Monday, September 10, 2012

Listen. Write. Present. A Review

Listen. Write. Present: The Elements for Communicating Science and Technology
Stephanie Roberson Barnard and Deborah St. James. 2012. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. [ISBN 978-0-300-17627-8. 192 pages, including index. US$22.00 (softcover).]

“Listen. Write. Present.” The three title words summarize this book’s purpose. Stephanie Roberson Barnard and Deborah St. James write a concise, thorough summary of the skills needed to succeed beyond the classroom in science and technology professions.
One reason Listen. Write. Present. is successful in reaching its audience is that it encompasses highlights from other communication books into a one-stop shop resource. For example, the writing section highlights important grammar and punctuation rules; of which many are found in Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. The chapter on presenting includes tips about how to optimize the use of slides—information that is a condensed version from Garr Reynolds’s Presentation Zen Design.
Also covered are topics of networking, serving, and listening. These are always helpful soft skills to review and practice, but particularly necessary for advancement in science and technology. Networking, serving, and listening are also necessary skills in other professions. This book is practical as a guide for almost any career. The chapter about meetings includes a section about how to run an effective meeting. Having sat through many meetings unrelated to science and technology, I kept thinking about how I wished everybody, regardless of their discipline of study, would review these skills to create faster, more efficient meetings. Perhaps Barnard and St. James could modify their title to encompass additional career fields and garner a larger audience.
Listen. Write. Present. could be used as a job searching tool for scientists as it includes sections about interviewing and résumés. A helpful addition might be a curriculum vitae sample as it is often easier to understand format by example than by description.
Many of the traditional communications books do not include information on how to incorporate technology into professional communication. This book does. From helpful tips about email etiquette to tips about formatting PowerPoint presentations, technology is definitely emphasized as a critical component to current communication.
One goal stated in Listen. Write. Present. is to create a quick reference manual for scientists. Although this is largely successful for the general information about writing and communicating, I found a flaw in this book for specific disciplines of science. The writing chapter includes a section about writing in the active voice instead of the passive voice. In writing scientific papers in chemistry, the passive voice is the accepted format for publication in a journal. For the scientist trying to submit a paper for publication, this section would provide misleading advice.
However, for a general guide about how to effectively leverage soft skills to maximize career opportunities, Listen. Write. Present. is an excellent resource. With its detailed index and list of additional resources at the end, it is a one-stop shop reference for any scientist’s shelf.