Writing Tips #38

WRITING AND NUMBERS

 

 

Writing Numbers: Whether to enter numerals or words for a number is often confusing. In different situations, this will vary, but probably a fair generality is that a numeral is shorter than a word, so use a numeral, with the following exceptions:
  • You cannot begin a sentence with a numeral. The number “1,256,781” must be entered at the beginning of a sentence as “One million, two hundred fifty-six thousand, seven hundred and eighty-one,” as ridiculous as it seems. If the number involves a unit of measure, the unit must be likewise spelled out as a word in most cases (pH would be one exception). Work the sentence so you don’t have to begin it with the number!
  • When not speaking of data or experimental groupings, use words instead of numerals for small numbers: “two centuries ago,” “For well over fifty years..”, “Of the many millions of fish released…”
  • Numbers are generally written as numerals when a specific value is named, and always when associated with a unit of measure: “270 centuries ago,” “59 people…”, “…47.8 g dry weight…”.

Writing Tips #36

Be specific

 

If you know something to be true, then say so. Don’t be wishy-washy: “The teeth of Allosaurus appear to be sharp.” Is there doubt? “The teeth of Allosaurus are sharp.” 
There are many similar words you should avoid, such as: ‘suggests,’ ‘appears,’ ‘probably,’ ‘may be.’ 
Better words to use are ‘indicates,’‘implies,’ ‘shows,’ ‘illustrates,’ etc.

Writing Tips #35

  Avoid inaccurate word

The data lead to the assumption that x has no relationship to y. 
If you base a conclusion on data, then your conclusion is a deduction, not an assumption. In fact, in experimental science assumptions are usually avoided. A purpose of controls is to eliminate the need to assume anything.
 
The word ‘data’ is plural.
However since investigators usually refer to sets of data, there is a tendency to use the word as though it was singular. Hence a writer will state, ‘the data was affected by the phase of the moon,’ or ‘the data suggests that phase of the moon has no effect on mood.’ As awkward as it may seem to you, the proper phrases are, ‘the data were affected…,’ and ‘the data suggest…’ By the way, the singular form is ‘datum.’


Writing Tip #34

 Superlatives

Superlatives include adjectives such as “huge,” “incredible,” “wonderful,” “exciting,” etc. 
For example, “the mitochondria showed an incredibly large increase in oxygen consumption when we added uncoupling agent.” Your definition of incredible might be different from that of someone else – perhaps a five fold increase is incredible to you, but not for the next person. 
It is much better to use an objective expression, such as “Oxygen consumption was five fold greater in the presence of uncoupler, which is a greater change than we saw with the addition of any other reagent.”