Tag 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

“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.

Sentence of the Week, June 4, 2012

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.

 

Dangling “followed”

Pick up any usage book and you’ll be sure find a discussion of dangling participles. Participles are formed from verbs but act as adjectives, and as such, they require an appropriate noun to modify. When they fail to meet this requirement, they are said to dangle. Here, I’m going to focus on a specific participle that often dangles in scientific writing: the past participle “followed.” Let’s look at some sentences.

Metal precursors were introduced into separate polymer blocks, followed by removal of the templates by pyrolysis.

What noun does “followed” modify—that is, what was followed by removal of the templates? Neither the nearest noun, “blocks,” nor the noun at the beginning of the sentence, “precursors,” will work. The author intended “followed” to modify a noun that doesn’t actually appear in the sentence, “introduction”: Continue reading Dangling “followed”

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