4.1 More paragraph practice

دوره: Writing in the Sciences / فصل: writing process / درس 1

4.1 More paragraph practice

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So we can say a lay clerk enters these records into the general church database, and updates them to reflect dates of ordinances. Well, if you think about that carefully, it says that each member has an opportunity to review their membership record once a year to check it for accuracy. Aggressive children may have underlying psychiatric disorders or cognitive disabilities that increase their risk of drug use.

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Welcome to Unit 4 of Writing in the Sciences. So far in this course, we’ve talked about how to write better sentences and better paragraphs. In the first module of this unit, we’re going to practice those skills by editing several paragraphs. I want you to test yourself, so I’m going to ask you to pause the video and try editing the exercises on your own. And then you can restart the video, and I’ll walk you through my edits. Last week, we talked about experimenting with punctuation using the semi colon, the dash, the parentheses and the colon. And just in case you’re still feeling a little bit timid about using that kind of exotic punctuation in your Scientific article. I saw this week an article in Nature Physics which has an impact factor of 19, it’s a great journal. This was written by two physicists, and notice, I pulled out one of their paragraphs. Notice that they very much used the semicolon, dash, colon and parentheses. So here’s one example paragraph, I’m not going to read it. I’ll let you kind of read it on your own. But you can see that it’s very effective. It’s a very clear and well written article. They use these punctuation marks effectively, and it is okay to use them and it’s even encouraged to use them. And they also have a whimsical title for their article, which is always nice. So now let’s jump right in to the exercises for this module. Again, I want you to test yourself a little bit. So I’ll kind of give you some guidance on each of these paragraphs. And then I’m going to ask you to pause the video and edit it on your own. So each of the paragraphs that I’ve picked for this module, I try to pick things that don’t require a lot of technical background or too much context. So that everybody should be able to edit them. So, I’m not going to bother to read through the entire paragraph, because you can read it on your own. But this first paragraph’s basically telling you a taxonomy about some different terms that are used when we talk about measuring the quality of instruments. So I want you to read through it and edit it, keeping in mind that you’re trying to put into play all of these different tools that I have given you. So kind of try to cut a lot of unnecessary clutter, get it down to the heart of the matter. So why don’t you pause the video now. And when you are done editing, then go ahead and restart the video, and I’ll go through my edits on this. All right, so hopefully you came up with a nice solid edit on that paragraph. When I was editing that, the first thing I kind of ask myself is just what’s the paragraph about? What’s the idea contained in that paragraph? So what the authors are trying to convey is this taxonomy of these different terms used to assess the quality of an instrument. And it’s kind of a complicated paragraph. It’s a little bit boring, right, because it’s just about terms, which is never the most interesting thing to read. And actually my first instinct when I read that paragraph was to put everything in a table. And you can imagine that this paragraph, rather than being in prose, this information could have actually probably been better presented as a table, or even a nice little tree diagram. So there are a lot of instances, and you should be aware of them, watch out for them. Where it might be better to put something in a figure, rather than to put it in prose. It just lends itself better to a figure. So but this is like, I came up with, I put in the little table. So we have, kind of, the domains, that’s the highest level. Then we get the sub-level of measurement property, and then below that we have aspect. And here’s how all those terms fill that in. So then I kind of used that framework to help myself edit this paragraph. And hopefully, you came up with something that was similarly short, right? We don’t need a lot of words to give this taxonomy. So I’ve pared it down to, we assess each instrument based on reliability, validity, and responsiveness. These domains may be subdivided into measurement properties. Reliability includes these three measurement properties. Validity includes these other three. And responsiveness is both a domain and a measurement property. So they had a kind of long spiel in the original where they were explaining. Well, it’s kind of actually funny, I’m going to scroll back to it here. They were saying well, but for reasons of clarity, the domain and the measurement property have the same name. And I was thinking, well that actually makes it more confusing to me, not more clear. But anyway, I kind of pared down that whole discussion by just saying the responsiveness is both a domain and a measurement property. And I would go to the next level, some measurement properties additionally contain multiple aspects. For example, construct validity includes structural validity, hypothesis testing and cross cultural validity. So moving on to the second exercise, this one is actually two paragraphs long. But I’m going to encourage you to try to think of a way to bring it together into a single paragraph, because I think it actually probably only lends itself to one paragraph. So this was from a study where they were looking at church records. And this is from their method section. They’re trying to tell you a little about those records, where they came from and what information is in them. So, again, it’s two paragraphs long. I just want to draw your attention to the very last line. I’m not going to read through the whole thing. You can read through it on your own. But the very last line of the second paragraph, it’s kind of funny, so. It says when a member dies and the clerk reports his or her death to the Church Membership Council, the membership record is updated and then archived in the church’s deceased membership file. So notice that you’re reading that along, it sounds like it’s the membership file, it’s the file that’s deceased, right? So it has this kind of funny thing with adjectives. So you want to be careful with adjectives, because you can come up with funny things like deceased files. So obviously you’re going to want to edit that last line carefully. So why don’t you go ahead and I’m going to put both of the paragraphs up on a single slide so you can have them at your fingertips. Why don’t you now go ahead and pause the video, edit both paragraphs. And then when you’re done, restart the video, and I’ll kind of walk you through my edits. All right, so hopefully you were able to get it down to a single paragraph. So when I was editing this, I asked myself, what’s the main idea, the main point of these paragraphs? And so what I think the main point was, is that they were just trying to get across that the information that they used for their study, which was from the church records, that it was accurate and reliable. And notice in the original version, they used those terms, accurate and reliable several times. They use the term accuracy many times. So I was able to pare it down by kind of taking away some of the repetition. So I want to scroll back and just kind of point this out to you. So in the original two paragraphs, they say in the very first sentence, it is a high level of accuracy. They give you a reference for that. Then they try and give you some details about how this works to kind of verify that indeed it is accurate. And then, in the second paragraph, they go back to talking a lot about accuracy. While the accuracy is dependent, each member can review the record once a year to check it for accuracy. For this reason, and because the church emphasizes accurate record keeping the information is quite reliable. So they’re repeating those words accurate and reliable quite a bit. So what I did was just say well, that’s kind of the point of all of this information. The main point is just to say that hey, these records are accurate and reliable. They have a citation for that, there’s somebody who’s done a study on that. They also want to back it up by just explaining how this whole thing works. The other point of this paragraph is to get across a little bit of information about exactly what’s in those records. And that’s important because that tells you what information they had to them for this particular health study. So going back to my edited version, I just said I got it started with the church’s record-keeping system is accurate and reliable. And now, I’m going to go through and tell you a little bit of details about how it works and what information is in there. When a new member is baptized, the church congregation creates a member record that includes, notice the use of a colon. Name, date of birth, parents’ names, current address and dates of church ordinances. Now it’s important that it’s a lay clerk who does all this. But we don’t like to keep repeating the term lay clerk. So we can say a lay clerk enters these records into the general church database, and updates them to reflect dates of ordinances. That can all be in one sentence. New ordinances, spouse name, changes of address, and date of death. And then that whole second paragraph was about this idea that the members could review their membership records once a year, and somehow that was going to improve accuracy. Notice how I shorten that to a single sentence. The reason I did that is, if you go again back to the original and look at that second paragraph. It’s all about the members being able to review their records once a year. Well, if you think about that carefully, it says that each member has an opportunity to review their membership record once a year to check it for accuracy. That’s actually fairly ambiguous, so there’s a lot of words here, but with a great amount of ambiguity about what’s actually happening. So when you say, they have an opportunity to review their membership. Does that mean that they have just one opportunity, they’re limited? They can only review the records once, but they’re allowed to review it once. Or does it mean that they’re encouraged to review their records every year? Or is it more passive where they just could review it, should they feel the need to review it? So there’s a lot of ambiguity here. And adding all these extra details and words here doesn’t help address any of that ambiguity. So I pared that down to a single sentence. And then that last sentence about when a member dies, we don’t need to know that it’s reported to the church membership council. Because what we care about here are the records, that’s what we’re using for the study. So we can get rid of a lot of extra details here. It’s really not that important who’s doing the reporting and who’s archiving the records. We already know it’s the lay clerk who’s keeping track of these things. So I just pared that down to when a member dies, the membership record is archived. So you can get this down quite a bit. Hopefully, you were able to get something similarly short. Notice that the last sentence, I allowed that to be in the passive voice. So when a member dies, the membership record is archived. Notice there’s no subject. I didn’t bother to say, well, it was the lay clerk who did the archiving or the council member. because I didn’t think it was that important. So as I’ve alluded to before, in the methods section where this was from, sometimes it’s okay to have something in the passive voice when it doesn’t really matter who did it. And when it’s more important to just get across what was done. So sometimes in the methods section, it’s actually okay to use the passive voice. And I think it’s probably a good use of the passive voice here. All right, so for the last exercise in this practice module, I’m going to have you read a paragraph. This was from a study where they found an association between childhood misbehavior and subsequent drug use. So they actually saw some behavior, bad behavior kids. And they followed them over time, and found later that they had a higher risk of drug use. So I want you to go ahead, pause the video, read through this paragraph, edit it. And then when you’re done, restart the video. And I will go over my thoughts on this paragraph with you. All right, so hopefully you got a good edit of this paragraph. And I want to point out one thing in particular about this paragraph. So you might have noticed, when you were reading it along that, that word however was a little bit funny. Did that, I wonder if that struck some of you as you were reading it. So you get a bunch of sentences that are about studies that also shown this link between childhood misbehavior and drug use. And other studies on adults that have shown an association between aggressive or bad behavior and drug use. So you get this information about prior studies finding a similar link. But then you get a total shift in ideas. And the authors kind of understood and realized that they were making a shift. So they threw in the word however there. But that’s actually not an appropriate use of however. It sounds funny because it’s a little off, right? That however is supposed to tell you it’s contrasting something in the previous sentence. Well this is not, it’s just their signal that they’re changing ideas. So if you’re changing ideas, instead of throwing in any random transition word, what you actually want to do, of course, is break this into two paragraphs. I’m hoping that a lot of you caught this, that there’s actually two ideas going on in this paragraph. The first is, here’s all these other studies that confirm my results. They have found the same thing as us. And the second part of this paragraph, which should be its own separate paragraph, is what is the possible mechanism, the pathway that explains our finding? So you, hopefully, separated that into two paragraphs, that’s one option. And actually the other option, I’ll show you both, I did both edits is actually to realize that maybe some of the material on previous studies is not even relevant. And we could even delete that, and make this into one paragraph. So I want to show you kind of both ways that I approached it. So here was my rewrite where I separated the ideas into two paragraphs. So I separated the previous studies from the pathways, the mechanisms. And I shortened things, I did some editing here, additional editing. Previous studies have linked early childhood conduct with problems with subsequent drug use. Studies have also found that young adult and adult drug users exhibit more aggressive, unconventional, and impulsive behaviors than their peers. So I changed that around a little bit, because I think the young adult and adult studies, it wasn’t very clear in the original. But I think what they were saying was that there are studies that show that these things co-occur, the aggressive, bad behavior co-occurs with drug use in adults. Now those studies actually don’t tell you whether or not the aggressive behavior causes the drug use. Or whether the drug use causes the aggressive or unconventional behavior. So we don’t really know from those studies. And also those studies are all about adults, when the study that we’re dealing with here is one about children. So maybe the fact that studies on adults find this association is relevant here. But I actually thought that perhaps it isn’t even really that relevant. They did a study on childhood conduct problems. And they linked it prospectively to subsequent drug use where the cause is really aggressive behavior clearly comes before the drug use. Those other studies don’t have, we don’t really know the direction of causality. They’re also all about adults, which isn’t really relevant here. because we’re talking about children. So one option you’ll see in my next way that I edit it in my next slide is that you could actually delete all that information about the adult studies. But, for now, I left it in there if they wanted to get that point in there. Then I broke off into the second paragraph. Several pathways may explain our finding. Aggressive children may have underlying psychiatric disorders or cognitive disabilities that increase their risk of drug use. Misbehavior tends to co-occur with impulsivity, which increases the risk of drug use. And childhood misbehavior may lead to long-term problems such as persistent distress. Or a failure to ever adopt conventional roles or behaviors, which may lead to drug dependence. Now notice that second paragraph is actually only one single sentence. I’ve used a colon and a list there. That’s perfectly okay, I tried to also clear up a little bit of connections which maybe were a little bit confusing in the original example. So, hopefully, you were able to make that example a little bit shorter, crisper, and a little bit clearer. Here’s the other alternative that you could’ve done, is you could’ve just deleted all of those adult studies as I mentioned. And just have the whole paragraph be about the childhood studies. And then you’re basically saying previous studies have linked childhood conduct problems with subsequent drug use. And here are all the pathways that may explain the link that they found as well as what we found. They also found the same link in their study. So we can do it that way. So either of those edits is perfectly fine. But I’m hoping you recognize that there is this change of ideas in the middle of that paragraph. And I just want to give a quick acknowledgement here. I want to thank Gary Friedman of Stanford University. He’s been a long-time advocate of improving the quality of writing in scientific papers. And he’s a fantastic editor himself, and actually provided me with a whole treasure trove of examples, some of which have found their way into this course.

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