Writing - Content and Style Guide

This guide is a work in progress — last updated August 2020.

Scope

We are looking for articles aimed at an audience of geophysicists (honours students through to professors and professionals) with a very wide breadth of specialist knowledge. They will appreciate articles that are accurate, concise and do a good job of explaining technical detail. Topics might include:

  • Summaries of recent research papers (especially if you are the author / co-author)
  • “Explainers” the you think will be helpful and interesting for our readers (Here is how you do X or Everyone is talking about Y at the moment or Z is a new piece of equipment / software you might like to use)
  • Reports on a conference or seminar, especially if there are some talks to share.
  • News items that go beyond contacting people on the mailing list.

We are looking for constructive and interesting content that builds understanding. Criticism is fine if it adds to a discussion. Politics may seem irrelevant to science - but even when it is not, it is very easy to create friction and conflict so be careful ! Our community standards is outlined below and applies to writers and to comments on articles.

Licensing

We want our content to be shared and to be able to re-publish content that will be of interest to the Geo-★ Down Under audience. Articles are published under a a Creative Commons — Attribution/No derivatives license.

We are following the policy of similar expert-sharing sites like The Conversation and, because they know what they are talking about, if you want to understand what you can do with our content, read their re-publication guidelines.

Advice

Be bold and keep the text short, direct and simple. We don’t need a lot of references or links: one or two should be enough. Imagine you are explaining this in person to somebody.

You don’t need to work chronologically, starting at the beginning of the work and narrating your way through to the end. Important scene-setting comes first, details can fill in later. Like this:

Oh, the grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.

When they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only halfway up,
They were neither up nor down.

I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 442–443

There’s no need to write in a technical “scientific” style with every statement ringed with qualifications and in anticipation of being called on a detail - don’t worry about the nitpickers grumbling about lack of precision (you will never make them happy anyway). Feeling a lack of confidence ? Read these:

The big-bang theory was born. During the decades that followed, the theory would receive overwhelming observational support. Yet scientists were aware that the big-bang theory suffered from a significant shortcoming. Of all things, it leaves out the bang. Einstein’s equations do a wonderful job of describing how the universe evolved from a split second after the bang, but the equations break down (similar to the error message returned by a calculator when you try to divide 1 by 0?) when applied to the extreme environment of the universe’s earliest moment. The big bang thus provides no insight into what might have powered the bang itself.
Newsweek, May 12, 2012

Professional Titles etc

While it is respectful to use the title of Professor for somebody who has spent a lifetime becoming expert in their field, it can appear awkward or judgemental to refer to an emerging expert. For example:

Professor X’s findings suggested that all swans are likely to be white, however Ms Y urged caution, saying “the discovery of just one black swan, unlikely as that might seem, would be enough to disprove this theory”

For this reason, we discourage the use of any titles or honorifics in articles about science.

That does not mean you can’t say “congratulations on being promoted to full professor, Prof X”

Helpful writing and style guides from other publications

  • Better Programming is a medium-based publication for programmers that is pitched to give general explanations to a wide audience of specialists. There is much in common with writing for Geo-★ Down Under.

  • The Conversation publishes articles by academic experts on technical topics for a general audience. More general than the audience for Geo-★ Down Under, but let’s say you wrote a piece for the conversation, it would not be out of place here (and we can re-publish it verbatim under CC licencing).

Editorial Policy

Geo-★-Down-Under is for experts to speak to each other and so the role of editors is generally to encourage new contributions, provide advice on writing to the audience and let you know if the article hits the target. The editorial team will remove any content that violates the code of conduct and may exclude members of this forum for code-of-conduct violations.