WRITING RESEARCH PAPERS IN BIOLOGY:
An introduction to structure and style
Wade B. Worthen, Biology Dept., Furman University
The orginal document is at http://www.furman.edu/~worthen/writedoc.htm
The following list of commonly misused words was initially prepared by the Iowa Experiment Station Publications at Iowa State University, and was modified by the editors of the Journal of Mammalogy.
ABOVE - (the above method, as mentioned above) - often used in reference to something preceding, but not necessarily above; a loose reference, convenient to writers but not for readers. Also, remember that if something was mentioned previously, to do so again is redundant. ACCURATE - (an accurate estimate) - accurate implies complete freedom from error or absolute exactness. An estimate is an approximation. Try "a reliable estimate." AFFECT, EFFECT - Affect is a verb that means to influence. Effect, as a verb, means to bring about; as a noun, effect means result. ALIQUOT - aliquot means "contained an exact number of times in another." Commonly misused to mean subsample. ALL OF, BOTH OF - Just 'all' or 'both' will suffice. ALSO SEE - (also see Jones 1950) - Often unnecessary. ALTERNATE, ALTERNATIVE - alternate implies occurring in succession or every other one; alternative implies a choice among two or more incompatible objects, situations, or courses of action. AMONG - used when comparing more than two items. AND/OR - use one or the other. AND THEN - use one or the other. APPARENTLY, APPARENT - means obviously, clearly, plainly evident, seemingly, ostensibly and observably. Consider using one of these more specific terms. APPEAR - not synonymous with seems. He always appears on the scene, but never seems to know what to do. AS - do not use to mean because, or inasmuch as. AS WELL AS - =and. AT THE PRESENT TIME, AT THIS POINT IN TIME - =now. BELOW - (see 'above'; direction does not change ambiguity). BETWEEN - used when comparing only two items. BY MEANS OF - just 'by'. CARRIED OUT - colloquial; use 'conducted', 'performed' or 'was studied'. CASE - if necessary, use 'in this instance'. CHECKED - (The traps were checked). imprecise. use 'examined' or another more precise word. COMPARE WITH, COMPARE TO - 'compare with' means to examine differences and similarities; 'compare to' means to represent as similar. Usually, one compares with or contrasts to. COMPRISE - means to contain or include, not constitute. "The whole comprises the parts, the parts do not comprise the whole." DATA - plural. "These data, data were, too few data." DIFFER FROM, DIFFER WITH - One thing differs from another, although you may differ with a colleague. DIFFERENT THAN - never! always DIFFERENT FROM. DUE TO - implies causality when only a relationship may be intended. Try 'related to' or, if causality is intended, 'because of'. DURING THE COURSE OF, IN THE COURSE OF - just 'during' and 'in' will usually suffice. EITHER...OR, NEITHER...NOR - apply to no more than two items or categories; similarly, former and latter refer to the first and last of only two items or categories. EQUALLY AS GOOD, EQUALLY AS GOOD AS - 'equally good'. ETC. - avoid entirely! FELT - (it was felt that...) - One feels cloth, but believes ideas. GIVEN - (at a given time) - fixed, specified or specific are more precise. Given has numerous meanings. HIGH(ER), LOW(ER) - Commonly used imprecisely or ambiguously for greater, less, larger, smaller, more, or fewer. HOWEVER - do not use with another conjunction at the beginning of a sentence or independent clause ('However, because...' or 'However, since...'). IN FACT, AS A MATTER OF FACT - usage tends to weaken preceding and subsequent statements by implying that they might be less than factual. If a lead word is needed, try 'indeed'. IN ORDER TO - 'To' will suffice. IN VIEW OF THE FACT THAT - 'because'. INTERESTING, INTERESTING TO NOTE - presumption; let the reader decide what is interesting. IRREGARDLESS - no such word! Use regardless or irrespective. IT SHOULD BE MENTIONED, NOTED, POINTED OUT, EMPHASIZED - delete completely and make the point emphatically! IT WAS FOUND, DETERMINED, DECIDED - delete, and state observation declaratively. LESS(ER), FEW(ER) - 'less' refers to quantity, 'few' refers to number. NON - a prefix, usually not hyphenated. Avoid overuse. 'Non' defines things negatively and is not descriptive of what they are. Do not use as a substitute for established prefixes or where 'not...' will serve. (incorrect, unreliable, not reliable). ONCE, WHEN - avoid the use of 'once' for 'when', as 'once' can mean: one time, formerly, simultaneously, and immediately. OUT, IN - (...14 out of 17; to find out if) - in most instances, these can be omitted without altering meaning. PARTIALLY, PARTLY - 'partially' implies bias in favor of one or the other. Partly is more precise when portion or proportion is meant. PERCENT, PERCENTAGE - use percent (%) with numbers, use percentage in reference to proportion expressed in hundredths. PREDOMINATE, PREDOMINANT - predominate is a verb, predominant is an adjective. The adverb is predominantly, not predominately. PREVALENCE, INCIDENCE - prevalence is the number per unit of population at a specific time ( 23 per 1000 individuals in 1989). Incidence is number in a population per unit time (23 cases per year). PRIOR TO, PREVIOUS TO - adjectives that modify nouns; prior or previous events. Replace 'prior to' or 'previous to' with 'before'. PROVEN - be careful of this word; rarely is anything proven in science. We test hypotheses and sometimes fail to reject one, but this is not proof. PROVIDED, PROVIDING - 'provided that' is a conjunction; providing is the participle. RESPECTIVE, RESPECTIVELY - omit if possible. SAID - (Jones (1978) said that...) - use wrote, noted suggested or some other term, as nothing was 'said'. SINCE - denotes a relationship in time. Do not use as a synonym for because. SMALL IN SIZE, RECTANGULAR IN SHAPE, GREEN IN COLOR - redundant in repetition. TAXA AND VERB AGREEMENT - species and subspecies take singular verbs whereas genera and higher taxa take plural verbs. Peromyscus maniculatus is common in northern Illinois. Peromyscus are widely distributed in North America. THAT, WHICH - two words that can help, when needed, to make intended meanings and relationships unmistakable, which often is important in scientific writing. If the clause can be omitted without leaving the modified noun incomplete, use which and enclose the clause within commas or parentheses; otherwise use that. THIS, THESE - commonly used to begin sentences when the antecedents to which they refer are unclear. 'Elephants, whales, and bats are mammals although bats fly like birds. These animals are endothermic.' Mammals? Birds? Mammals and Birds? TO BE - (the differences were found to be significant) - frequently unnecessary. TO SEE - replace with 'to determine' or another more precise term. TOTAL - (a total of ten squirrels were observed) - usually superfluous. UTILIZE, UTILIZATION - use! VARYING, VARIOUS, DIFFERENT, DIFFERING - commonly misused as synonyms. Varying amounts or differing conditions imply individually changing amounts or conditions rather than a selection of various amounts or different conditions. VERY, QUITE, CONSIDERABLE, SOMEWHAT - avoid modifiers that impart indefinite measure. 'A very large bear' is as undefined in size as a 'large bear'. VIABLE ALTERNATIVE - it would not be an alternative if it were not viable. WHERE - implies a locality; do not use as a synonym for 'in which'.