A perspective on writing Perspectives

Perspectives invites its authors to share their personal experience in view of their contributions to geochemistry. My experiences in geochemistry have provided me with many moments that were fun and funny. However, in fact writing the first issue of Geochemical Perspectives was not always either fun or funny but it did have its moments.

First thoughts were apprehension – the size seemed intimidating!  But 60000+ words including references would only be a few hundred words a day, over 6 months. Surely no big deal?

Choice of topic?  This was easy. Both Don and I had worked on topics other than the iron cycle, but the geochemistry of iron was a common thread in much of our work since we first met at Yale. The iron cycle was a brave choice because it involves the complex inter-play of geochemical, biological, geological, atmospheric and oceanographic variables and consequently the literature spreads over journals in many different fields. This diversity is still a significant barrier to coherence; all too often problems are tackled in isolation and without reference to a wider context and to relevant literature in other fields. It would be good to bring some coherence to the iron cycle. We also knew that we would never be able to satisfy everyone working on geochemical problems related to iron but this was OUR Perspective so we focused on our geochemical story.

So size and topic seemingly had been dealt with, but what about style? Could we convey a sense of fun with our personal take on the iron cycle, free from normal reviewing constraints? A heady sense of freedom – like that of a newly released detainee- was quickly followed by the realisation that freedom brings with it responsibility. Idiosyncrasy would be OK but inaccuracy would not. The science had to be right.


Next thoughts were about adding personal touches and humour. In our writing we were probably too cautious over personal touches and more reminiscence might have emphasised what to us has been the fun side of geochemistry. We introduced cartoons as I thought, they were both fun and funny and they seem to have been extremely successful and well received. They also lead to the creation of the ‘To the Limits’ cartoon series that is now part of the EAG pages in Elements. Producing these is still a source of fun.


Difficulties? Collaboration in writing such a big story without in person meetings with Don was a mistake. Remember how it used to be said that the digital age would make meetings unnecessary? No way! This is most unlikely to ever be the case- it is really difficult to replace personal contact and all Perspectives collaborators need to take this on board.


Final thoughts – the final days were more than hectic. I had to deal with copyedits, compile a glossary and produce an index very quickly as we rushed headlong towards the typesetting deadline.


Was it all worth it? YES! My initial apprehension has now been replaced by satisfaction- but I could do better next time!

About the author:

Robert Raiswell is an Emeritus Professor of sedimentary geochemistry in the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds. Rob’s research focuses on the cycling of iron and sulphur in Earth surface environments, past and present. Current topics include the formation and bioavailability of iron nanoparticles in modern marine and glacial environments and on the use of iron minerals to deduce the depositional environments in early earth history. Outside research Rob is a keen traveller and has recently trekked in the mountain regions of Nepal, Peru, Arctic Canada, Ecuador, Tanzania and Mongolia. His favourite research sites are in the Polar regions and especially Antarctica (he subscribes to the widely-held view that Antarctica is as much an untreatable disease as a place). He was elected Fellow of the European Association of Geochemistry and the Geochemical Society in 2010.