Category Archives: Usage

“Concerning” as an adjective

When you submit a paper to a scientific journal,  you want the editor and the referees to focus on the science not the writing, which should transmit your meaning without attracting attention to itself. Correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling are important, of course, but your writing should also sound natural to native speakers.  One way to achieve this is to avoid subtle errors in word usage. One that I frequently encounter in my ESL editing is the use of “concerning” as an adjective: Continue reading “Concerning” as an adjective

“A” or “An” with abbreviations? It depends.

Scientific papers tend to contain lots of abbreviations—acronyms, initialisms,* gene symbols and protein designations, element and isotope symbols, chemical formulas, and so on—and authors sometimes have difficulty choosing the correct indefinite article (“a” or “an”) to use with  abbreviations. Continue reading “A” or “An” with abbreviations? It depends.

“As a result” as a conjunctive adverbial phrase

“As a result” is often used as a conjunctive adverbial phrase to indicate cause-and-effect relationships; in this sense, it is synonymous with “therefore,” “hence,” “consequently,” “as a consequence,” and “accordingly.” Here are some sentences in which “as a result” is used in this way.

The molecule has bulky substituents in the ortho positions; as a result, the eclipsed rotamer is energetically disfavored.

The fact that eclipsed rotamer is energetically disfavored is a consequence of the steric bulk of the substituents.

The diphenyl phosphine oxide group is electron withdrawing, and as a result, the central carbon of the allene is electron deficient.

The electron deficiency is a consequence of the presence of the electron-withdrawing group.

In the course of my ESL editing, I often encounter what seems to me a nonstandard use of “as a result,” in which the phrase is used prepositionally to connect a sentence or clause describing an experiment and a second sentence or clause describing the outcome of that experiment. The usage seems particularly common  in papers written by authors whose native language is Japanese. Here’s an example:

We investigated the photocatalytic degradation of 17β-estradiol in water and concurrently evaluated the estrogenic activity of the treated water. As a result, 17β-estradiol was totally mineralized to CO2 in a TiO2 suspension under UV irradiation for 3 h.

Some readers will momentarily misinterpret “as a result” as implying that the mineralization was a consequence of, was caused by, the investigation and evaluation. However, the author is actually using “as a result” simply to indicate that the subsequent text describes a result (a finding) of the experiment. That is, “17β-estradiol was totally mineralized to CO2…” constitutes a result of the experiment. The sentence opening could be thought of as an elided form of “As a result of this experiment, we found that…”

Here’s another example:

Serial dilution tests of the JCAbl antibody were performed on the three tissues. As a result, JCAbl reacted with JCV-IMR32 cells and PML tissues at all the dilutions.

Here, again, the authors do not mean that the reaction of the antibody with the tissues was caused by, was a consequence of, the serial dilutions tests. Rather, they mean that the observed result of the experiments was that the antibody reacted with the specified tissues at all dilutions.

I wouldn’t call this use of “as a result” a serious error, but as I pointed out, some readers will find it momentarily distracting. In my opinion, the best revision is simply to replace “as a result” with “we found that”:

We investigated the photocatalytic degradation of 17β-estradiol in water and concurrently evaluated the estrogenic activity of the treated water. We found that 17β-estradiol was totally mineralized to CO2 in a TiO2 suspension under UV irradiation for 3 h.

But you could also revise to any of the following:

We investigated the photocatalytic degradation of 17β-estradiol in water….The results of these experiments indicated that 17β-estradiol was totally mineralized to CO2 in a TiO2 suspension under UV irradiation for 3 h.

When we investigated the photocatalytic degradation of 17β-estradiol in water…, we found that that 17β-estradiol was totally mineralized to CO2 in a TiO2 suspension under UV irradiation for 3 h.

Investigation of the photocatalytic degradation of 17β-estradiol in water and concurrent evaluation of the estrogenic activity of the treated water indicated that 17β-estradiol was totally mineralized to CO2 in a TiO2 suspension under UV irradiation for 3 h.

If anyone can verify that this is an artifact of the Japanese language, I’d be interested to hear about it.

What’s the difference between “extensively” and “intensively”?

What’s the difference between studying a subject extensively and studying it intensively, between doing extensive research and intensive research? It seems like a simple enough question, one that could easily be answered by consulting a dictionary. I consulted four: Merriam-Webster Unabridged (3rd ed), The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th ed), and The American Heritage Dictionary (5th ed) .* Here’s what I found:
Continue reading What’s the difference between “extensively” and “intensively”?

Top five posts of 2012

Is improving your scientific writing among your goals for the new year? If so, you might start by revisiting the five most-read posts on The Scientist’s English for 2012:

1. Adverb placement 

2. Dangling infinitives

3. Shortening your paper or abstract

4. Illogical comparisons

5. Implied antecedents for “those” and that” 

I look forward to providing more tips in 2013. In the meantime, I’d like to direct you to a wonderful series of articles on scientific writing, published in 2010 in the journal Clinical Chemistry: “The Clinical Chemistry Guide to Scientific Writing.” The great thing for ESL authors is that these articles—which cover all the components of a typical scientific paper, including figures and tables—have been translated into Chinese, Spanish, and Portuguese. For additional online information about scientific writing, visit the links in the sidebar on the right, under “Scientific Writing Advice.”