Blue Writing Paper

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"Starting Star" holds a pencil at the beginning of each writing space to give the visual cue of where to start.

Kindergarten Story Paper is portrait orientation with 13 lines per page.

Coming from a half white/half Chinese mongrel background, I’ve never felt like a culturally imperialist oppressor before, but it suddenly seemed very unfair, speaking to an audience of highly intelligent, literate people, to be telling them that their form of written English did not conform to mine, and therefore needed correcting.

And parenthetically, it’s even more unreasonable when journals see fit to impose their dubious “house style”: for example, what right do they have to tell authors they can’t use the word “done” when describing an experiment? Probably, as unless we want to relegate English to a minority language, we need to have a form that is widely understood.

If English isn’t your first language, get a native speaker to check your text. Non-agreement between the singular and plural are the most common writing mistake (did you see what I did there? Amalgamate or dump – you just sound like you’re waffling. Find a critical reader and pay attention to them, however unpleasant it is.

And never give them a rough draft unless you want to really annoy them. Never forget you have an audience, and shape your work according to who they are.But from now on, I resolve to be more understanding when I see the first word after a colon capitalised (acceptable in the US; a major punctuation crime in the UK), when “hopefully” is used as an adjective rather than an adverb, and for all but the most egregious examples of the verbalisation of nouns (and by the way, -ize and –ise are both perfectly OK as far as I’m concerned).Just so you know, I’ll fight to the last for the retention of “data” as a plural noun, and nothing, repeat nothing, will tear me from the apostrophe.And if you’re writing a personal letter (sigh — which almost no one does any more…) it’s a way to distinguish it from something that’s mass-mailed.Although advertisers have caught on to this, I’ve noticed, and are starting to use a mid-blue color for some mass-advertising junk mail stuff with addresses in italic, to make it look more like a personal letter to the casual viewer.Blue has become a standard, and blue ballpoints are probably the easiest and cheapest pens to buy, which is why it’s the “standard” in schools in North America.That said, I doubt that anyone will turn away work done in a black pen.Fortunately, I have a good friend who has done this sort of thing very well indeed for years.Vivian Siegel is not only a science communications guru but also very generous, and she kindly armed me with materials and advice well beyond the call of friendship (which is all a far too convoluted way of saying many thanks, Vivian! What does one put in a course about science writing?There are a lot of books out there on the subject (the one I used most was Mimi Zeiger’s, and for general advice on style, Strunk and White is unbeatable as well as entertaining), but one definitely needs a guide to navigate them; one of the most common pieces of advice about writing is to emphasise what’s important, but ironically, it’s hard to get a feel for that by reading a big textbook about writing style.I hope that my two days of haranguing my long-suffering students gave them some helpful tips (more of that below), but teaching is a two-way street, and the course has certainly given me some food for thought, principally about the role of formal written English.


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