Quickstart guide to writing about chemistry

Some of the most common mistakes I see from students learning to write professionally about chemistry are listed here. The single most useful book I have seen for beginning and intermediate writers (about chemistry) is A Short Guide to Writing About Chemistry, by Davis, Tyson, and Pechenik.

  1. Many verbs are commonly used to describe chemical operations, particularly in analytical chemistry. When used inappropriately these verbs are often very awkward and can be distracting to the reader. Following are the correct usages of some important verbs.
    • Samples are analyzed.
    • Concentrations are determined.
    • Distances, absorbances, and currents are measured.
    • Spectra and chromatograms are collected or obtained.
  2. The words ‘data’ and ‘spectra’ are plural forms of the words ‘datum’ and ‘spectrum’. So, we say ‘spectra are’, ‘spectrum is’, ‘data were’.
  3. It is common to report a series of measurements as a list – for example, the lengths of three strands of hair. In these cases, the units of measurement should be given once at the end of the list. So, we use:
  4. 20, 32, and 24 cm, not 20 cm, 32 cm, and 24 cm.