16

[comments from my supervisor]

You still have a tendency to use phrases such as "All in all", and "To this end". Not a serious problem of course, but be aware that the editors/reviewers for some scientific journals will not accept such wording - they will see it as a waste of words (the phrases have little real meaning, after all) and will encourage a more concise form of writing. You also continue to split infinitives (e.g. "To effectively curtail"), again not a serious problem, but not "good" formal English if that is what you are aiming for.

Above are some comments from my supervisor on my writing styles. So how should I improve from here, for instance, if not saying 'all in all', 'to this end', what connecting words should I use. And, if not starting a sentence with infinitives, how should I restructure my sentences.

[the referred sentence that has a bad style]

To effectively curtail pollution from all sources requires attention paid to the long-overlooked industrial pollution. To this end, this PhD research emphasises the need to ...

  • 5
    This is not something you need to worry about, but as someone used to writing mathematics, when I read something like your last sentence --- fairly standard fare in many fields, which is why I say what follows is not a concern for you --- I wonder why we want to include all sources in the conclusion (why not just industrial pollution), and on what basis do we know attention is actually required, and what about not-long-overlooked industrial pollution (this would also seem to be important), . . . – Dave L Renfro Nov 28 '19 at 9:21
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    We should all aspire to fearlessly split infinitives in academic and other writing: split infinitives aren't improper English grammar. They aren't even less formal English grammar. – Alexis Nov 28 '19 at 17:12
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    I suspect you do this often. You can get away with it once in a while, but repeated use makes your language seem "wordy". – Scott Seidman Nov 28 '19 at 17:26
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    Raymond Chandler: "By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss-waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have." (Useful for zealous reviewers.) – badroit Nov 29 '19 at 15:20
19

Your supervisor's first objection is against empty "connecting words", as you call them. Since they are empty, you may as well drop them:

To effectively curtail pollution from all sources requires attention paid to the long-overlooked industrial pollution. [To this end T]his PhD research emphasises the need to...

Your argument, rather than some connecting words, should build the connection:

To effectively curtail pollution from all sources requires attention paid to the long-overlooked industrial pollution. This PhD research emphasises the important role of industrial pollution in most immissions today [or whatever your argument is].

The second objection is not against starting sentences with an infinitive, but against splitting infinitives. I don't know whether split infinitives are really bad style or just a matter of taste. Since some of your readers believe the former, I would err on the side of caution. From Wikipedia:

The opening sequence of the Star Trek television series contains a well-known example, where William Shatner says "to boldly go where no man has gone before"; the adverb boldly is said to split the infinitive to go. [...] The construction is to some extent still the subject of disagreement, but modern English usage guides have dropped the objection to it.

Here are my additional two cents: Avoid the passive voice. Who does the "requiring" in your first sentence? Who must pay attention?

To curtail pollution from all sources, researchers and policy makers must pay more attention to the long-overlooked industrial pollution. This PhD research emphasises the important role of industrial pollution in most immissions today.

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    There's nothing wrong with split infinitives and there never has been. It's the worst kind of prescriptivist grammar nonsense. Unfortunately, it used to be taught as "wrong" in school and many supervisors are from that era. Personally, I'd ignore this advice unless it actually gets picked up on in submission. – Jack Aidley Nov 29 '19 at 12:22
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    @JackAidley Surely if you're from a descriptive grammatical school and enough people say it's wrong, then it's wrong? – origimbo Nov 29 '19 at 14:49
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    @origimbo: Even someone who thinks prescriptivist grammar is fine can think that a certain instance of prescriptivist grammar is nonsense. Good prescriptivism consists of making the language more beautiful, rich, precise, and expressive by emulating what's best about the best writing -- which has nothing to do with obeying a 19th century grammar book that codified already-obsolete 16th-18th century usage. merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/to-boldly-split-infinitives – Ben Crowell Nov 29 '19 at 20:28
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    @origimbo That people think or say something is wrong is not what makes it wrong to a descriptivist. We would need evidence that there is a speech community which 1. never produces split infinitives, 2. has greater difficulty understanding speech which uses them. I doubt you'd even find a handful of individuals which meet that criteria. – curiousdannii Nov 30 '19 at 8:31
14

"Bad style" is probably being too harsh on yourself. It sounds to me as if your supervisor is trying to finetune the final details of your writing, to get it from an A level to an A+ level. This is not unimportant, but the base level is fine, so don't worry too much.

Without longer writing samples, it's hard to give concrete advice. In the referred sentence above, I don't see why you would need connecting words. There is little wrong with saying:

"Effectively curtailing pollution from all sources requires attention paid to the long-overlooked industrial pollution. This PhD research emphasises the need to ..."

If you feel that you must use connecting words, Maybe replace "To this end" with "Hence".

I haven't yet found a single instance of "All in all" where those words fulfilled an actual function in the sentence (and I would be much obliged if anyone could provide me with such an example). Ask yourself: if I leave out these connecting words, does this impair understanding of the paragraph? Getting this right is more of an art than a science, though: the answer to the question is subjective.

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    To me, "all in all" means "Here begins a summary, absent from the original version of this paper but strongly requested by a referee." (Or, as one of my co-authors once put it: "I would just shut up, but the referee wants something here.") – Andreas Blass Nov 28 '19 at 17:43
  • Perhaps "... requires paying attention ..." would fit better with "... curtailing ..."? – Will Crawford Dec 3 '19 at 19:14
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    @WillCrawford perhaps. I tried to keep the original sentence largely intact, while addressing the problem at hand. That doesn't mean that it cannot be further improved upon. – Wetenschaap Dec 4 '19 at 13:29
  • Yes. I'm sorry, I hoped to help improve, not to tear down. – Will Crawford Dec 5 '19 at 2:01
  • @WillCrawford oh, no worries. No offense taken. – Wetenschaap Dec 5 '19 at 9:20
9

All in all, your writing is fine.

Your writing is fine.

I've read your post, and to this end it makes sense.

I've read your post, and it makes sense.

There are lots of words in English that mean very little. Your advisor suggests dropping them - I think they are right.

It may seem strange in your head, but often following one direct sentence with another is the best policy - these types of connectors don't really connect anything. Write the simpler version and then read it to yourself: it probably conveys the same info and is best in shorter form.

  • 1
    All in all it's nicely recusive to this end! You have my upvote. – Oleg Lobachev Nov 28 '19 at 23:05
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    Sorry, your third sentence is just plain wrong. Specifically, a) to what end? The first part needs to specify an objective. b) How does the post making sense help achieve that objective. The OP's example of "To this end" in contrast was correct (but the sentence didn't really benefit from it). – Martin Bonner supports Monica Nov 29 '19 at 11:57
  • @MartinBonnersupportsMonica yeah you're right. Feel free to rewrite it, just trying to make a point they aren't needed and didn't spend much time crafting a reasonable example. – Bryan Krause Nov 30 '19 at 5:34
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    If you never have any filler/connecting words it's likely to feel like very dry reading. These phrases are natural parts of language and completely banning them could hurt readability, as sentence flows into sentence never giving your brain a rest. Of course if you're up against a word limit then they're the first things to take out... – curiousdannii Nov 30 '19 at 8:34
  • Your post makes sense to me. – Andrew Morton Nov 30 '19 at 18:37
3

To effectively curtail pollution from all sources requires attention paid to the long-overlooked industrial pollution. To this end, this PhD research emphasises the need to ...

Try to eliminate words that aren't necessary, e.g.,

To curtail pollution requires attention to industrial pollution. This PhD research...

Now rewrite, e.g.,

Curtailing pollution necessitates addressing the industrial sector. This PhD research...

or

This PhD research ..., which reduces pollution in the industrial sector.

-2

I think I already know your supervisor, a fastidious stickler for standard English. Your supervisor would chastise you, if you ever end your sentences with prepositions.

"All in all," "to this end," and suchlikes are merely transitional phrases used for connecting one thought to the next. They help make writing clear and cohesive. Moreover, they help engage reader's attention: otherwise, reader can lose focus and digress. Accordingly, I keep lists of transitional words & phrases, whatever acceptable in academic writing or technical writing.

Writing style in academic English happens to be one of my favourite topics and I keep a home library of college books for self-teaching. I avidly collect new & vintage academic books, especially those on academic writing & technical writing, though I suffer from bouts of Writer's Block. If you are interested, I can recommend a few books, the kinds that your supervisor approves of. (Oops, my offence of ending my sentence with a preposition "of.")

I will list 3 or 5 books later, when I return home.

Next day....

My list below is incomplete for now, as I am missing few books at home, titles I cannot recall. Here are the books below.

  1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E. S. White.
  2. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams.
  3. The Little Brown Handbook by H. Ramsey Fowler (University of Memphis) and Jane E. Aaron (New York University).

I will return with another list of books.

  • 1
    A book you can add to your list (if it's not already on it) is The Technical Writer's Handbook by Matt Young. Although I haven't formally used it much, I've had this book since shortly after it was published in 1989 (I think I got it through the Library of Science book club) and I enjoy reading random entries in it from time to time. Also, the Academia question Does writing matter a lot in research? may be of interest. – Dave L Renfro Nov 28 '19 at 17:23
  • I have finished this book recently "Style, Lessons in Clarity and Grace". If I become a supervisor, I will require my students to recite the whole book. lol. Looking forward to your booklist. – Elizabeth Nov 29 '19 at 8:34
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    @Elizabeth, I have that book in the list above. but I have one in older version. Its old title is slightly different: "Style: 10 Lessons in Clarity and Grace." amazon.com/Style-Ten-Lessons-Clarity-Grace/dp/0321095170/… – Rita Geraghty Nov 29 '19 at 15:37
  • @DaveLRenfro, I had looked at Matt Young's book. Preview was great reading, and I am adding it to the wish list. The very first book to spur my interest in technical writing was a school book for British boys written in 1930s: namely, "The First Course of Modern English, Part One" by J. Stansley Jones, a MUST-SEE book. In the author's era, the old UK standards of education for teenage boys were draconian - too advanced by new-schooled standards today; nonetheless, their books suit readers in universities, those who wish to learn formal English for technical writing. – Rita Geraghty Dec 2 '19 at 12:32
  • I have two vintage books on technical English by J Stansley Jones, part one and part two of "First Course of Modern English." For poor schoolboys laden with draconian homeworks like Latin and Greek in his era, he did examples of technical writing on blueprints, mechanism, bicycles, clocks, pumps, soil, rocks, etc. His books are such rare gems that I wish he had written more books. – Rita Geraghty Dec 2 '19 at 12:58

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