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
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.
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:
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.”
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 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.
- 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.
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.
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”