8 Ways Your Scientific Writing Will Annoy Reviewers-Part 2


Hi. This is Karen McKee, retired scientist and
author. This is part two of ways your scientific writing
may annoy reviewers. We’re now at the fifth point. Using scientific jargon and large words instead
of simple, clear language. In 1921, the then director of the U.S. Geological
Survey, George Otis Smith, wrote a paper called Plain Geology, in which he promoted the use
of simple, straightforward language in geology papers. In it, Smith gave a number of examples of
incomprehensible language. Here’s one example. “The argillaceous character of the formation
is very prominent in some localities, although it is usually subsidiary to the arenaceous
phase.” You’re probably scratching your head over
that one. I know I did, and I’ll bet even a few geologists
would have difficulty with it. Authors use scientific jargon like this to
sound more knowledgeable and authoritative. Here’s the translation: “At some places the
formation includes considerable clay, but generally it is made up chiefly of sand.” Incomprehensible diction makes your readers
work harder to understand what you are trying to say. Some reviewers will become quite annoyed if
your paper is chockfull of undefined terms and multisyllabic words that they have to
look up in a dictionary. Of course, there will be technical terms that
you must use and for which there are no substitutes. An example might be photosynthesis or transpiration. Although technical, these terms are in wide
usage and wouldn’t need to be defined in a plant physiology paper published in a botanical
journal, for example. On the other hand, if you are submitting a
paper to a general science journal such as Nature, you may need to define your technical
terms so that readers outside your field can understand your paper. And that’s really the reason why you want
to write clearly and simply. Using a lot of technical jargon reduces your
potential audience to a handful of experts. Most journals want papers that will be of
interest to as many readers as possible. Six. Related to general jargon is statistical jargon. For example, I often see student papers that
make a statement such as, There was a significant interaction between salinity and flooding. P less than point zero, zero one. This sentence leaves the reader adrift to
figure out what exactly happened in the experiment. A better way is to say, The effect of flooding
on plant growth was greatest when salinity was high. Interaction effect, p less than point
zero, zero one. So, don’t use statistical jargon to describe
your results. Explain what happened in your experiment in
clear language that even your grandmother would understand and use the statistics to
support it. Seven. A generally verbose style of writing. This type of writer uses multiple words when
only one will do. Here are a few examples. In a careful manner. Use carefully instead. A large majority of. Just say most. At this point in time. Do you mean now? Such writers also use unnecessary phrases
such as “It is interesting to note” or “Due to the fact that”. These phrases can be replaced with a single
word or omitted altogether without altering the meaning. For example, it is important to note that
our study has implications for restoration of wetlands. That can be restated as, our study has important
implications for restoration of wetlands. Wordiness impedes communication and adds unnecessarily to the length of your paper. Another problem is use of nominalizations
to convey action. For example, this is an action expressed as
a nominalization. We conducted an analysis of the data. Analysis is the nominalization of the verb
to analyze. Compare that to We analyzed the data, In which
the real action is expressed in the verb. Nominalizations are a problem because they
make the reader work harder to figure out where the action is. Eight. Hedging By this, I mean using words such as suggest,
may, possibly, and putative. The results suggest that the treatment may
have caused the plants to grow taller. Excessive hedging like this will cause the
reviewer to doubt the validity of your results. If the treatment had a significant effect
on plant height, then say so. The treatment caused taller plants. p less than point zero, zero one. Well, those are eight reasons why your scientific
writing might irritate a reviewer. It’s not an exhaustive list, but is a sampling
of writing mistakes that I often see or hear about from colleagues. If you are a reviewer and have other writing
mistakes that particularly bother you, please leave a comment. Also, if you enjoyed this video, please let
me know by tapping the like button.

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