Technical English Course (part 1)

While I’m still at my writing mood, I will try to share some knowledge I got from this cool course that I attended here: Technical English. It is basically a course to help the students improving their ability in academic scientific writing and delivering a presentation. No lesson about grammar was taught, instead we looked into the common grammar mistakes that people usually do in writing. I found this course really helpful, so… here I’m going to make a summary of the course. Firstly, I did it as a note to myself so that I won’t forget, and secondly… it’s dedicated to you :).

#1 Writing in Formal Grammar Style

1. Avoid contractions. This is obvious, don’t should be written as do not, and so on.

2. Use the more appropriate formal negative forms. For example, do not need any explanation should be need no explanation. Or, does not have much impact should be has little impact, not many publications should be few publications.

3. Limit the use of “run-on” expressions, such as and so forth and etc.

4. Avoid addressing the reader as you (except for instructional materials). It is better to use the passive form, for example, The results can be seen in… rather than You can see the results in…

5. Be careful about using direct questions. For example, the direct question What can be done to lower costs? can be written as It is necessary to consider how costs may be lowered.

6. Place adverbs within the verb. In informal English, adverbs often occur at the beginning or end of sentences. For example,
Actually, very little is known about… (informal) vs Very little is actually known about… (formal)
This model was developed by Steedman (2003) originally (informal) vs This model was originally developed by Steedman (2003) (formal)
Another important rule regarding adverbs is that adverb positions shouldn’t interfere verbs and their objects, They build iteratively the model should be They build the model iteratively or They iteratively build the model. The latter is usually used when the object of the verb is too long, so it’s better to place the adverb before the verb.

7. Consider whether you should split infinitives. For example, to dramatically reduce the number of… It is actually related to the previous rule about adverbs. So, splitting infinitives should be done only if the object of the verb is too long for the adverb to be placed after the object.

8. Aim for efficient use of words. There are some inorganic materials that can be used by bioengineers in the process of tissue engineering that have been shown to be very promising. Can you make it simpler? ­čśë

#2 Using a Concordancer to Answer Language Questions

It is possible to utilize Google or thesaurus to answer some language problems. For example, to check whether the spelling is correct, or to find more suitable words. But for some problems, it is better to use concordancer programs, AntConc being one of them.

Consider a phrase studies done in this area, and we want to find a fancier word than done. Using ‘studies *ed’ as the keyword for the concordancer program we could see that studies conducted or studies performed are commonly used.

A common mistake that usually happens: allow to as in the sentence This may allow to reproduce the false environment. This structure is absolutely wrong. Using the concordancer we could see that the structure should be either allow + for + noun or allow + noun + to. The similar mistake happens within aim to as in the sentence We build it with the aim to design robust structure. The correct structure would be the aim + of + noun, so the previous sentence should be written as We build it with the aim of designing robust structure.

The concordancer can also be used to check the compound nouns, for example, should we write fracture path or path of the fracture? Of course this also depends on the domain of the writing. But the source texts of the concordancer program can be set beforehand, whether it is general English texts or within a specific domain such as computer science.

(to be continued)

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