Concise Writing & Research Planning Ciara O’ Sullivan Second Lecture 23.11.2004
Guide to writing concisely syntax tutorial Guidelines to writing abstracts Guidelines to planning research identification of tasks task timing and resources GANTT and PERT charts MS Project contingency planning Overview of class
Common syntax errors (syntax = [rules for] sentence building) • Word choice • Delete uninformative words and avoid redundancy • Use one word to replace a phrase • Avoid grandiloquence or grandiose phrasing • Avoid clichés and euphemisms • Use synonyms • Sentence structure • Agreement of subject and verb • Pronoun reference • Active and passive voice • Nouns from verbs • American and British styles • Paragraph structure
1. Word choice A paper will be more readable if words are used economically. Writing concisely may be contrary to common practice in some countries where authors are paid by the number of words published! Remember, your goal is to facilitate communication, which is accomplished through concise and lucid writing in a well-organized manner. • a. Delete uninformative words and avoid redundancy • Examples: • brief in duration • sufficient in number • The wound was of a serious nature • The rock is red in color • It was precooled before use • We repeated the experiment again and again
1. Word choice past history; mix together; original source; advance planning; globular in shape; more preferable than; seem to appear; for a period of two days; the work will be completed in the not-too-distant future; The reaction rate was examined and found to vary considerably; The results would seem to indicate the possibility that impurities might be present; As far as my own experiments are concerned, they show…; It has been found that … ; It is interesting to note that … (del); Needless to say, … (del).
b. Use one word to replace a phrase Many popular expressions can be expressed as a single word, or are better omitted altogether. For example, At this point of time Now The reason was because Because In view of the fact that Because Was observed to be Was In the near future Soon In most cases Mostly It would appear that Delete Is suggestive of Suggests As to whether Whether In the vicinity of Near It was evident that Evidently In the event that If (should)
c. Avoid grandiloquence or grandiose phrasing The word grandiloquence is itself grandiose. It implies a pompous style that impresses no one and provokes ridicule. Conciseness and clarity should apply to scientific writing. Compare the following sentences: Computations were conducted on the data - The data were calculated. It may seem reasonable to suggest that the necrotic effect may possibly due to toxins - Necrosis may be caused by toxins. In studies pertaining to identification of phenolic derivatives, drying of the paper gives less satisfactory visualization - Phenolic derivatives are easier to see if the paper is left wet. A method, which was found to be expedient and not very difficult to accomplish and which possessed a high degree of accuracy on the results, was devised whereby …. - An easy, accurate way to …
d. Avoid clichés and euphemisms cliché- [fr] printing plate; negative; phototype; = « banalité »; chenqiang landiao euphemism- eu (= well), phem (= to speak); weiwan de shuofa e.g., eugenics, eulogy, euphony (pleasing sound), euthanasia (an-le-si) Clichés and euphemisms are rarely helpful and often cryptic (secret, with a hidden meaning or a meaning not easily seen). all in all - (delete) if and when – if Some common euphemisms are simply awkward; For ex., The patient expired; The patient passed away; The patient succumbed; The patient breathed his last; The patient has gone to his rest. These can be replaced by « The patient died »
d. Avoid clichés and euphemisms The following terms are usually better omitted or rephrased: a majority of, an order of magnitude faster, are of the same opinion, as a consequence of, as a matter of fact, as seen from our study it is evident that, based on the fact that, first of all, for the reason that, has the capacity of, in a satisfactory manner, it has long been known that, it is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding, owing to the fact that, the question as to whether, there is reason to believe.
e. Use of synonyms A synonym is a word that has the same or nearly the same meaning as another word. The principal reason to employ synonyms is to avoid monotony from using the same term repeatedly. For ex., The subject demonstrated a marked sensitivity to the allergen. After receiving the medication, she showed marked improvement. This is a marked medical achievement. Improved version:The subject demonstrated a marked sensitivity to the allergen. After receiving the medication, she showed significant improvement. This is an extraordinary medical achievement. Synonyms for common words can be found in a thesaurus, a dictionary, and some word processing programs. Understanding the nuances of synonyms can be difficult for non-native-anglophone people. The best way to improve your grasp is to read English-language authors and practice your own writing.
2. Sentence structure • 1. Agreement of subject and verb • The number of the verb must agree with the number of the subject. e.g. • From this work has come improved antibiotic drugs. From this work have come improved antibiotic drugs. An evaluation of the experimental results, as well as the clinical findings, are described. An evaluation of the experimental results, as well as the clinical findings, is described.
2. Sentence structure 2. Recognising irregular plurals. (for ex., a common mistake is to use a singular verb with data, formulae, and radii) 3. When singular and plural subjects are joined by either … or and neither … nor, the verb must agree with the nearest subject. For ex., - Either the samples or the apparatus were contaminated. - Either the samples or the apparatus was contaminated. (correct) Note - Either and neither always take a singular verb. For ex., Either of the explanations is acceptable; Neither of the samples is large.
b. Pronoun reference Anantecedentis the word, phrase, or clause to which a pronoun refers. A sentence may be confusing if the pronoun and its antecedent are not clearly identifiable. A missing antecedent cannot be assumed to be « obvious from the context », and an ambiguous reference should always be corrected. e.g., The monkey was operated on by the surgeon when he was 6 weeks old. (who was 6 weeks old?) The ambiguity is removed by positioning the pronoun closer to its antecedent: The monkey, when he was 6 weeks old, was operated on by…. Better still is to move the relative clause to the beginning, where it will not separate the subject from the principal verb: When he was 6 weeks old, the monkey was operated on by …..
c. Active and passive voice English verbs have two voices:active and passive.In the active voice, the subject performs the action, while in the passive voice the subject receives the action. As fashions change with time, so does the style of scientific writing. Prior to 1900, scientists routinely used the active voice and personal pronouns in their reports, making such statements as, « I made the following experiment », « I cannot say », ‘I would point out that … ». Then the passive voice gradually gained popularity, perhaps from the belief that its impersonal style denoted greater professionalism. However, the consistent overuse and misuse of the passive voice devitalized scientific writing. Today, the trend is once again turned toward clarity of expression and the freer, more concise writing that results from habitual use of the active voice. Style experts now prefer the active voice, which is more direct, sounds more natural and usually save words.
Comparison: It was suggested by Dr. Smith that the test be postponed. Dr. Smith suggested postponing the test. A detailed description of the apparatus is presented in this report. This report presents a detailed description of the apparatus. This is not to say that you must entirely avoid using the passive voice, which can be quite effective if used sparingly. By placing the receiver of the action as the subject of the sentence, it receives subtle emphasis. e.g., The relationship F = ma was discovered by Newton. Newton discovered the relationship F = ma. The first version would be appropriate in a text on the history of physics, whereas the second could be used in a biography of Sir Isaac Newton.
d. Nouns from verbs Verbs can express action. For many action verbs there are nouns of similar derivation that expresses the result of the action. For ex., examine-examinationandperform-performance. Using the noun form expresses the action indirectly. Your writing will be more vigorous if such nouns are replaced by the verb forms. Ex., By analysis of the dataBy analyzing the data An evaluation of the data was doneThe data were evaluated The installation of the new equipment has been carried out The new equipment has been installed.
d. Nouns from verbs • Exercise:Rewrite the following sentenses using the active voice and trying to eliminate redundant words. • His performance of the test was adequate. • We made at least two analyses on each sample. • Evaporation of alcohol from the mixture takes place rapidly. • Clarity in writing is my intention.
e. American and British styles British writing is different from American writing in certain forms of punctuation and spelling. Whatever style is used will not really affect the reader’s understanding of the text, but you should be consistent and employ the same style throughout a work. SpellingAmerican - British connection - connexion inflection - inflexion defense - defence practice - practice (n.) practise(v.) center - centre liter - litre meter - metre (unit of measure) meter (instrument) behavior - behaviour color - colour distill - distil catalog - catalogue analyze - analyse catalyze - catalyse judgment - judgement aging - ageing acknowledgment - acknowledgement
e. American and British styles The digraphs ae and oe in words of Latin or Greek derivation are retained in British style: anesthesia - anaesthesia cesium - caesium diarrhea - diarrhoea hematite - haematite leukemia - leukaemia fetus - fœtus Punctuation:American - comma after e.g. and i.e.;none in British
3. Paragraph structure • In its simplest form, a lucid paragraph contains a topic sentense and clearly related supporting sentenses. The topic sentence comprises the main point or idea of the paragraph, while supporting sentences provide detail or ancillary information. The following are basic guidelines for paragraph design. • Cover only one main point or idea in each paragraph. • Each sentence should establish or support the topic of the paragraph.
3. Paragraph structure All of the patient data were kept in files. The absence of even one clerk caused delays in the monthly reporting. Finally, management decided to interview some system analysts. (The connection between the three sentences is not clear. Although the meaning can be inferred, it is better to state it outright). All of the patient data were kept in paper files, which took much staff time to maintain. The absence of even one clerk would delay the monthly patient reports. Management wanted to computerize record-keeping, which would take less time and be more reliable, and finally decided to interview some systems analysts to develop the new system.
3. Paragraph structure 4. Keep a consistent point of view That is, maintain the same grammatical voice (active or passive) throughout the paragraph. 5. Use parallel construction to male the paragraph easier to understand. In an attempt to avoid monotony, some writers vary the sentence construction and thereby hinder conprehension. Ex., A 10 mg dose produces no effect, a 20 mg dose produces a small effect, but patients show a noticeable effect from a 30 mg dose. A 10 mg dose produces no effect, a 20 mg dose produces a small effect, but patients show a noticeable effect from a 30 mg dose.
Abstract should be 1/2 to 3/4 page long Abstract should be LAST thing written Summary of the key findings of YOUR work Should encourage the reader to read on Any info included in abstract MUST be included in body of work Golden rules
Why is your scientific contribution important? • The construction of the science is based on the communication of the research results. Previous works are the basis for yours, when you enter in the loop (intake, production, output and feedback) you become a consumer and a producer and so on till the end of Literature Research Production your research career. Within the circle it is relevant to communicate your results as brief and clear as possible.
Preliminary research Question yes answer no New research conclusions Project design results Lab work Dissemination & retrieval manuscript
COMMUNICATE!!!!! Be aware of the contribution of your research to the Scientific Community and try to share it with your colleagues How? Communicating your results (written, oral, others)
When you consider you have finished an homogeneous part, be sure before finishing labwork. Arrange and organize your notes, references or any other material, display and classify it.
How to start to write a manuscript?
Organize your information graphs references tables figures photos schemes notes
Structure your information in separate blocks introduction Notes, commentaries, references, objectives Samples, individuals, sampling, analytical and statistical methods, ... material & methods Answers to the objetives support-ed by numerical, graphical or any other forms results Analysis of the results, comparison with other authors discussion
Try to integrate your puzzle of information And structure it!
Structure of a scientific paper • Title • Authors’ names and • affiliation • Abstract, keywords • Introduction • Material and methods • Results • Discussion • Conclusions • Acknowledgements • References • Annexes
Keywords • Keywords should not be “empty words” or express generalities. • Remember that it will be the keyword that will facilitate people to find the paper – and cite it! (which is what we want, of course!) • So, for example in the article we use to use a keyword ‘mayonnaise’ would be incorrect but ‘home-made mayonnaise makes it more specific.
Abstract The abstract, summary or synopsis is, like the title and keywords, one element within the manuscript of considerable relevant importance. The retrieval of the paper and its reading depend greatly on it.
Abstract The main feature of an abstract is its size. In very few words (200-300) the abstract should inform about the main aspects of the manuscript and respond to why, what, how and the results and their interpretation.
Characteristics of an abstract Short sentences, but not telegraphed No references, tables or figures No acronyms, abbreviations.. No excessive details
Basic justification for conducting the study (background info) Research objectives Basic Methods Used Specific Results of YOUR work Major Conclusions Abstract Any info included in the abstract should be included in the body of the article
Should NOT include details of experiment Should NOT include generalities and results of previous works Does not have to contain everything that is included in the paper Abstract
Ask yourself • Does my abstract: • Clearly state the topic/goal • Clearly state the general approach/method • Clearly state the main outcome and consequences • Contain trivial information or results which are entirely predictable (remove them!)
Identify points to include in abstract Background Importance of results – what’s new Methods used Specific new results obtained Major conclusions In groups of 4 make attempt to draft abstract Abstract Exercise
Background Autosterilisation (i.e. Elimination of salmonella) of mayonnaise by various parameters What’s new about the results? Influence of various oils and types of vinegars on antimicrobial properties Methods used Mayonnaise prepared with different vinegars and oils as acidulants – acetic acid used as a control Samples inoculated with salmonella pH and [acetic acid] measured Abstract Exercise
Abstract Exercise • Results • At 20oC best autosterilisation with white wine vinegar mayo • Autosterilisation, but at a slower rate when white wine vinegar contained garlic, tarragon, cider or spirit vinegar • With lowered acetic acid content less salmonella killed • Results much better at 20oC than 4oC • At 20oC grapeseed, soya, olive (w/ basil or garlic) > rapeseed, groundnut, hazelnut, sunflower > blended olive oil • Major conclusions • The type of vinegar used for acidulation has a strong effect on autosterilisation properties due to acetic acid content • Oils of different origins have varying effects on killing of salmonella and garlic/basil observed to enhance this effect
Abstract Homework Exercise • Modelling the pH of mayonnaise by the ratio of egg to vinegar • Auto-oxidate effect of Glucose Oxidase and Catalase in Mayonnaises of Different oxidative susceptibility • Product Trials • Mathematical Modelling 3. Detection of Salmonella in food by a 3 days PCR based method 4. Neural Network Modelling of the fate of Salomonella in home made mayonnaise prepared with citric acid For preparation in discussion in small group tutorials
Research planning is an essential part of and research project Must identify Tasks to be carried out Time required to carry them out Resources required to carry them out ‘Expected’ results and contigency planning Deliverables and milestones Research Planning
SMART Research Planning • GOAL: (also known as SCOPE) – is to define what overall the project will accomplish and what will be different as a result • OBJECTIVE: what the project is trying to achieve – should be SMART objectives, Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Time bound objectives
Milestones & deliverables • Milestone: a point in time representing a key or intermediate event that marks progress • Deliverable: a tangible item contributing to the success of the project NOT: milestone: completion of phase 1; interim progress report …deliverable: a greater understanding of the processes ….
SMART Research Planning Ask two key questions: 1. What will the project do and how will we know if it’s going according to plan? 2. What will the project deliver and how will we know if it’s a success?