The objective of scientific writing is to : • Inform • Communicate the most amount of information in the least amount of reading time • Persuade • Present logical arguments in the most convincing manner
Using language effectively is essential in scientific writing. We use language effectively by : • Being Precise • Being Clear • Being Forthright • Being Familiar • Being Concise • Being Fluid
Being Precise • This is the most important goal of language, especially scientific language, where you are trying to communicate exactly what you did and what you learned. It is important to choose the right word and the appropriate level of accuracy. • Choose the right word, because technical words have specific meanings. • Weight – Mass • Density – Specific Gravity
Many ordinary words also have specific meanings, so you have to get used to using the correct English word. Here are a few examples of similar words that are often confused and have different meanings :
comprise = include • compose = make up Ex: The procedure comprises treatment with an acid composed of hydrogen and chlorine. • continual = repeated • continuous = without interruption Ex: The continual pulsing of pressure has less effect than would continuous application of the same level of pressure.
affect = to influence • effect = result Ex: Exposing the samples to water affected their moisture content, with the effect that their elastic properties were reduced. • principal = main, most important • principle = law, rule Ex: The principal investigators in the project are very familiar with the principles of research procedure.
Avoid synonyms • They may have an inexact meaning for the situation concerned. Their meaning depends on situation in which they are used. Therefore, use a dictionary, not a thesaurus. For examples: • dense may mean compact or solid or luxuriant, which have different connotations and be inappropriate for the situation. • If one describes conditions as “adequate”, this means a far different set of criteria for airplane safety than for marking out a baseball field.
Being Clear • Avoid needless complexity in words, phrases, sentences The following paragraph uses needlessly complex words : The objective of this study is to develop an effective commercialization strategy for solar energy systems by analyzing the factors that are impeding early commercial projects and by prioritizing the potential government and industry actions that can facilitate the viability of the projects.
This could better be rewritten as : This study will consider why current solar energy systems have not yet reached the commercial stage and will evaluate the steps that industry and government can take to make these systems commercial.
Watch out for needlessly complex sentences if : • The sentence seems too long. • It contains many prepositional phrases. • It presents more than one idea. • It wanders from point to point. • It contains participial phrases.
Avoid ambiguity • Ambiguity in Word Choice Many English words have multiple meanings. This can appear in many ways. In the following examples, the prepositions as and since may be interpreted in different ways :
T cells, rather than B cells, appeared as (because/while?) the lymphocytes migrated to the thymus gland. This could mean either that T cells appeared because lymphocytes migrated to the thymus bland or that T cells appeared at the same time that lymphocytes migrated to the thymus gland. • T cells appeared since (because/after?) they were migrating to the thymus gland. This could mean either that T cells appeared because they were migrating to the thymus gland or that T cells appeared following their migration to the thymus gland.
Ambiguity in Syntax Ambiguity can also result from the way words are arranged in a sentence (syntax). In the following five sentences, the same words are arranged in different ways to produce five different meanings:
Only I tested the bell jar for leaks yesterday. • Only I, no one else, tested the bell jar. • I only tested the bell jar for leaks yesterday. • The only thing I did yesterday was test the bell jar. • I tested only the bell jar for leaks yesterday. • The only thing I tested yesterday was the bell jar. • I tested the bell jar only for leaks yesterday. • The only test I made of the bell jar was for leaks. • I tested the bell jar for leaks only yesterday. • It was just yesterday that I tested the bell jar.
Ambiguity in Pronouns There should be no doubt as to what a pronoun refers. In the following example, the pronoun it could mean either the receiver or the radiometer: • Because the receiver presented the radiometer with a high flux environment, it (?) was mounted in a silver plated stainless steel container.
Ambiguity in Punctuation Punctuation tells the reader when to slow down and when to stop. It may also have a major impact on the meaning. The comma is most important, but other punctuation marks are essential also. The comma (,) is most important. In the following sentences a comma makes a difference in the meaning :
In our study we examined neat methanol, neat ethanol, methanol and 10 percent water and ethanol and 10 percent water. • In our study we examined neat methanol, neat ethanol, methanol and 10 percent water, and ethanol and 10 percent water. • The panda eats shoots and leaves. • The panda eats, shoots, and leaves.
Being Forthright • Scientific writing should be sincere and straightforward. Control the tone by avoiding pretentious words, such as: • facilitate ( cause, bring about) • implement (put into effect, carry out)
Avoiding arrogant phrases, such as: • as is well known • results clearly demonstrate • Use strong nouns to provide a helpful image of the subject. • Reduce abstract nouns, such as ability, factor, methods, criteria. • Use strong verbs to express action.
Being Familiar • Use language your readers will understand. Your words are designed to inform them, not puzzle or mystify them. • Avoid jargon (initials, nicknames) unless they are clear to readers. • Define unfamiliar terms. • Incorporate examples and analogies. • Be especially careful to avoid initials of processes or materials that might not be familiar.
Being Concise “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should have no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences.”(Strunk’ On Writing Well.) • Eliminate redundancies • Avoid needless repetition of a word within a sentence • Eliminate writing zeroes (as a matter of fact; it is noteworthy that; that fact that; it is significant that; the presence of…)
Being Fluid • All of this might give the impression that scientific writing becomes so flat and dull that it is painful to read. Good scientific writing does not have to be dull. Several techniques may be used to make scientific writing interesting to read.
Vary sentence rhythms by varying sentence openers, lengths, or structure. • Vary sentence openers by a clear subject-verb connection. • By using a prepositional phrase • By using transitional words • By using a participial phrase • Vary sentence length • Vary sentence structure