A series of weekly posts discussing revisions to a sentence from the scientific literature, highlighting various common grammar, syntax,  and usage issues—and ways to address them.

This week’s sentence is…

The sequence can readily be programmed; that is, it is possible to start from a common set of reagents and steer all levels of selectivity by varying only the order of reagents and/or the catalyst used.

Here’s one possible revision:

The sequence can readily be readily programmed; that is, it is possible to one can start from a common set of reagents and steercontrol all levels of selectivity by varying only the catalyst used or the order of in which the reagents and/or the catalyst usedare added, or both.

  • The adverb”readily” is now in its  natural location between the auxiliary verb (“can be”) and the main verb (“programmed”). For more on adverb placement, see Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 23-24.
  • Changing “it is possible to” to “one can” prevents readers from momentarily misreading the expletive “it” as a pronoun referring back to “the sequence.”
  • “Control…selectivity” is more idiomatic than “steer…selectivity.”
  • It’s  the addition of the reagents, not the reagents themselves, that has an order. With the extra words required to convey that information precisely, the sentence is easier to read when the  two variations (catalyst and order of reagent addition) are mentioned in the opposite order.
  • “And/or” is generally frowned upon as being imprecise. For example, see The ACS Style Guide, 3rd ed. (American Chemical Society, 2006), p. 56.

 

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