Alternative Hypothesis

Lessons from the Year of Story

One of the first books I owned as a child was a hardcover collection of stories by Beatrix Potter. I still have it, one of exactly two childhood possessions, both books, that have been nearly everywhere I have been. It’s not my favourite book from childhood, or the most familiar, but it is the first book I remember being able to read by myself, which, for a precocious four year-old, was a defining act of independence.

Writing my first story came a short time later. I don’t remember what it was about, but I have a clear memory of carving the words out on double-ruled paper, pressing so hard with the pencil that erasing them left stubborn smudges on the page. Even then, there was a feeling — an intuition — that words were worth the effort of getting right.

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About that Word Crimes video…

Yes, this one:

Many (most?) of my friends have sent me this video over the past week, and I’ve got to be honest. I think it’s funny. As a language lover and someone who is sick to death of the original “Blurred Lines” song, I got a genuine kick out of the parody. Every. Single. Time. But after a colleague suggested that it might be my theme song (which don’t get me wrong, I also thought was funny), I thought it might be time to set the record straight about my take on word crimes (the acts, not the video).

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Academic writing: maybe we’re doing it wrong

In all of my time in and around academia, there’s one thing that I’ve never quite been able to understand about how it works:

Writing is perhaps THE most important thing we do in academia. We supposedly write our way through our undergrad degrees, we write our theses & dissertations, we write research proposals, we write journal articles and book chapters and textbooks. Writing is both the intellectual and the career advancement currency of the academic enterprise.

Yet, one of the most common complaints I hear from academics — regardless of the discipline or year that they teach —  is that students are lacking the basic writing skills necessary for them to succeed.

What gives?

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Five common grammatical mistakes explained with pancakes

Tuesday, March 4th (March forth, get it?) is National Grammar Day. This year, it also happens to be Pancake Tuesday, the day when we’re all supposed to confess our sins and stuff ourselves with pancakes before Lent.

I’m not so crazy about Lent, but grammar and pancakes? On the same day? You mean I can make pancakes in the shape of punctuation marks for…um…educational purposes?

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Ten lessons about writing that every scientist should learn…

Yesterday, I spent the day at the horse races, taking in the pomp and pageantry of the biggest stakes card of the year. I find the racetrack fascinating, and not just in that girlish horse-crazy sense. For starters, it’s the only place I know where it is normal to see small men wearing outrageous colors and women wearing birds on their heads. Second, I love the wordplay of the racing form, with horse names like Two Horn Unicorn, Tiny Giant, We Taught Ed, and the perennial long shot, Sir Sits A Lot.

But while the word bending usually tickles my writer bone, there are limits. Take, for instance, Meagans Princesses, whose crimes against grammar stopped my wager at the gate. I could almost forgive the missing possessive-forming apostrophe, but the plural princess just didn’t fly. My friends were appalled that I rejected a 2-1 favorite on grammatical grounds, but I guess that’s why I’m a writer and not a handicapper. I can’t help myself.  To some, it’s just a missing apostrophe. To me, it’s a shot heard ‘cross the page.

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