Module 3.7- A few more tips
In fact when people try too hard to avoid repeating a word, that can lead to some amusing sentences, as I'm going to show you in a minute. I see this all the time with my students they change the keywords through out the manuscript, because they are worried about repeating themselves but this leads to all through trouble. And I think scientists start to feel this angst about the fact that they're repeating this keyword so much, so they decide to make up an acronym instead.
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In this next module, I’m going to give you some more tips about repetition, keywords, and acronyms. Have a lute to some of this points already. But I think they worth highlighting in their own module. I mentioned several times that when you find yourself for the thesaurus to avoid repeating a word, this may be a case where you simply don’t need the second instance of that words at all. You’re being unnecessarily repetitive. We saw a sentence in unit one that had both illustrate and demonstrate. As well as challenges and difficulties in the same sentence, and we only needed one of the word from each of these pairs. This week, I gave you an example where the authors had teaches clinicians and guides clinicians. But we only needed one of these. So a lot of times, you can just delete the second use of the word altogether. But of course, there are some times when you do need to repeat. In those cases you’re again going to be tempted to reach for your thesaurus to find a synonym. But ask yourself the question, is this synonym really better than just repeating the word? In many cases it’s preferable to just repeat the word. Despite what you may have been taught along the way, repeating a word is not a cardinal sin. In fact when people try too hard to avoid repeating a word, that can lead to some amusing sentences, as I’m going to show you in a minute. In scientific writing, it’s actually essential that you repeat a word. You need to repeat keywords. Any words that are keywords in your paper, like the names of groups, the names of variables, the names of instruments, the names of a disease, you absolutely must repeat these terms throughout the manuscript. You need to be consistent, do not substitute synonyms for this keywords as this will lead to great confusion. I see this all the time with my students they change the keywords through out the manuscript, because they are worried about repeating themselves but this leads to all through trouble. I’ve had students come in and they’re working on a particular disease and they call the disease one thing and one place in the manuscript. And then they call is something different in other places in the manuscript. And I’m left thinking that they are talking about two different diseases. Or imagine if you’re comparing groups and in one case you call those groups the obese group and the lean group. But then elsewhere, because you’re afraid to repeat yourself you call them the heavier group and the lighter group. That’s problematic, because now as the reader I’m asking myself, are these new groups? Have you redefined the groups? Have you rejiggered the categories? It’s absolute essential in scientific writing that you be consistent in how you name those keywords. So I’m going to repeat to you that it’s okay to repeat a word. Sometimes it’s necessary to repeat a word, and sometimes it’s actually better to repeat that word than to reach for an awkward synonym. I’m going to share with you now some fun examples of needless synonyms. These are all examples from professional writers from newspapers and magazine articles. Many professional writers also have this belief drilled into them that they shouldn’t repeat a word. So in some cases they get very creative. These are real examples that were compiled in an article in Time Magazine and I’ve listed the reference at the bottom there in case you want to read the whole article. Probably the most famous example of this is, there was an article that somebody was writing about a fruit company. And they used the word banana several times, because it was an article about fruit. And they felt like, I’ve used the word banana too many times. So at one point, they started referring to the banana as the elongated yellow fruit. And you could say that that’s just kind of ridiculous. It’s probably better just to say banana. I’ve got several other cute examples. There was a piece in the newspaper where the author was talking about a beaver, and the author replaced beaver with the furry, pedal-tailed mammal. Another article, mustache was replaced with under nose hair crops. In another one, milk from a cow was referred to as, the vitamin laden liquid from a bovine milk factory. And finally, there was an example where somebody replaced the word skis with the beatified barrel staves. You can see how amusing it is when you’re trying too hard to come up with synonyms. It would have been better in all those cases to stick with a simple word. And Henry Fowler actually coined the term Elegant Variation For these kind of needless synonyms. And here’s a link to his article for those of you who are curious. And I just want to emphasize again, that in scientific writing it’s not just amusing if you replace a keyword with a synonym, it’s actually disastrous. Because the reader thinks you’re talking about something different. And this leads me to a final thought on acronyms. I think one of the reasons that acronyms have become so wide spread in the scientific literature, is that in scientific manuscripts it’s inevitable that you’re going to find yourself writing the same keyword over and over again. And I think scientists start to feel this angst about the fact that they’re repeating this keyword so much, so they decide to make up an acronym instead. I do want to point out that sometimes people will make a distinction between acronyms and initialisms. Acronyms actually make a new word, like the word NASA whereas initialisms just read off the initials, like CPU or RNA. I’m just going to call these all acronyms for simplicity, but I wanted to point out this fine distinction. My advice is to only use standard, well known acronyms that most scientists across many disciplines are going to know, like RNA. Don’t make up acronyms and don’t use acronyms that only people in your immediate field are going to know. Otherwise, the reader has to stop reading each time they encounter the acronym and look it up, like translating a foreign word. This puts a terrible burden on the reader. If there were a few acronyms, that you can’t let go off, at least make sure that you define them within each section of the paper. Because remember readers are not necessarily reading your paper from start to finish. So defining the acronym once at the beginning is not enough. Another suggestion l make to students is, if you want to create an acronym to save yourself some typing, to save yourself having to type that keyword over and over again when you’re drafting your manuscript, that’s fine. But when you’re done, go back and do a replace all and replace that made up acronym with the original words. Your reader will appreciate it. Here’s an example I pulled from a paper I was recently reviewing. It says, spinal muscle fatigue is common in people with LLA, because decreased spinal muscle endurance and strength has been been reported in persons with TFA and TTA with LBP. You can just see how annoying it is when your sentences are all alphabet like this. So avoid the use of acronyms other than the most standard ones.
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