem, the most
creative graphical presentation of the solution, etc. Consider actual, if symbolic, rewards: a
candy bar, small amounts of extra credit, etc. If you choose to purchase rewards, such as
candy bars, research possible financing from your professor, from student organizations,
from teaching initiatives, etc.

A4 Think of a classroom with mobile tables and chairs, ideally one that you use often, and
imagine all the different ways you could rearrange this room. Think of how you could arrange
the tables and chairs present in the room. Next, include scenarios with fewer tables (no tables
at all, just one table, two tables, and so on). Consider the advantages and drawbacks of the
various arrangements you imagine; in particular, think of where students' gazes would
converge (on the blackboard, in the center of the group or subgroup, etc.). Do not worry at
first about the rearrangements being feasible or acceptable: Have fun with the creative
process. In the end, select the two or three more promising arrangements in terms of
achieving the learning outcomes, assess their feasibility (for example, think of where you
would put the tables you do not need), and try them out. As with other classroom initiatives,
evaluate these new arrangements.

A5 If you have developed an original classroom approach as suggested above (an

alternative to lecturing, a game, a reward system, a classroom setup), search for ways to give
it visibility. How can you share it with other instructors? Can you enter it in a contest for
teaching initiatives, as sponsored by your department, your school, or your local center for
teaching and learning?.