Mind your Language! A Very Brief Guide to Language Usage in Scientific Writing (2)

Mind your Language! A Very Brief Guide to Language Usage in Scientific Writing (2)

Author: Richard Threlfall

Have you ever struggled to write up your results into a publishable paper only to get it rejected? Richard Threlfall, Managing Editor, Asian Journal of Organic Chemistry, gives some insider tips on how to improve the language of your article.


Simple Language

OK, so how did you do on last month’s task of making a simpler passage of the following?

“Functionalized polythiophene compound 1 exhibits attractive electronic properties and shows fluorescence due to functionalized polythiophene 1 possessing a benzyl group at the C5 position. This synthetic methodology represents both a significant advance over previous reports of functionalized polythiophene compounds and opens new avenues towards developing novel photoexcitable oligomers.”

Hopefully you came up with something like this:

“Functionalized polythiophene 1 has useful electronic properties and fluoresces because it has a benzyl group at the C5 position. Our synthetic method has three fewer steps than those reported previously and can potentially be used for further development of photoexcitable oligomers.”

The important point about our new passage is that the crucial technical information and its implications, that is, the electronic properties, fluorescence, the C5 benzyl group, and using this method to develop more photoexitable oligomers, has remained exactly the same. It is also specific; therefore, even if someone only reads your conclusion, they can get a good idea of the advantages of your method.

Bringing Your Message to the Reader/Editor/Reviewer
The thesaurus function is very convenient in the popular word processing packages for finding all sorts of alternative and more complicated words for whatever you want to say. However, as Oppenheimer showed in the study cited at the beginning of the first part, complicated words may sound impressive to you, but they often have the opposite effect on your reader. A reader/editor/reviewer may be turned off and may well miss the whole point of your manuscript if it is unnecessarily dressed up in difficult language.

Bringing a Better Understanding of Science to the Public

A secondary point here is that we know that there is a problem communicating science to the general public. Scientists are regarded as unintelligible because we routinely use complex language which makes science seem out of reach to the non-scientist. Getting into the habit of writing in simple language in your papers can only help towards solving this problem, and bringing a better understanding of science to the public is in everyone’s interest.

As a final note, I’ll give the last words on this subject to a man who elegantly sums it all up:
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” Ernst Friedrich Schumacher, 1911–1977.




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