IN THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
Department of Biology
DIRTY DOZEN AND THEN SOME
GRIEVOUS WRITING ERRORS TO AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!
list of grievous writing errors is writing incomplete sentences.
Incorrect: The two extractions were combined. Then dried for five hours.
Correct: The two extractions were combined. They were then dried for five hours.
|If the subject
is singular (or plural) the verb must match appropriately. In the following
defective sentence, the noun is plural while its verb is singular.
Incorrect: Our results indicates the significance of intracellular signaling systems.
Correct: Our results indicate the significance of intracellular signaling systems.
|This requires no explanation, other than to say the professional price paid for chronic misspellings can be very embarrassing (or worse).|
Affect vs. effect
is a verb, "effect" is a noun. Remembering the acronym "NEVA" (noun effect
verb affect) may help.
Medication rates affect the level of hypertension.
Data vs. datum
plural, "datum" is singular.
Use of quotes
verbatim quotations from technical references, etc. Instead, reword phrases/ideas
from the reference and then cite the reference that presented that idea.
Use of contractions (and its vs. it's)
the contraction of "it is". In general, avoid using any contractions
in scientific writing.
Incorrect: Results didn't differ among treatment groups.
Correct: Results did not differ among treatment groups.
Writing numbers less than 1.0
(.78 vs. 0.78)
a number that is less than 1.0, always place a zero to the left of the
Incorrect: .454, .8, etc.
Correct: 0.454, 0.8, etc.
5 vs. five
15 vs. fifteen
Fifteen grams vs. 15 grams
for numbers less than ten or if starting a sentence. In a series containing
some numbers greater than nine, use numerals for all. Use numerals when
with a unit of measurement. Note the appropriate use of numbers in the
Chickens have two legs.
Most tissue samples weighed less than 15 grams.
Several tissue samples weighed less than 4 grams.
Fifteen chickens crossed the road.
The audience included 3 students, 8 instructors, and 13 chinchillas.
Writing species names
are especially adamant about writing species names. See "Species
Names" for a good overview of this topic.
Incorrect: homo sapiens, Homo sapiens, Homo Sapiens, Homo Sapiens, etc.
Correct: Homo sapiens or Homo sapiens
Since vs. because
be restricted to making time comparisons.
Incorrect: Since they have rich soil, tallgrass prairies were rapidly converted to row crop agriculture.
Correct: Since settlement by Europeans, tallgrass prairies have largely disappeared. Because of its rich soil, tallgrass prairies were rapidly converted to row crop agriculture.
When to use "et al."
"et al." is used when citing a technical reference of three or more
authors. (If necessary, review how
primary literature is cited.)
Smith and Jones (1999) found that... (indicates that this reference had two authors).
GRIEVOUS ERRORS (THERE ARE MORE THAN JUST A DOZEN!)
e.g. vs. i.e.
"e.g." means "for example", and "i.e." means "in other words".
Organisms living in water (e.g., fish and alligators) often perish (i.e., die) when exposed to air for significant periods of time.
about the use of "with", "using", and other modifiers. Note problems with
the following example:
Not good: Using ANOVA, animals were ..... (This implies that the animals were somehow able to perform a statistical analysis!)
Better: Statistical analysis showed that animal groups ...
groups of modifiers, as shown below:
Not good: Largemouth bass muscle tissue mercury concentrations were significantly higher in seepage lakes. (In this example five words were used to modify "concentrations"!)
Better: Mercury concentrations in muscle tissue from largemouth bass were significantly higher in seepage lakes.
avoid using the word "very" anywhere in your manuscript. Rather, be precise
Not good: Individuals from seacoast populations consumed very high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids compared to individuals from inland populations.
Better: Individuals from seacoast populations consumed 3.2 times more omega-3 fatty acids than individuals from inland populations.
|No such word
Better: Regardless of the treatment, animals were observed....
is a key word in science and is usually reserved for discussion of statistical
results. When statistical analyses are not being discussed, use a synonym
such as "substantially".
Not good: Increases in cancer rates in Gage County may be especially significant.
Better: Increases in cancer rates in Gage County were substantial.
Differences in the treatment means were significant (p < 0.5).
sparingly. Avoid the use of colons within sentences.
Not good: Wisconsin ecologists pioneered the use of ordination techniques, including: Bond (1957), Bray and Curtis (1957) and Beals (1965).
Better: Several Wisconsin ecologists (Bond 1957, Bray and Curtis 1957, and Beals 1965) pioneered the use of ordination techniques.
The following Wisconsin ecologists pioneered the use of ordination techniques in ecology:
Bray and Curtis (1957)
means "to do" something. "Preform" is probably not the word you intended
Incorrect: The birds preformed their mating displays by 10:00 AM.
Correct: The birds performed their mating displays by 10:00 AM.
That vs. which
|If the clause
containing "that" or "which" can be omitted without altering the structure
of the sentence, use "which" and enclose the clause with commas. Note the
correct usage of these terms in the following sentences:
The birds, which were singing, had arrived earlier in the spring.
Only birds that were singing were considered to be reproductively active.
Among vs. between
to three or more objects or groups. "Between" refers to exactly two objects
Nuclear vs. nuculer
|This is perhaps
a more common speaking mistake than a writing mistake. "Nuculer" is not
a recognized word.
Incorrect: He was interested in a career in nuculer medicine technology.
Correct: He was interested in a career in nuclear medicine technology.
Use of spell checkers
of spell checkers does not identify correctly spelled words that are used
Incorrect: Students chose there own seating arrangements.
Correct: Students chose their own seating arrangements.
Copyright © 2001, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin.