Technical English Course (part 3)

Previously… on Technical English course: part 1 – formal writing style and utilizing a concordancer and part 2 – all about articles.

#4 Gerund or noun?

“It is obtained from the tests…

  • by the division of the maximum load by… (noun)
  • by dividing the maximum load by…          (gerund)
  • when the maximum load is divided by…   (impersonal subject + verb)
  • when we divide the maximum load by…   (personal subject + verb)

None of the alternatives are wrong, but you have to decide which one is appropriate for the style you are trying to create in your writing. There is a scale from abstract to concrete in the above order: using choices from the top of the scale will create a text that is abstract, formal, ‘intellectual’; Meanwhile, using choices from the bottom of the scale will create a text that is more concrete, easy to read, simple communication.

#5 The…of vs noun+noun

The rules are:

The…of is used for something new that needs to be explained.
Noun+noun is used for something assumed to be known or taken as an established class of things.
This will depend on the audience for the text you are writing.
This can change as the text develops.

Let’s see some examples of alternatives and the most appropriate selection…

The number of radio frequencies is limited.
The radio frequency number is limited.
The number of frequencies of radio is limited.

Web service security only focuses on communication link security parameters.
Web service security only focuses on the security parameters of communication links.
Web service security only focuses on the parameters of security of links of communication.

We focus on principles that form the effective information security risk evaluation basis.
We focus on principles that form the basis of effective information security risk evaluations.
We focus on principles that form the basis of effective evaluations of information security risk. <– although this one will be easier for readers new to the field

#6 The…of vs possessive ‘s

Consider the following sentences:

  1. The largest capital cities of Asia are also undergoing major transformations.
  2. Asia’s largest capital cities are waiting to be discovered on this exciting tour.
  3. Two days’ holiday would be wonderful.
  4. Jackie’s CD is over there.
  5. The other girl’s twin is coming with us too.
  6. The twin of the other girl was also involved in the accident.
  7. The patient’s leg will have to be x-rayed.
  8. The leg of the table needs fixing again.
  9. Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ is in that gallery.
  10. The fifth symphony of Beethoven will be studied in detail.

From that we could conclude the rules to select the correct form of possession as follows:

Possession by a person or other animate object ‘s
Possession by an inanimate object or something abstract the…of
Body parts ‘s
Time ‘s
Places the…of / ‘s
Family relationships the…of / ‘s
Creation the…of / ‘s

Three categories have two options, the choice to use the…of depends on whether the writer wants to create a more formal text.

#7 For+gerund vs to+infinitive to describe purpose/function

To describe the function of something you can use either form (for –ing is perhaps more common). For example, “It’s a special knife for cutting meat / to cut meat with.”

To describe how a purpose/goal is achieved use to+inf. For example, “I use the dictionary to find the example sentences of a word.”

#8 It or This?

  1. The positron is the antiparticle of the electron and it was discovered by Dirac.
  2. The positron is the antiparticle of the electron and this was discovered by Dirac.

One choice of word, between it and this, could change the meaning of the sentence, of what has been done by Dirac. So it refers again to the subject of the previous sentence, whereas this refers to the whole idea of the previous sentence. This changes the focus of the sentence.

#9 Misuse of the pronoun one

The following sentences use this pronoun properly:

  • It is important to note that the type of local solution in question is one in which slow motion and fast motion are formally distinguished.
  • An energy relation for Ψ1 together with one for Ψ2 can be derived quite easily.

Meanwhile, the following sentences don’t:

  • We consider an equation that contains a locally acting operator and a globally acting one.
  • We discuss both the hydrogen atom and the helium one.

Why? Because there is no reason to use one, since the purpose of this pronoun is to provide simplicity. Those sentences can be rewritten in more simple way as follows:

  • We consider an equation that contains both a locally acting and a globally acting operator.
  • We discuss both the hydrogen and helium atoms.

(to be continued)

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