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Don’t omit needed words

In a review article I was reading recently to get some background information for an editing job, I encountered a sentence that I couldn’t decipher even after having read it several times. It serves as  a good example of how omitting words can lead readers down the garden path to a misinterpretation, or several possible misinterpretations. Here’s the sentence:

The cytosol contains enzymes that channel reducing equivalents from NADPH to small thiol-containing species and thiol/disulfide oxidoreductase enzymes (e.g., glutathione and thioredoxin) to reverse disulfide formation and other oxidative modifications of proteins. Continue reading Don’t omit needed words

Compound adjectives formed with “adsorbed” and “immobilized”

Compound adjectives constructed from a noun plus the past participle of a verb are used frequently in English. Consider, for example, the sentence

The skiers raced down the snow-covered slopes.

Here, “snow-covered” is a compound adjective constructed from the noun “snow” and the past participle of the verb “to cover.” The compound describes the slopes; the slopes were covered. Covered with what? Covered with snow.

Here’s another:

The bishop placed the jewel-encrusted crown on the queen’s head.

“Jewel-encrusted” is a compound adjective modifying “crown”; the crown was encrusted with jewels.

Now let’s look a couple of analogous sentence from the scientific literature.

The surface-adsorbed nitrogen was quantified by means of a transient-response experiment.

Here, “surface-adsorbed” is a compound adjective constructed from the noun “surface” and the past participle of the verb “to adsorb.” The compound modifies “nitrogen; the nitrogen was adsorbed. Where was it adsorbed? On the surface. Continue reading Compound adjectives formed with “adsorbed” and “immobilized”

Adverb placement: Predominantly, mainly, mostly

The placement of adverbs—which modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs—can substantially change the meaning of a sentence. You’ve probably run across example sentences illustrating the importance of correctly placing the adverb “only”:

Only I drive red cars; no one else drives them.

I only drive red cars; I do not park them.

I drive only red cars; I do not drive green cars.

I drive red-only cars; I do not drive multicolored cars.

I drive red cars only; I do not drive red motorcycles.

Perhaps because “only” is so often used as an example in grammar books, many writers place it correctly. However, in the course of my scientific editing, I routinely encounter other misplaced adverbs;  the usual culprits are “predominantly,” “mainly,” and “mostly.” Let’s look at some examples: Continue reading Adverb placement: Predominantly, mainly, mostly

Be kind to newbies

In addition to being an editor, I’m also a knitter, and I occasionally teach knitting and write knitting patterns. When I first started writing patterns, I was surprised by the ways that my students could misinterpret instructions that seemed perfectly clear to me, and I quickly learned to word my instructions as clearly and precisely as possible. The same could be said of the Materials and Methods section of a scientific paper. Continue reading Be kind to newbies