Write Science Blog / Oili Kiikkilä

I write this blog with the aim to help researchers to write and publish scientific articles. The issues arise mostly from my experience in reading articles that I have got to edit. Secondly, they arise from researchers' efforts to publish articles.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018, 20:50

Many times, I first pay attention to the use of terminology because I see many terms used for the same meaning. Sometimes, the author gives a new term in each paragraph, and a reader must think how this term is related to the one used in the previous paragraph. It would be good if a reader understood the use of all terms immediately – without special thinking. You know; a reviewer does not want to think so much, she only wants to understand all rapidly. Reviewers and readers are busy. Science is difficult and needs much thinking in every case. Try to serve your study as simply as possible. Try to make it easy for readers.

My point is that you could think how the introduction flows so that a reader always understands the new term used. It is good to stop each paragraph so that a reader knows to wait for the next paragraph and is not surprised why it is coming. Present the new term already in the previous paragraph, or start with the term already used and give a new term.

Even if you think that your readers are familiar with the terminology, and thus maybe not wonder it like me, I would advise to think carefully the logic to use the terms. Be sure that a reader always knows, how the new term is related to the ones used before. This is the case also when you are using well-known terms.

I take an example about pollution of halogenated and/or chlorinated compounds.  I do know, and most Finnish high school graduated people know, that chlorinated compounds belong to halogenated compounds. However, I was confused about the logic of using the name for the pollution. I started to think if there is logic, and if I must be aware when the author talks about halogenated and when about chlorinated only.

Be especially aware when you are using narrow and wide terms in a mixture. Sometimes, it is necessary to use them in a mixture, but check that there is certain logic in it. Why are you choosing a narrow term (chlorinated) or a wide term (halogenated) in this particular case? You may not have any particular idea to choose the term, most probably you just used them more or less accidently and not thinking why. However, the reader does not know it. She starts to think why you are changing the term, and if the change has any meaning.

Even when your terms are relatively simple and even when you can presume that your readers know the terms, try to minimize any possible confusion. Try to minimize this kind of unnecessary thinking that you are giving to your reviewers. Make it simply. 

When the terms are complicated, possibly technical, it is even more important to use the terms logically. It is possible that they are used with good logic and the problem is that I am unfamiliar with the terminology. However, many times the reviewer indeed is unfamiliar with a specific terminology.

Use only one word / term to mean a certain variable, treatment or treatment level.

Sometimes, two or more synonymous words are commonly used in the research area in question. For instance, such word pairs are: altitude vs elevation, secrete vs exude vs produce, tolerance vs resistance, decomposition vs degradation. I would choose one word to be used in one article.

I always suggest using one term for one meaning. I do not see any point in trying to avoid linguistic repetition in scientific writing. When you want to say that there are many terms used for the meaning in question, tell it first to a reader. Make the list of the synonyms even if they perhaps are well-known. The readers might well understand the terminology after they have read the article for the second and third time. However, they most probably want to understand it when reading the text for the first time. Therefore, it is much better to use one term for one meaning. I am here for you to notice the possible difficulty in the terminology you use. It is my work – but a reviewer is just irritated about unnecessary thinking.


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