Writing concisely CSC Clinic 1 Apr 2011
Why is concise better than wordy? • Only way to write a paper for a top tier journal • Say more in same amount of space • Easier to understand
Compare: • It is generally agreed that the ability to discriminate between different auditory signals is supported by neurons of the auditory cortex and surrounding cortical areas, yet some ability to perform auditory discriminations is retained after loss of regions of the cortex. • Discriminating sounds involves the auditory and adjacent cortex , yet loss of these regions does not abolish this capacity.
Ways in which the short version is better • “It is generally agreed that” unnecessary– using present tense implies • “sounds” is more common than “auditory signals” • “neurons of the” unnecessary– any cognitive function involves neurons • “this capacity” avoids repetition of “auditory” and “discrimination” • What else?
Why is verbosity so common? • Sounds more academic • Requires bigger words • Makes things sound more absolute– little action • Once learned, becomes habit
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
Revising for conciseness • Underline or highlight “is” forms • Most need revision • Not all– will give specifics later • Find the action and make it the verb • Sometimes leads to revision even in absence of “is” • Eliminate redundancy and filler
Example • Consistent with reduced vagal tone, CHT+/− mice exhibited a blunted baroreceptor reflex, as reflected by an inability to elicit HR reductions in response to increases in BP induced by PE (Fig. 4). • Consistent with reduced vagal tone, CHT+/− mice exhibited a blunted baroreceptor reflex, as reflected by an inability to elicit HR reductions in response to increases in BP induced by PE (Fig. 4). From English BA et al., AJPHCP 2010
Example, continued • What blunted the baroreceptor reflex? • How do you make inability a verb? • What failed to elicit HR reductions? • How do you simplify “elicit HR reductions”? • Consistent with reduced vagal tone, reduced CHT expression blunted the baroreceptor reflex, as PE-induced BP increases failed to reduce HR (Fig. 4).
Non-“is” inactive verbs • Synonyms of “is” • Exist • Remain • “Show” and synonyms • Display • Demonstrate • Exhibit • Inverse of “show”– “observe” and synonyms • See • Note/notice • “Happen” and synonyms • Occur • Take place
More on “is” • Examples where “is” is okay • Diminished cholinergic drive to the hearts of CHT+/− mice is sufficient to produce overt cellular changes. • Allows precise description • The vagus nerves decrease the sinoatrial node discharge rate and atrioventricular node conduction velocity (67). Vagal inhibition of cardiac nodal discharge is mediated by the neurotransmitter ACh… • Allows subject to be something familiar • “Is” needs only be revised when: • It moves the action into a noun • It keeps the topic from being the subject
Example of reducing fluff • Our study established an important role for CHT in normal heart function, most evident in the recovery of HR after physiological or pharmacological perturbations. • “Role” doesn’t tell you anything • What comes after “most evident in” is the role • Our study established that CHT contributes to the recovery of HR after physiological or pharmacological perturbations.
Another example of reducing fluff • Although our data demonstrating reduced cardiac ACh levels in the presence of similar postsynaptic M2AChR expression point to a presynaptic mechanism responsible for mediating these different HR recovery effects… • Although cardiac ACh levels were reduced while postsynaptic M2AChR expression was unchanged (Fig. X), suggesting that presynaptic differences mediate effects on HR recovery…
Exercise • With a partner • Revise sentences on handout • Try to reduce the number of words as much as possible • How did you reviseeach sentence? • Which revision is better? Why?
Your writing • Underline the action in each sentence • If it’s a verb, leave the sentence alone for now • If it’s not, revise the sentence so it is a verb • Decide which sentence structure works better • Which begins with familiar material? • Which has the topic as the subject? • Circle all the filler phrases • “it is well known that” and the like– delete • Those containing “role,” “factor,” “mechanism”– rephrase to eliminate vague words
Resources • Lesson 14 of self-paced materials on OAK • Nuts and Bolts of College Writing on clarity: http://nutsandbolts.washcoll.edu/clarity.html • Anything on the “paramedic method” • Purdue OWL • U of Richmond Writing Center • Marcia Curtis’s “Cutting out Lard” on her Editing Toolbox (UMass)
Future clinics • Next week • Dan Roden, Medicine and Pharmacology • Grantsmanship • Apr. 15 • Ron Emeson, Pharmacology • Talks, especially slide design • Apr. 22 • Open clinic