10 Scientific Writing Mistakes that Reveal You Are a Novice (or Careless)

Hi. This is Karen McKee, retired scientist and
author with another video about scientific writing. In this video, I’m going to focus on minor
errors that mark you as an amateur or careless writer. Some of these mistakes many of you probably
already know. But not everyone, which is why I’m going through
them. Let’s start with an embarrassing one. I once received a manuscript to review, and as
I was about to fall asleep reading the discussion, a line of text startled me awake. One of the authors had inserted a personal
comment right after citing a published paper. It said, “This paper is terrible, but I guess
we have to cite it.” Obviously, this was a note made by one of
the co-authors that they failed to remove later during editing. Clearly, these authors had not carefully proof-read
their manuscript before submitting it. My suggestion is to avoid including such personal
comments in the first place. A second mistake is to use terms inconsistently
throughout the manuscript, especially capitalization, spelling, and acronyms. For example, if you say sea-level rise with
a hyphenated modifier, don’t later use sea level rise without the hyphen. A third mistake is to use the same sentence
construction over and over. The water samples were stored in acid-washed
bottles. The samples were transported to the laboratory
within 12 hours. The samples were analyzed for salinity and
pH. Mix it up. The water samples were stored in acid-washed
bottles for transport. At the laboratory, the water was analyzed
for salinity and pH. Four. Using only passive sentence construction. By this, I mean a sentence in which the subject
is acted upon by the verb. Samples were analyzed. Field sites were selected. There is nothing wrong with passive sentences,
and sometimes that is the best choice. But active sentences, in which the action
is carried out by the subject, will make your writing more interesting and alive. A single tree species dominated the site. Nutrient addition altered plant competition. Five. Switching between past and present tense inappropriately. Use the past tense to describe what you did
in the past. The leaf samples were washed with deionized
water. Use present tense to relate general truths. The earth’s orbit around the sun is elliptical. The future tense is used to state a perspective. Future work will focus on the mechanism underlying
the observed phenomenon. Six. Using multiple-word nouns and stacked modifiers Surface elevation change rate. Maximum global sea level rise rate. Use prepositions and hyphens to break these
up. Rate of surface-elevation change. Maximum rate of global sea-level rise. Seven. Using more words than necessary. Due to the fact that. On account of. These can be replaced with a single word:
because. Eight. Replacing words with bigger words to sound
more authoritative. Superincumbent stratum of calcareous composition
could be simply stated as an overlying bed of limestone. Nine. Using flowery descriptions. The river flowed like a shining ribbon through
the verdant landscape. Save it for your novel. Also, don’t lecture the reader about well-known
facts. A central goal of ecology is to describe and
understand the abiotic and biotic factors controlling an ecosystem. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants
use radiant energy and carbon dioxide to synthesize carbohydrates. Chances are, your readers will already know
these facts. Although you want to put your work into a
broader perspective, these are a bit too broad. Ten. Describing every blip in the data. The nitrogen concentration was high in January,
a bit lower in February, even lower in March, and reached the lowest point in mid-July,
after which the concentration increased from August to December. Instead, describe the general pattern. Nitrogen concentrations fluctuated seasonally
from a high in mid-winter to a low in mid-summer. Let the reader study the graph in which nitrogen
concentrations are plotted to get the details. Well, that’s just a sampling of minor writing
mistakes that will tell a reviewer or editor that you are either a novice or a careless
writer. I hope you’ll find these points useful, if
you weren’t aware of them before. Or, it may remind you to be more careful and
proofread your paper before submitting it. If you liked this video, please let me know
by voting. If you’d like me to do a video about a writing
topic you are having trouble with, be sure to leave a comment.

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