Presentation on theme: "Professional Writing in English Ambiguities, clarity and passives PowerPoint by Humberto Burcet. March 1, 2007. Revision: principles and guidelines "— Presentation transcript:
Professional Writing in English Ambiguities, clarity and passives PowerPoint by Humberto Burcet. March 1, 2007. Revision: principles and guidelines Ambiguities Guideline 1: clarity Guideline 2: passives Exercise: turn into active Sources: materials designed by Kevin Costello
Ambiguities An ambiguity is a group of words that can have more than one meaning The proposed schedule is discussed below for the next four years. The proposed schedule for the next four years is discussed below.
Ambiguities We wanted to reduce the vibration of the fan at the exhaust as the exhaust ducting was cracking. We wanted to reduce the vibration of the fan at the exhaust because the exhaust ducting was cracking.
Ambiguities occur for many reasons On the second day the knee was better and on the third day it had completely disappeared. The patient refused an autopsy. The patient has no past history of suicides. Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a year. He slipped on the ice and apparently his legs went in separate directions in early December.
Guidelines to gain readability Editors use various techniques to make texts clearer and more concise. Here are just a few of the most important guidelines. To make technical writing more readable… 1. Use shorter sentences. 2. Use plain and simple words. 3. Take out redundant words. 4. Use the active voice, unless there is a good reason for using the passive. 5. Use vigorous verbs as much as possible.
Guideline 1: Clarity Clear language in a historical context Calls for Plain English are not new. In the fourteenth century, one of Chaucer’s characters demanded: Speketh so pleyne at this time, I yow preye That we may understonde ye seye.
Guideline 1: Clarity In 1550, after only three years on the throne of England, Edward VI had become so exasperated with the law that he remarked: I would wish that the superfluous and tedious statutes were made more plain and short, to the intent that men might better understand them.
Guideline 1: Clarity In 1982 the British government issued a White Paper ordering departments to count their forms, abolish unnecessary ones, clarify the rest, and report their progress back to the Prime Minister. EC Council directive 93/13 states: In the case of contracts where all or certain terms offered to the consumer are in writing, these terms must always be drafted in plain, intelligible language. Where there is doubt about the meaning of a term, the interpretation most favorable to the consumer shall prevail.
Guideline 1: Clarity Stylistic Editing for Clarity There are two major elements for achieving clarity in writing: preferring shorter sentences and using active language. These elements assure clear and understandable technical writing. Sentences are like luggage. Only carry what you need.
Guideline 2: Passives Opinions: ...the arguments against using the first person in technical writing are rather questionable. (Norman, G. How to write a scientific article) ..., many writers use passive verbs too often. By eliminating passive constructions, you can often turn vague sentences into stronger, more lively ones. (Hairston, M. & Ruszkiewicz, J. The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers) We recommend the active unless there is a good reason for using the passive. Excessive use of the passive makes writing more difficult to understand. (Greenbaum, S. & Whitcut, J. Longman Guide to English Usage) Many journals now encourage authors to use the first person, active voice as often as possible....Over-use of the passive voice quickly sends readers to sleep. (O’Connor, M. Writing Successfully in Science).
Guideline 2: Passives Needless passive verbs slow down communication Strong, active verbs give writing energy Examples: We have been asked by your home insurers to obtain your written confirmation that all their requirements have been completed by yourself. En los últimos meses muchos rumores sobre la situación de la familia Beckham han sido divulgados por la prensa en Inglaterra.
Guideline 2: Passives Scientists often insist on using use the passive voice because: they believe that personal pronouns should never be used; they think it is the only verb form permitted; they mistake authority and objectivity for polysyllabic abstraction and impersonality. These are popular misconceptions. Scientists’ insistence on using the passive causes several problems with style
There is much debate about whether technical writing must be strictly impersonal or whether it should use personal references. The taboo against first- person and second- person references in technical writing is old and difficult to overcome. The trend, however, is unmistakably towards using active personal references. This trend promotes the use of the active voice. Professional journals have used the first- and second-person pronouns for a number of years now. The Great Debate
Guideline 2: Passives 1. Passive sentences are invariably longer, so they are more difficult to understand. If you decide to cancel your application, a check for the amount of your investment (subject to a deduction of the amount (if any) by which the value of your investment has fallen at the date at which your cancellation form is received by us) will be sent to you. If you decide to cancel your application, we will send you a check for the amount of your investment (subject to a deduction of the amount (if any) by which the value of your investment has fallen at the date at which your cancellation form is received by us). If you decide to cancel your application, we will send you a check for the amount of your investment less any fall in its value at the date we receive your cancellation form.
Guideline 2: Passives 2. Passive sentences have no explicit agent, so they are often ambiguous i.e. it is often unclear who has done the action of the verb. Weak, passive verbs hide the energy of the work. This is particularly true in the introduction to a scientific paper, where writers describe both the previous work of other authors and their own. For example: The fact that such processes are under strict stereoelectronic control has been demonstrated. We have shown that such processes are under strict stereoelectronic control. (probably)
Guideline 2: Passives 3.Passive sentences often have a long subject and the verb dangling at the end of the sentence. This means that the reader does not know what the sentence is saying until the end. The results of the experiments carried out by Jones and Morgan into the subcloning of genes into M13 derivatives are discussed in this paper. In this paper we discuss the results of the experiments carried out by Jones and Morgan into the subcloning of genes into M13 derivatives.
Guideline 2: Passives 4.Passive sentences often use an empty verb in combination with a nominalization when a simple verb in the active voice is more forceful. An analysis of the problem was carried out. We analyzed the problem. Increase in plasma homocysteine levels with age was observed. Plasma homocysteine levels increased with age.
Guideline 2: Passives 5. Passive sentences are often more difficult to understand because they invert the natural order of agent-action-person or thing affected by the action. Como cada año, ha sido puesto en marcha por la empresa Gas Natural el programa "Invierno Caliente" para promover la calefacción doméstica. Como cada año, la empresa Gas Natural ha puesto en marcha el programa "Invierno Caliente" para promover la calefacción doméstica.
Guideline 2: Passives 6. Non-users of the first person also tend to write sentences with: It was decided that … / It was assumed that … / It was then realized that … For example: It is known that streptomycin is an effective cure for tuberculosis. Here, readers have to guess who is expressing the view: the writer, wider scientific opinion, public opinion, or all three. In reports, readers should not have to guess. There is usually a (passive) alternative anyway: Streptomycin is known to be an effective cure for tuberculosis. Streptomycin is an effective cure for tuberculosis.
Guideline 2: Useful passives 1. To avoid having to say who did the action, perhaps because it is irrelevant or obvious. America was discovered in 1492. Microsoft was founded in 1975. 2. To focus attention on the receiver of the action by putting it first. A 21-year-old man has been arrested in connection with a spate of burglaries in the Eccles area. Earthquakes are caused by the movement of plates over the earth’s mantle. 3. To spread or evade responsibility. Regrettably, your file has been lost. It costs so much money to pay for these campaigns that mistakes were made here by people who either did it deliberately or inadvertently. Now, others—it’s up to others to decide whether those mistakes were made deliberately or inadvertently. (Bill Clinton, press conference, 1997)
Exercise: turn them into active 1.The faulty valve was quickly found by the emergency maintenance crew. 2.The voltage across the circuit was measured by assembly personnel at three different points. 3.We have been asked by your home insurers to obtain your written confirmation that all their requirements have been completed by yourself. 4.The fact that such processes are under strict stereoelectronic control is demonstrated by our work in this area. 5.The results of the experiments carried out by Jones and Morgan into the subcloning of genes into M13 derivatives are discussed in this paper. 6.In our methodology, in which only one analyte is considered, it is proposed to evaluate s as the standard deviation of the straight line in the NASRP. 7.Mechanistic data to explain our findings were not provided by this study. 8.Genetic contribution to the pathogenesis of schizophrenia has been demonstrated by clinical studies. 9.A new process for eliminating nitrogen oxides from diesel exhaust engines is presented. Flow tube experiments to test this process are discussed. The percentage decrease in nitrogen oxide emissions is revealed. 10.It has been requested that the samples taken at five different points on the river be retested for PCBs.