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
It’s difficult to find a book on scientific writing that doesn’t inveigh against weak verbs and nominalizations, and in previous posts, I’ve suggested ways to find them in your papers and eliminate them (here, here, and here). In this post, I want to point out another one: “served as,” as in
Metallic nickel served as a catalyst for the growth of carbon nanotubes. Continue reading Served as
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”
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
In science writing—as opposed to, say, literary criticism or cultural studies—a premium is placed on precise, clear language. Unambiguous communication of information is in fact the fundamental goal of science writing. One way to achieve this goal is to consistently use the most precise language possible: choose a precise word or phrase and use it consistently. Consider the following (simplified) sentences taken from the abstract, introduction, discussion, and conclusion of a chemistry paper:
We investigated the antiatherogenic properties of the compound.
We investigated the antiatherosclerotic properties of the compound.
We investigated the antiatherosclerosis activity of the compound.
We investigated the atherosclerosis-preventing activity of the compound.