Saturday, April 14, 2007

Editing Journal Articles

I was reading this letter to the editor in Nature (446, 725, 12 April 2007) and just HAD to share it with you. Good for her!

Increasing prose quality by decreasing word repetition
Cheryl Strauss1

Department of Human Genetics, Emory University School of Medicine, 301 Whitehead Biomedical Research Building, 615 Michael Street, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA

'Increase' and 'decrease' are serviceable English words, so why is it my mission to winnow them from the prose that I edit daily? As a technical editor in a university department, I do not demand poetry from my writers; scientific accuracy and logical flow are paramount. Nevertheless, I long for an occasional fresh alternative to 'increasing' and 'decreasing' quantities, measurements and all manner of other too-familiar turns of phrase.

Must mice always have 'a decreased tail length'? I admire the professionalism that refrains from a description of 'adorable, stumpy little mouse tails', but what is wrong with 'shorter tails'? It saves two words for writers tearing their hair out over journals' word counts, and is no less precise. 'Fluoresce' is a lovely word, so why ruin its inherent lyricism with a dull 'increase'? Try 'brighter' fluorescence occasionally, or even 'more intense'.

I challenge all scientific authors: search your documents and count how often you use these two simple words, not forgetting permutations such as 'increasing' and 'increased'. You may be surprised at how frequently they rear their heads.

If so, I urge you to seek a remedy. There are times when only an increase or a decrease will do. Make those times count, and use the full expanse of the English language to broaden your prose elsewhere. Sheer repetition is anaesthetizing, and the aim (one hopes) is to keep the reader awake as well as informed. Strive for accuracy, logic and truth; but in matters of style, simple variety is a welcome spice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I could not help going through my thesis (in the making) to cut down these words. Thanks for sharing this piece!