Expressions banned from my papers

capable_of_beingIn my eternal quest to avoid that readers of my scientific papers fall asleep, I compiled a list of over 30 expressions that I promised myself I will never use.  

Most of these expressions are hints taken from Stephen Pinker’s “The Sense of Style”, others are from Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style.” Few are of my own.

Not that these expressions are grammatically wrong. It’s just that they make the text bad.

Many of them don’t add anything and make a simple statement unnecessarily complicated. Pinker call them “morbidly obese phrases.”

For example, there’s nothing making “mRNA is capable of being translated” more scientific or more precise that simply “mRNA can be translated.” Then, “is capable of being” just make my banned list.

Other expressions in the list are victims of a personal, somewhat unjustified, grudge. This is the case of “respectively.” Most of times I meet it, the order relation is pretty obvious.

“Figures 1 and 2 show the spectra measured by UV and visible fluorescence, respectively.”

Serious? Do we really need to patronize the reader with a “respectively?”  Even if I couldn’t guess that UV was in Figure 1 and visible was in Figure 2, it would be enough to quickly glance at the graph axes.

Anyway, you may adapt the list according to your taste. Maybe even to create your own “Banned List.”


Banned Alternative
make an appearance with appear with
is capable of being can be
is dedicated to providing provides
it is imperative that we we must
have a facilitative impact help
were in great need of needed
brought about the organization of organized
significantly expedite the process of speed up
X is of particular usefulness X is useful

Crutch and Redundant Phrases

Banned Alternative
on a daily basis daily
all of a sudden suddenly
for the purpose of to
in order to to
in the event that if
in matter of about
in view of the fact that since
owing to the fact that because
relating to the subject of regarding
at such time as when
it is widely observed that X X
note that X X
it is worth mentioning that X X
to accomplish that, X X
in this frame / in this context (drop it)
X and Y are related to A and B respectively X and Y are related to A and B

Confusing and Unclear Expressions

Banned Alternative
X and/or Y X or Y or both
in many cases, X happened X happened in N cases
in a number of cases, X happened X happened in N cases
it suggests that it shows that
previously, we have discussed in Section X, we have discussed
it was shown above it was shown in Table X

Ashamed Subjects

Banned Alternative
has been done (by us) we did
we did (single author) I did

For convenience, you can download a print-friendly PDF of this list.


Categories: Productivity, Work Organization

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