December 17, 2015
Using the right word
Over the years, we’ve talked (a lot, okay, A LOT) about writing with precision and clarity—not to mention, grace. In our scientific and medical writing, it is imperative to be transparent and to use the right words to convey our findings. We don’t want there to be any doubt about the information we are trying to share. So how do we find the perfect word?
First, take your time. If you can’t think of the right word, be patient, step away from your writing, give it a little time. Often, the word you want will come to you if you just give it a little time.
Next, avail yourself of the scientific literature. If the word you need is specific to your research area, you may very well find it in a recent journal article covering the same or similar topic. This is especially useful if there is a lot of jargon used in your field.
Then, there are the old reliables: your dictionary and your thesaurus. I use both of these multiple times a day. I often want to to double check a meaning or a spelling. I know that I’d rather take a few seconds and check than send out something with an error in it.
Finally, there’s google or some other search engine—this often works best when you know part of the word or can at least enter something in the search engine that works as a hint as to what your word might be.
There you have it. The important thing is being aware of how important it is to use the right word and how to go about finding it.
But, this is the holiday season, so here goes:
Sometimes, someone using the wrong word gives you a gift. I was at a Moth StorySlam recently. If you aren’t familiar with these, I urge you to look up a podcast—they are a lot of fun. The StorySlam involves someone telling a story on an assigned topic in a certain amount of time. In the one, I went to, competitors had 5 minutes within which to tell their stories. The theme for the event was ‘joy.’ The speaker was talking about a relative being struck down by a disease. I think she meant to say stricken, but, and here is the gift, she told us “her mother was smitten with alzheimer’s.” If any of my loved ones acquires this disease, I certainly hope that they will be smitten, too.
[NOTE: I know that there is an archaic use of the archaic ‘smite’ that can be used this way, but it is archaic, and in no way detracts from the loveliness of this expression. It’s the holiday season, and please, no gotchas, thanks.]
My favorite app
Since this is a season for giving, I wanted to tell you about my all time favorite app. And, it’s free!
Okay. Now what would my favorite app be all about?
Does it improve your writing? Nope, not even a little bit.
Does it check your grammar? Not at all.
Does it correct your spelling? No way.
My all time favorite app is put out by the California Academy of Sciences, and its name describes the app in total. It’s called ‘Penguins.’
It live streams from the Academy’s penguin habitat, which is the home to about 15 – 20 African Penguins (they are the little ones). That’s it.
There are three cameras; one is high def, and one is underwater. You can watch the penguins eating, playing, diving, and swimming. Watching the little guys interacting is such a treat.
I manage to find a couple of minutes every day to tune in and see what the penguins are up to. Right now, it’s not completely light, and the guys are wandering around, probably waiting to be fed.
I defy anyone not to feel a little bit better, to feel that life is not a little bit sunnier after spending sometime with these African Penguins.
I have the app on my iPhone, iPad, and iPad Pro. I don’t know which size I like best, but what’s really great is that I can let them play on one device while I am working on another.
The app is available for all operating systems, and as I said, it’s free, but an occasional donation to the Academy to keep the penguins fed is always welcome.
It’s kind of a zen, meditative thing for me. When things get kind of crazy and out of hand, a few minutes with the penguins brings me the calm and peacefulness that I’m seeking. Fun for the whole family—for kids of all ages.