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BITC: Publication Class -- 4. Words to Avoid

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Okay, so now we have the basic concept of our paper. We also have some platforms by which we're going to get started. Now, you're going to sit down, and you're going to write. There are some mistakes that people make very commonly. There are some words that, quite simply, you should just stay away from because they're not part of good scientific English. I'm going to give you four slides of basic writing tips for scientific writing in English. This is your first slide of things to avoid. Let's discuss the word 'while'. This is a word that gets abused in scientific English. Don't use this word to mean 'although.' What this word means is 'at the same time as.' Example: "I went to the store while my friend went to the restaurant." Many times you don't need to use it all. You can simply use a semi-colon. Again, this is a word that gets overused. A second bit of wisdom: use of these two abbreviations - 'e.g.' and 'i.e.' 'e.g.' means "exempli gratia." Or, 'for example.' 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.' That introduces a restatement of something. So, understand the differences. 'e.g.' is saying 'for example'; and, 'i.e.' is restating. Don't use one for the other. Notice that both of the words in both abbreviations are abbreviated. So, both should have periods. Whether there is a comma after them depends on the specific journal's style. Then we get into this pair of words: compose vs comprise. 'Comprise' is basically saying 'including.' Comprising is embracing or taking in. Whereas 'composing' is making up. 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. Also, don't use 'comprised' often. Okay? A third set are these causal words: because, since, as. These are conjunctions that express reason or cause. Perhaps the strongest of the three is 'because.' "This happened because that happened." 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, use those three in the right places. Finally, let's talk about 'although' and 'though.' They're largely interchangeable. But, when you're beginning a clause it is better to use 'although' because it's a bit clearer and more emphatic. 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. You can almost always remove the word 'very.' If I say, 'values of the index were very high' that's not much less communicative than, 'values of the index were high'. You don't gain very much from that extra word. Similarly, in English, we have this construction: 'there is' and 'there are.' Example: "There are 30 birds sitting on the wire." Why don't we use a more direct statement? "Thirty birds are sitting on the wire." I've found that, in nearly every instance, I can find a more effective and more direct way of wording something without 'there is' or 'there are.' So, think about that when you read through your papers. Then, we have these pronouns -this, these, those- as nouns. These are modifiers. They're not nouns. But, people often say, 'This is why I...' No. 'This reason is why...' Or, 'this problem is why...' Don't use them as nouns. Next. Passive verbs vs active verbs. Most of the time, when we use a passive construction (e.g., 'This bird was processed by these approaches...'), we can restate exactly the same sentence as, 'We used these approaches to processes this bird.' There's no good reason why you should load your text with these backwards constructions which are passive verbs. Last on this slide is 'et al.' This comes from the Latin "et altera;" or, 'and others.' We say this when we have multiple co-authors (e.g., Johnson et al.). 'al.' is short for "altera." But, "et" is not shortened. Okay? So, 'al.' needs to have a period to reflect the fact that it is an abbreviation. Unless your journal expressly does not use that format. Very frequently, I see things like this: "Johnson et all 2004" (and we're not going to even talk about that) Johnson et all - 'a-l-l' Just understand that this comes from "et altera" and then you'll never have problems remembering how et al. should be. That's Words to Avoid #2. Let's go on to #3. Here's a third set of bits of wisdom about scientific writing in English. Very commonly, you'll see this construction of 'due to.' Most uses of this should be replaced with 'owing to' - because of. This is because 'due to' implies that a quantity is owed, whereas what we really want to express is one of causation. 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 was related to how type was set and 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 no longer necessary. What it comes down to is consistency. If you choose one way, do it that way through the entire manuscript. Be absolutely consistent. Then we have British versus U.S. English spelling. I'm 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 incorrect. Each one is correct if that's what the journal is requesting. These are pairs of British versus American spelling. One of the most common is acknowledgement with or without the 'e' in it. That's not a matter of preference. It's simply: what's the style of your journal? You can write in British English. You can write in American English. The important thing is to do it consistently. One or the other. Then it's always very easy to go back and forth. 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're talking about with these 'hyphenated, compound modifiers.' So, we could say, 'that man is well respected.' And, the only modifier we have is 'well' which is modifying 'respected,' and 'respected' 'man'. But, it's quite clear that 'that man' is 'well respected.' 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, be thinking about how you can use hyphens in moderation to clear up some of your modifiers. That's a third set of words and problems to avoid. Let's go on to a fourth. Here's our fourth and final list of little quibbles with scientific English. Use of the word 'where.' 'Where' refers to location. Do not use it to refer to things that are better dealt with as 'in which' or 'for which.' For example, you might see the sentence: 'Predation on small prey, where many individuals must be captured per dive, blah, blah, blah...' 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.' Again, use 'where' for location. 'Predate' should actually be pronounced 'pre-date'. It means something that happened in advance of another thing. The verb that refers to predation is 'depredate.' Another quibble is 'monophyletic clade.' A clade is, by definition, monophyletic. Just get rid of 'monophyletic' if you're going to use the word 'clade.' We know you're saying that it is monophyletic. The word 'data' is very common in science. The word 'data' is plural. If it's plural, then it requires plural forms of verbs after it. The singular is 'datum.' When you refer to a single piece of data, you literally need to say 'datum' not 'data.' The word 'the' is vastly overused. When I do an editing pass through a manuscript, I can usually remove 30-50% of the uses of the word 'the.' It's generally not necessary. Split infinitives. The infinitive here is: 'To divide...' But, here it's 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...' may be a little more cumbersome but it's a lot less ugly. Finally, we have a whole set of considerations about hyphens and dashes. Hyphens are used to build compound modifiers. The short dashes, called 'n-dashes', are used to indicate ranges of numbers. (Example. 4-5) The longer 'm-dashes' are used to subset sentences. (e.g., 'I ate —more than anything— because I was hungry.') These are m-dashes. Okay. 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. 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. For example, you could search 'clade' and make sure you don't have 'monophyletic.' You could search 'where' and make sure you're happy with its use at each instance in which you use it.

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Posted by: townpeterson on Jul 5, 2016

Publication Class: How to Publish a Scientific Paper

A. Townsend Peterson, University of Kansas
In English

Academic productivity and effective communication of research results depend critically on publishing scientific articles in scholarly journals. This set of 13 video segments aims to provide an overview of the entire publishing process. It is not specific to biodiversity informatics, but rather can be quite general for the natural sciences at least.

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