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BITC Publication Class 4: Words to Avoid

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OK, so now we have the basic concept of our paper, and we also have some platforms by which we are going to get started. So, now, you are going to sit down and you are going to write. There are some things--some mistakes that people make very, very commonly. There are some words that, quite simply, you should just stay away from, because they are not part of good scientific English. So I am going to give you four slides of -- kind of -- basic writing tips for scientific writing in English. OK, so, this is your first slide of things to avoid. So let's discuss the word "while." Essentially, this is a word that gets used quite a bit in scientific English--don't use this word to mean "although." Really, what this word means is "at the same time as," so "I went to the store WHILE my friend went to the restaurant." Many times, you do not need to use it at all; you can simply use a semicolon. But again, this is a word that gets overused. A second little bit of wisdom is the use of these two abbreviations, "e.g." and "i.e." "E.g." means "exempli gratia," or "for example," so it introduces some examples, some instances, or a short list of names or items. "I.e.," on the other hand, means "id est" or "that is," and so that is going to introduce a restatement of something. So, make the difference: "e.g." is the same as "for example," and "i.e." is restating. Don't use one for the other. Notice that both of the words in both of these abbreviations are abbreviated, and so both of them should have periods. Whether there's a comma after them depends on the specific journal's style. Then we get into this pair of words: "compose" versus "comprise." "Comprise" is basically saying "including." So "comprising" is "embracing" or "taking in," whereas "composing" is "making up." And so one is the whole encompassing the parts, and the other is the parts making up the whole. So make sure you use these two carefully. And also don't use "comprised of." A third set of words of wisdom are these causal things: "because," "since," "as." These are conjunctions that express reason or cause; perhaps the strongest of the three is "because." This happened because that happened. So that's direct attribution of cause. "Since" is a bit more shallow and weak: what follows is implied by what precedes. And "as" is very subtle and very soft. So, [you] can use those three in the right places. Finally, let's talk about "although" and "though." They are largely interchangeable, but when you are beginning a clause, it can be better to use "although," because it's a bit more emphatic and a bit clearer. So, that's a first set of bits of wisdom about words to use and words not to use. Here's a second set of words to avoid. The word "very." Almost always, you can just remove it. If I say, "values of the index were very high," that's not much less communicative than "values of the index were high." So you don't gain very much by this extra word. Similarly, in English, we have this construction "there is" or "there are." For example, "there are thirty birds sitting on the wire." Why don't we use a more direct statement? "Thirty birds are sitting on the wire." I have found that, in essentially every instance, I can find a more effective and more direct way of wording something, without "there is" and "there are." Think about that, as you read through your papers. Then we have these pronouns "this," "these," and "those" as nouns. These are actually modifiers, and not nouns. But people often say, "This is why I ..." No. "This REASON is why ..." or "This PROBLEM is why ..." But don't use them as nouns. Next, passive verbs versus active verbs. Most of the time, when we use a passive construction, like, "this bird was processed by these approaches," we can restate exactly the same sentence as, "we used these approaches to process this bird." So, there's no good reason why you should load your text with these kinds of backwards constructions which are passive verbs. Last on this slide is "et al." This comes from the Latin, "et altera, or "and others," so we say this when we have multiple coauthors, we say, "Johnson et al.," so that means "al." is short for "altera." "Et" is not. So "al." needs to have a period, so that it reflects the fact that it is an abbreviation, unless your journal expressedly does not use that format. I see very frequently things like this, and we're not even going to talk about "Johnson et ALL." But just remember that this comes from "et altera," and then you will never have problems with remembering how "et al." should be. That's Words to Avoid #2; now let's go on to #3. Here's a third set of bits of wisdom about scientific writing. Very commonly, you will see this construction of "due to." And most uses of this construction really should be replaced with "owing to," [or] "because of," because "due to" really implies that a quantity is owed. Whereas what we really want to express is causation. And then spaces after periods and colons ... Back when my career was beginning, we still had to put two spaces after a colon and two spaces after a period. That really was related to how type was set, how publishing was done. These days, your word processing program probably accords a bit of extra space after periods and after colons automatically. So those two spaces are not necessary. But really, what it comes down to is BE CONSISTENT. If you are going to do it one way, do it that way all the way through the manuscript absolutely consistently. Then we have British versus U.S. English spelling. I am from the U.S., so obviously I prefer the U.S. spelling. But a colleague of mine from Great Britain would see the world quite differently. Neither is CORRECT. Each one is 'correct' if that is what the journal is requesting. But, these are pairs of British versus American spelling. The most common one is that we see "acknowledgement" with or without the "e". That's not a matter of preference; it's simply what is the style of your journal. You can write in British English; you can write in American English. The important thing is: do it consistently. One or the other, and then it's always very easy to go back and forth. So, when we talk about modifiers, sometimes we have modifiers that consist of multiple parts. It's convenient to connect those with a hyphen. That's what we are talking about with these "hyphenated compound modifiers." So, we can say "that man is well respected." The only modifiers we have are "well" modifying "respected" and "respected" modifying "man." But it's quite clear that that man is well respected. But if we want to combine "well respected" into a modifier for "man," then it's convenient to include a hyphen. This is a detail, but it can avoid the confusion of "he is a ... well ... respected man," or "he is a ... well-respected man." So just be thinking about how you can use hyphens--in moderation--to clear up some of your modifiers. That's a third set of words to avoid and problems to avoid; let's go on to a fourth. Here's our fourth and final list of little quibbles with scientific English ... The use of the word "where" ... "Where" refers to location. Don't use it to refer to things which are better dealt with as "in which" or "for which." So, for example, you might see the sentence, "Predation on small prey, where many individuals must be captured per dive ..." Well, that's not referring to a place. It is referring to this quality of predation on small prey, and so much better would be, "Predation on small prey, in which many individuals must be captured per dive ..." So, again, use "where" for location. "Predate" actually should be pronounced "PRE-date," and it means something that happened in advance of another thing. The verb that refers to predation is "depredate." Another quibble is "monophyletic clade." Guess what? A clade is by definition monophyletic, so just get rid of "monophyletic." When you use the word "clade," we know that you are saying that it is monophyletic. The word "data," very very common in science, remember that the word "data" is plural. If it is plural, then it requires plural forms of verbs after it, and the singular is "datum." When you refer to a single piece of data, you literally have to say "datum," not "data." The word "the" is vastly overused. When I do an editing pass through a manuscript, I can usually remove 30-40-50 percent of the uses of the word "the." It's generally not necessary. Split infinitives ... The infinitive is here "to divide," but here it has been split using an adverb, "blatantly." It's just an ugly use of a construction in English. "To divide the word blatantly ..." or "to divide blatantly the word ..." It may be a little more cumbersome, but it's a lot less ugly. And finally, we have a whole set of considerations about hyphens and dashes. Hyphens are used to build compound modifiers, then these short dashes that are called 'n-dashes' are used to indicate ranges of numbers, like here "4 to 5," and then the longer 'm-dashes' are used essentially to subset sentences. Like, "I ate--more than anything--because I was hungry. These are m-dashes. OK, so that was a little bit long and tedious, but that was a whole set of suggestions that you can use to improve your written English. What I would suggest to you, as you get these and other suggestions into your writing brain, I would suggest that you write your manuscript, and then you go back through it For example, you could search "clade," and make sure that you do not have "monophyletic;" you could search "where," and just make sure you are happy with its use, at each instance at which you use it.

Video Details

Duration: 14 minutes and 12 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: A. Townsend Peterson
Director: A. Townsend Peterson
Views: 36
Posted by: townpeterson on Dec 24, 2012

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