In science, effective communication skills are rarely taught, but they’re essential to success in everything from funding applications to publishing, to peer review, to communicating the impacts of your work to the public. It has been almost 13 years since the last edition of The ACS Style Guide published, and while some aspects of scientific communication are ageless, nobody can deny that a lot has changed in that time. Those of you who have long abandoned your beloved old Third Edition of the ACS Style Guide are now forgiven, as we make way for the new ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication in 2020. I hope it bears all the hallmarks of a well-loved and well-used old favorite: dog-ears, crackling spine, well-thumbed edges, dusty from years untouched on the shelf.
Perhaps Madeleine Jacobs, past ACS CEO and editor in chief of C&EN, captured the essence and vision for the ACS Style Guide best in the foreword of the Third Edition of the ACS Style Guide.
The goal of The ACS Style Guide is to help authors and editors achieve that ease and grace in all of their communications. To my mind, there’s no reason why scientific papers should not be as easy to read as a good novel. That’s a tall order, I realize, but if you read through this style guide, you will have all the tools you need to help you achieve that goal. It’s a wonderful reference book that I keep on my bookshelf and refer to often. I hope you will as well.
Ms. Jacobs’s comments on the old ACS Style Guide resonate deeply with me. Some 25 years ago as an engineering student, I received a C grade on the strengths of materials report. I was confused, disappointed, and frankly, a bit peeved. I was convinced my work in the lab and my conclusions were 100% accurate and felt the grade was unfairly low, so — paper in hand — I trotted across campus in the cold Ohio rain to question the professor. Little did I know, my challenge would be life-altering. My contention that the C grade should have been an A was met with a gruffly snorted, “Your C should have been an F. I was generous.”
He said little to defend his position except that if I couldn’t capture my work adequately in written words, then the work is useless — this was long before I became acquainted with the old ACS Style Guide, naturally. I tried to argue, but he abruptly stopped me and ordered me to get my advising report for him. He didn’t tell me why. When I returned 20 minutes later, he took my report and began crossing off classes. “Take this to my secretary,” he said. “Your English is fine but your writing is terrible. I’ve signed you out of all of your English requirements for your engineering degree and signed you into advanced composition.”
It was during the first year of my professional career that I realized I had received a tremendous gift that damp fall day in engineering school. I still don’t fancy myself to be much of a good writer; I’m adequate at best. But the last 25 years of my professional career have depended more on my writing than any other skill. That’s why it’s so exciting to me that in 2020 the ACS Style Guide will be rebranded as the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication. The name change reflects that this is not simply a new edition but a greatly expanded product.
The ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication won’t take the place of a great teacher, but it will do far more than the old ACS Style Guide. It will lay the framework needed for clear communication and provide a set of models students can use to learn independently. With globalization and the advance of new regional economies, ACS authorship and readership are now nearly evenly distributed across all major regions of the world. Students and researchers seeking information experience a deluge of science content coming from every direction while retaining a preference for consuming information 280 characters at a time. How do authors ensure that their content can rise above the rest to get successfully published and gain the citation exposure so necessary to advance their standing? The answer, I believe, is by learning to navigate our ever-evolving digital-first publishing environment, the mechanics of publishing, and by employing an exceptional writing style. The old ACS Style Guide and now the new ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication work to address these concerns of chemists everywhere.
The new ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication is scheduled for release in 2020, and it will cover all of these topics. In addition to being the science author’s guide to exceptional written communication, new sections will be added to help authors navigate current challenges in publishing, from when to use an Oxford comma to the impact of using a pre-publication server. The new ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication is much more than just a new ACS Style Guide!
Here are just a few things to look forward to, as the ACS Style Guide is rebranded as the new ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication:
- A fully revised resource fit for digital-first user experience
- New content to help authors navigate modern challenges in publishing
- A library of real-world examples to help users create engaging tables, charts, and references
- A multidisciplinary author and editor team to ensure the needs of the student, the library, the education, the investigator, and even the corporate reader are supported
- Annual updates to ensure currency in a rapidly evolving publishing environment
Editors of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication come from diverse backgrounds, which gives them insights into what different readers need from the guide, which offers far more than the old ACS Style Guide did. The editors are
- Gregory M. Banik, General Manager at Bio-Rad Laboratories, Informatics Division
- Grace Baysinger, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Librarian at Stanford University
- Prashant V. Kamat, Rev. John A. Zahm Professor of Science, University of Notre Dame and Editor in Chief of ACS Energy Letters
- Norbert Pienta, Chemistry Professor (retired), University of Georgia and Editor of Journal of Chemical Education
Subscription access is available to libraries starting with the 2020 calendar year. We’re sure everyone who loved the ACS Style Guide will love the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication even more. More information will be made available on ACS Axial and at library conferences as the publication date gets closer. Contact your ACS Publications representative, email ACSPubsSales@acs.org, or complete the form below and you’ll be kept up-to-date.
Charley James contributed to this report.