Thank you

Thank you for help with Cornelsen Basis for Business C1:

  • Helmut Burger for being my first sounding board
  • Janan Barksdale for being so patient and thorough and making something that seemed impossible work
  • Carole Eilertson and the advisors Mindy Ehrhart Krull, Andreas Grundtvig, Gabi Hirthe, Marion Karg, Karen Richardson and Miriam Zeh-Glöckler for being constructive, though faced with an emergent book
  • Anna Batrla and the Cornelsen team for doing it
  • Claire Hart for presenting the book at ETAS in September.
  • The secret role models for Azra, Ben, Jörg, Carla, Doris and the all the other characters
  • A Nivea PR brochure provided the team for 1A+B
  • Thank you, Jens Kröger and Endress + Hauser for 1C
  • Amazon Marketplace provided the model for 2A
  • Thank you, Tobias (+ Beate) Ziegler for input on 2B
  • Jens (and Rose) Galdiks, thanks for 2C
  • Thanks Christian Koch, for introducing me to Scrum and explaining how proposals work
  • Thanks, Dad, for all of the proposals you wrote when I was little. 3A + B
  • Thank you, Gabriele Vollmar, for 3C
  • Thanks, Khushi Pasquale, for telling me about Eisenhüttenstadt for 4A, and for the story about the deer
  • Thanks, Thomas, for sharing difficult emails for 4B
  • Thanks, Gill Woodman and Andreas Grundtvig, for 4C
  • RWE and Fuhrländer, I mined your online publications for 5A
  • Siemens Financial Services is the model for the services pitched in 5B
  • Jan Jaehrling, Ingrid Pradel, Andrea Schwarz, Alexandra Goller and of course Simon Moroney of Morphosys, thank you for sharing for 5C
  • Thank you to the advisors for 6A, which seemed to get everyone on board.
  • Thanks, Helmut Burger, for help with 6B
  • Thank you, Franz-Josef Nuss, for 6C
  • Udo + Claudia Böhm-Awiszus, thank you for 7A
  • Thanks to Mindy Ehrhardt, Ash (Lucy Mellersh’s husband, why do we do this last name business, anyway?) + Jürgen Strauss for very helpful input for 7B
  • Thanks, Carsten Baumgarth re marketing and kudos to Sara Rosso for World Nutella Day, 7C
  • Respect to Raveena Aulakh and the other investigative reporters in the wake of the Bangladesh factory fire. Compliance hotlines at BASF + CISCO, and a press conference by NZ Fontera also inspired 8A
  • Patagonia is the true Alpia in 8B
  • Thanks, Christian Hodgson, for inspiration for 8B+C
  • Thank you, Eamonn Fitzgerald, formerly Spotlight Online, for letting me practice three paragraph essays

The ones that got away:

  • Zoe Carruthers for inspiration re sales – even if that didn’t make the book
  • Dietmar Müller of Adflow – I’m sorry we didn’t feature your company
  • Niclas Gondorf and Herr Finke of Dyson – very sorry we couldn’t feature your company
  • Uli Botzenhardt, Alexander Nast, Claudia Engelhardt, Dung Huong, Bill Chaney … : Many thanks for your support, contacts and advice

Zara’s logistics

I’m writing a book for business English, Basis for Business C1. When I was putting the unit on logistics together, I was initially thinking of using Inditex, Zara’s parent company, as the main example. But it’s already been used in several other course book, including Cornelsen’s Career Express, and I’m trying to be as original as possible. Still, Zara and its model of “Fast fashion”, i.e. turning around what sells into a new product and getting that to the store in 2 weeks, is one of the most inspiring companies to look at when you’re studying logistics. Right now their production is centered in North Africa and Europe, but they are planning a thrust into Asia, opening over a 1000 stores in China. It will be interesting to see whether they create a completely new center there. The NYT last year published a lovely video on Zara.
Also see the video by The Apparel Logistics Group below for excellent logistics vocabulary.

English for Artists: Virgina Peck’s Buddha paintings

I would love to write a course for English for Artists and Art Historians. Art was my first love, before I decided to go into history and then later into language teaching, and I still go to art galleries every chance I can.
To realize my dream, I’ll need to win some artists as clients first.
Today: Virginia Peck’s process for painting the Buddha.

start with a white canvas
apply the underpainting
let loose and have fun
make a gestural, abstract underpainting
inform all the successive layers to come
use a statue for reference
take charcoal to sketch in the face
heavy (or light) on the canvas
brush away the charcoal
“until there is just a faint indication of the face, so the charcoal won’t be mixing with and dulling the paint.”
(Use future continuous to anticipate and preview future processes)
indicate the shadow areas
depending on whether I use oil or acrylic
I add marble dust or modelling paste into the paint
give it volume and texture
layer complementary colors on top of the underpainting
use pallet knives of different sizes to apply
the paint sits up on top
show through in places
decide what marks to keep or get rid of
enhancing or distracting from the overall effect
glaze parts with thinned-down paint
define or pull together an area
later go back in and add
give it more life and interest
use a belt sander to take off the highest peaks of paint
reveal interesting colors or patterns
the painting is done
give the painting a title


I’ve started a book project, which forces me to conceptualize something from the big picture down to the last detail. After poking around for about a month exploring the areas I have found important in my business English classes over the past years, thinking through individual features and refreshing my contact to clients who might help me make the case studies more realistic and concrete, I came up with a general concept that was unfortunately too big to handle. Last Saturday we had the big kickoff meeting with the advisers. Their ideas were really helpful in enabling a new rough book map. There is still a lot of blank space and some repetition, but all the advisers have said what they want in the book, and that will clearly make the book appeal to a larger audience in the end. But I’m temporarily stuck: Some of my favorite ideas don’t seem to fit in anymore. The ideas have different origins now, so it’s more difficult to make them match seamlessly. I’ve just only noticed that one of my favorite chapters, the one on Sales, is suddenly missing. Oh, no! I’ll probably have to let it go. Painful.

OK, bedtime. It feels freezing in my flat, and I’m really tired. Tomorrow is another day.

Online tools and resources for scientific writing

I’m still struggling to teach scientific writing to a diverse group of PhD candidates that I only see occasionally. My latest attempt is to give them a set of online tools to analyze their genre of target texts (published works and their own work in progress), and to tell me how they like what the tools do. These are tools I use myself when I explore a genre to analyze them within the overall corpus of English and present typical collocations. In class we’ll then look at selected texts on one topic comparing different genres (i.e. in a general publication, as opposed to a scientific journal) to determine typical collocations and rhetorical and stylistic devices.

MacMillan Dictionary
handiest online dictionary, with a thesaurus, examples, audio

COCA Corpus of Contemporary American English
BNC British National Corpus (GB)
How are your words generally used in context?

Word cloud generators:

How frequent are key words in a text you read or write? Copy it into a  word cloud generator that makes the more frequent words larger. Tips: In Wordle, create strings of words, or multiword units: Edit your text before you copy it in, joining the words you want to keep together with the tilde character: ~ (e.g. “cataclastic~rock”). Also, reduce the word output number (Layout/Maximum words) to simplify.

Just the word
This collocation thesaurus concordancer shows frequency and produces word clouds. Clicking on a given collocation gives you samples from the BNC. (e.g. precipitation)

A set of tools to analyze the text you copy in:
a. Concord Writer
Work in progress: Write text in the window, and your text is dynamically linked to multiple examples as you write.
b. Vocab Profile (BNL)
A published article: Copy in your text, and the tool will output a word list.

Google Ngram Viewer
How has your word been used over time? Has it changed in meaning? Study a word over time based on the word’s occurance in the Google Books library (those published since 1800).

5 modes of search for collocations: find one word (e.g. the missing word in a phrase – e.g. verbs, prepositions, possible modifiers), several words, alternatives in the phrase (so: find a better synonym), and word order (e.g. adverb placement). Follow links to find sample sentences. Caution: the Internet is your database.

If a scientist wants to read just one article on writing a thesis: George Gopen and Judith Swan show that where you place information in a sentence makes a huge difference. Their article The Science of Scientific Writing was originally published in the November-December 1990 issue of American Scientist.

Some excellent websites to surf for university writing skills:

And when in doubt, try a grammar quiz:

Diagnostic grammar quizzes, especially recommended for connectors/ transition words

These are not online tools, but books I recommend for the research library:

  • John M. Swales/ Christine B. Feak: Abstracts and the Writing of Abstracts. The University of Michigan Press 2009.
  • Christine B. Feak/ John M. Swales: Telling a Research Story. Writing a Literature Review. The University of Michigan Press 2009. (The answers to the tasks in these two books are available online.)
  • John M. Swales/ Christine B. Feak: Academic Writing for Graduate Students. Essential Tasks and Skills. Second Edition. The University of Michigan Press 1994/2009. Also get the commentary by same authors: Commentary for Academic Writing for Graduate Students. Essential Tasks and Skills.
  • Rowena Murray: How to Write a Thesis. Open University Press2002/2011.
  • Robert A. Day/ Barbara Gastel: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper. Greenwood Press 2006.
  • Michael McCarthy/ Felicity O’Dell: Academic Vocabulary in Use. 50 units of academic vocabulary reference and practice. Self-study and classroom use. Cambridge University Press 2008.

Do you have any resources to add?

PS: There is an online scientific writing tool called Swan, the Scientific Writing Assistant, The concept was developed by Jean Luc Lebrun, formerly at Apple and now a scientific communication skills author and trainer. It requires Java version 6.0 or higher, and runs on various operating systems, working on Apple OS 10.6 and higher. Its USP is that it helps you organize your thoughts and content (rather than your language and grammar) by working around the placement of key words.

PPPS: Graham Davies created a fantastic online site dedicated to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Language Teachers, initiated with EC funding in 1999-2000, which he has continued to maintain himself. It contains pretty much everything teachers need in ICT. I’m finding the section on using concordance programs in class and the one on corpus linguistics helpful. It makes me want to take a week off and do nothing but dip into this world, and finally read the books I’ve got on the subject from cover to cover. Graham also keeps a blog.

Practice academic writing skills 2: Ambiguity

One of the most important elements of good writing is clarity. Unfortunately, English has a lot of potential for ambiguity, which makes it easy to write ambiguous sentences. Great for humor, of course, but not a lot of help when it comes to writing works of science! One example is the use of prepositions.


  • I saw the man with a telescope.
  • I saw the man through a telescope.
  • Do you have any books on antique furniture?
  • Do you have any books about antique furniture?

In each case, both prepositions are correct, but the second choice is unambiguous.

A great source of trouble are invisible phrase structures, like defining clauses (introduced by which, that, who – or nothing!), extended prepositional phrases full of relatively unconnected information and long-distance dependencies using structures like if…then and either…or.


  • They’re having a barbecue in the garden behind the house they are renting next Saturday at 8. (They’re only renting the house at eight o’clock?)
  • They’re having a barbecue next Saturday at 8 in the garden behind the house they are renting.

What went wrong in the first sentence? The reader expects information that belongs together to be close together.


Here are some more similar phrases. Enjoy, determine what makes them ambiguous, and then suggest how to rephrase them.

1. Yoko Ono will talk about her husband John Lennon who was killed in an interview with Barbara Walters.
2. Two cars were reported stolen by the Griveton police yesterday.
3. The license fee for altered dogs with a certificate will be $3 and for pets owned by senior citizens who have not been altered the fee will be $1.50.
4. Tonight’s program discusses stress, exercise, nutrition and sex with Celtic forward Scott Wedman, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and Dick Cavett.
5. We will sell gasoline to anyone in a glass container.
6. For sale: Mixing bowl set designed to please a cook with round bottom for efficient beating.
7. “I once shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pyjamas I’ll never know.” Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers

Ambiguous phrases 1.-7. from Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct, p. 94

(This is a post on the Moodle Scientific Writing Forum I’m developing for the PROGRESS group at Uni Potsdam. Feel free to use if you like, let me know if the explanations click or fizzle.)

Practice academic writing skills 1: Parallelism

Parallelism adds elegance to your writing:

Clumsy: They work with great care and effectively.
Elegant: They work carefully and effectively.

Clumsy: Making contacts is as important as to give a good presentation.
Elegant: Making contacts is as important as giving a good presentation.

Clumsy: We analyzed the extensive data, which was highly complex.
Elegant: We analyzed the extensive, highly complex data.

Clumsy: We hope to visit the site, so the measurements will be completed by the end of the month.
Elegant: We hope to visit the site and complete the measurements by the end of the month. (Note: drop the second “to”)

Parallelism is required by some grammar structures – see the examples in red. The dependent phrases in blue must take the same parallel form following the grammar words in red. They are equally dependent on the headword in green. So it’s: headwordgrammar worddependent phrasegrammar worddependent phrase.

  • not only A, but also B
    Error: I not only do research on A, but also on B. (verb with object, object only)
    Correct: I do research not only on A, but also on B. (two dependent objects)
  • Error: I do not only research, but also teach. (noun, verb)
    Correct: I not only do research, but also teach. (two dependent verbs)
  • neither A, nor B
    Error: Johnson’s research neither considered recent developments nor objections previously raised by his colleagues. (active verb phrase, phrase without an active verb)
    Correct: Johnson’s research considered neither recent developments nor objections previously raised by his colleagues. (two noun phrases dependent on “considered”)
  • both A and B
    Error: The project helps geoscience faculty stay up-to-date both with research and teaching methods. (with is misplaced)
    Correct: The project helps geoscience faculty stay up-to-date with both research and teaching methods. (two dependent objects)
  • A, B and (or) C
  • I look forward to A and B
  • In terms of A and B
  • more A and less B

There are more practice sentences here (link).


  1. Leonardo da Vinci was an artist, a scientist, and he made inventions.
  2. The ancient Greek scientist Archimedes discovered the principle of boyancy, devised formulas for calculating the areas of various geometric figures, and he is remembered as the inventor of the Archimedean screw.
  3. According to the principle of boyancy, a boat floats and baloons will rise because they weigh less than the water or air they displace.
  4. I look forward to both seeing and to talking to you soon.
  5. The members of the expedition were advised to work hard and against relying on luck.
  6. During the embargo, oil was extremely expensive and not at all easy to get.
  7. The givernment is considering banning imports of genetically modified food products and to lower tariffs on organcally grown foods.
  8. Intellectually and in terms of morality, the educational system is failing children in need.
  9. People may wear different clothes, but they still use them to express what they have got, the way that they believe or the amount of money they have.
  10. I arrived in Barcelona without knowing anyone and I could not understand any Spanish.

Phrases 1.-10. from Paula Maier, Teaching Academic Writing,  p.45, unpublished manuscript for KommUNIkation, LMU München, a teacher training project 2005-7 organized by Elena Gallo.

(This is a post on the Moodle Scientific Writing Forum I’m developing for the PROGRESS group at Uni Potsdam. Feel free to use if you like, let me know if the explanations click or fizzle.)