Remedied (science) writing – 1

edit red pen adjusted_0

This will be one of the many posts to come where I showcase a bunch of poorly written, sometimes unintelligible sentences found in my lecture notes and edit them to become better versions of themselves.

Why am I doing this?  I was looking for ways to build up my competence as a science communicator/writer and needed some sort of linguistic practice. So I figured I could get some exercise by rewriting some bad forms of writing. But that meant I needed to find a good source of badly written sentences or phrases. And then, I realised that my lecture notes had loads of these convoluted sentences and phrases. Hurray!

Don’t get me wrong, though. My main motivation for doing this isn’t to show that my professors are really poor at writing (maybe some really are, or they’re just not used to writing for communication) but I read these notes almost every day before I go for my classes, and sometimes it isn’t because that I’m so new to a concept that I cannot understand it immediately, it’s because the information has been presented in an incoherent way, it’s hard to understand the meaning.

I hope that posts like this will help out some of my peers who are taking their courses in scientific communication this semester and will serve as examples to learn from. At the same time, if you have a better way of rephrasing or restructuring these sentences, do share them in the comments! I’m here to learn as well.

So here they are, three for starters. The originals are in the blockquotes, which are followed by my version and some comments.

#1

The amount of cold-activated Brown Adipose Tissue in men is negatively associated with body fat or BMI.

In men, the amount of cold-activated brown adipose tissue negatively correlates with body fat or BMI.

  • Brown adipose tissue isn’t a proper noun. Only proper nouns like ‘Anthony’ get the privilege of capitalisation.
  • I used ‘correlate’ instead of ‘associate’ here because, unlike the latter, the former is a statistics term. I guess it depends on your audience.

#2

Body temperature is controlled by thermoregulatory center in hypothalamus that operates on a set point.

Operating on a set-point, the thermoregulatory center in the hypothalamus controls body temperature.

  • The phrase ‘a set point’ is ambiguous because it looks like a modified noun that refers to a point set in some place. I might’ve thought it was not a scientific term had I not looked it up. Here, set-point refers to the target value of a controlled variable that is maintained physiologically by bodily control mechanisms for homeostasis.
  • Joining the two words with a hyphen solves the problem by showing that it is a compound word — a combination of two or more words that contain a single meaning.

#3

ATP is the energy currency of the cell. It provides the energy that drives the manifold activities of all living cells – the synthesis of complex biomolecules, the osmotic work involved in transporting substances into cells, the work of cell motility, and the work of muscle contraction. These diverse activities are all powered by energy released in the hydrolysis of ATP to ADP and inorganic phosphate (Pi). There is an energy cycle in cells where ATP serves as the vessel carrying energy from photosynthesis or catabolism to the energy-requiring processes  unique to living cells.

ATP is the cell’s energy currency. It provides energy for activities in the cell such as the synthesis of complex biomolecules, transporting substances into the cell, cell motility, and muscle contraction. Activities like these are powered by energy from the hydrolysis of ATP to ADP and inorganic phosphate (Pi). In cells, there is an energy cycle in which ATP from photosynthesis or catabolism carries energy to reactions that require it.

  • Generally speaking, I had no issues with this short paragraph except for the last sentence. I had to reread that sentence several times before I understood what it meant.
  • The reference that ATP serves as the vessel carrying energy might have been lost in my version, but I think I have made the implication that ATP is still a carrier of sorts by using ‘carries’.

Let me know your thoughts on why you think professors write like this. Do your professors or instructors write sentences or phrases that are hard to understand?

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