General hints and tips 3


Every sentence must have at least one verb in it.

  • ‘The results of all these observations in Fig 1.’ Is  a phrase.
  • ‘The results of all these observations are shown in Fig 1.’ Is a sentence.

Use separate paragraphs for different topics or for defined steps in a description or argument. Direct (quoted) speech always has to start a new paragraph but indirect speech (in single quotes) does not.

Avoid the Passive Case
  • Clumsy: The subjects were woken by a noise emitted by the clock.
  • Better: The clock emitted a noise that woke the subject.

Despite what has just been said, the passive case is conventionally used to describe a sequence of procedures performed by the author.

  • Wrong: I have put the results in figure two    Right: The results are shown in figure two
  • Wrong: I manipulated the subject’s foot         Right: The subject’s foot was manipulated by the observer.

Only is a tricky word. Always think about it. Look at these sentences:

Only doctors firmly talk to patients.
Doctors only firmly talk to patients.
Doctors firmly only talk to patients.
Doctors firmly talk only to patients.

They all mean different things!

Tables and Graphs 

Tables must have a title printed either immediately above or immediately below them in the text. Diagrams, pictures, graphs, and charts are all referred to as Figures and need a title and a legend which must describe the substance of the figure. Axes on graphs must always be labelled and units given.

Presenting Results  

When presenting results, it is not enough to say ‘Table 1 shows the results’ and leave the reader to sort them out for himself or herself. The principal results must be written out again in the text. The purpose of tables is to provide a summary of all the results for reference purposes. Assume the reader is reasonably intelligent but has no knowledge of your subject.

And finally…

Remember that language is a very precise tool. For example, Unique means - it is the only one, so things cannot be very unique or rather unique but they can be almost unique. Significant has a least two meanings in scientific work - one is a statistical meaning (in which case the probability taken as significant must be specified) while the other simply means important, or having a definite effect. Beware of claiming that a treatment has had a significant effect despite the fact that the evidence has not achieved statistical significance.

Get someone else to read your draft for ambiguities. Lastly, if it is still confusing, try finding an electronic site with information about grammar, preferably a British site as American sites will have different grammatical and spelling conventions.