Field of Science


In addition to How to Write a Lot, I've been re-reading a little book on writing by Joseph Williams, Style, the Basics of Clarity and Grace.  This wonderful book is mainly about how to write sentences that are easy to read and understand, something all scientists strive for but few of us achieve.

One reason scientific sentences are often hard to follow is called 'nominalization'.  That's when an action is described by a noun rather than a verb.  For example, instead of writing 'the cell divided' we might write 'cell division occurred'.  I'm building my ability to avoid this by going through the manuscript I'm revising, rewriting sentences that suffer excessively from nominalization.  I don't have to search for these sentences, almost every sentence has one or more nominalized actions in it.

Here's an all-too-typical example:  "In E. coli, the dramatic reduction in growth and eventual cell death caused by sxy overexpression made it impossible to test whether sxy induction produces the typical ‘natural competence’ phenotype of high-efficiency transformation with linear chromosomal DNA."  It's a perfectly OK sentence, no grammar or syntax errors, but it's still a bit of an effort to read.  Can I improve it by replacing some of the nominalizations (reduction, overexpression, induction, transformation) with verbs?  

Yes I can.  "We could not test whether inducing sxy causes E. coli cells to become naturally competent and efficiently transform with chromosomal DNA, because when cells overexpress sxy their growth rate slows and they eventually die."


  1. Based on your recos, I've just ordered both "How to Write a Lot" and Williams' "Style". Thanks!

  2. Same here. I have Williams' "Style" but I've just ordered "How to Write a Lot." Writing in general is not a problem for me, it's scientific writing that I find well, slow going.


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