Tips for More Effective Technical Writing

Tip #12 Formal Style

Formal written English differs from spoken, conversational style which is much more tolerant of rule variations. Writers must be careful of their sentence structure, word choice, logic patterns, and other elements to communicate the intended message with the goal of having the reader understand, and eventually believe that your hypothesis is the solution to the identified problem.

Some Formal English Basics:

  1. use standard (written) English grammar
  2. minimize idioms
  3. avoid contractions

Standard English is usually considered to be the language that educated people generally accept as proper and suitable. It is the language used in technical reports and scientific documents. It is found in reputable newspapers, magazines, and books. It is also the type of English used and tested in standardized tests such as TOEFL, GRE, and others. The important thing in writing is to find a balance between words that are heavy, abstract, or dignified (polysyllabic) (too formal.) and excessively casual, slangy, or idiomatic (too informal)

1a. use proper subjunctive styles: "if"     仮定法

Subjunctive forms deal with doubt, supposition, condition, contingency and the like. Three basic patterns to be familiar with:

Time
Possibility
Pattern 1
If we obtain geological data about the surface of Mars,
then scientists will be better able to understand how
the universe actually began.

future

possible
Pattern 2
If we obtained geological data about the surface of Mars,
then scientists would be better able to understand how
the universe actually began.

now

contrary to fact
Pattern 3
If we had obtained geological data about the surface of Mars,
then scientists would have been better able to understand how
the universe actually began.

past

contrary to fact

*One caution: be careful to notice that "time"(時間) and "tense"(時制) differ in English; that is, present tense (現在形) is not necessarily present time. Present continuous tense (現在進行形) indicates present time much more specifically.

1. ORIGINAL
If the globally economic cost of extreme weather and flood catastrophes rose due to climate change, it will hit poorest nations the hardest.
1. REVISED
If the globally economic cost of extreme weather and flood catastrophes rises due to climate change, it will hit poorest nations the hardest.

2. ORIGINAL
Accordingly, if larvae rarely showed optogenetical response, the following points should be checked and corrected: ...
2. REVISED
Accordingly, if larvae rarely show optogenetical response, the following points should be checked and corrected: ...

3. ORIGINAL
On the contrary, if the present artificial system is composed of only necessary components, it might result in low activity.
3. REVISED
On the contrary, if the present artificial system were composed of only necessary components, low activity might result.

4. ORIGINAL
If these senses were inhibited or stimulated, subjects tend to change their posture.
4. REVISED
If these senses are inhibited or stimulated, subjects will tend to change their posture.
(stresses the cause-and-effect relationship directly observed in your experiment or research.)

If these senses are inhibited or stimulated, subjects tend to change their posture.
(stresses the cause-and-effect relationship is one that will likely repeat itself in similar situations; that is, one that is generally true without a reference to a specific time)

5. ORIGINAL
The prolonged EK-recognition- sequence at the N-terminal end of the (A) or (B) can be removed by EK processing if they are properly integrated.
5. REVISED
The prolonged EK-recognition- sequence at the N-terminal end of the (A) or (B) can be removed by EK processing only if they are properly integrated.
The prolonged EK-recognition- sequence at the N-terminal end of the (A) or (B) can be removed by EK processing provided they are properly integrated.
The prolonged EK-recognition- sequence at the N-terminal end of the (A) or (B) can be removed by EK processing provided proper integration occurs.
Just because a writer uses the word "if" does Not necessarily, mean that is the one and only condition necessary to produce the effect. I may be; however, it may not. To clearly communicate that a certain cause is the only cause that produces the desired effect, use "only if" or "only when". Better yet, in writing consider using the word "provided". The phrase "if and only if" is more conversational.

1b. use proper subjunctive styles: "that" phrases     仮定法

These forms usually involve suggestions recommendations, demands, and similar forms. Notice the British English may vary from the American style.

× We recommend that the government allots more funds to scientific research.
○ US We recommend that the government allot more funds to scientific research.
○ UK We recommend that the government should allot more funds to scientific research.
× I suggest he studies harder.
○ US I suggest he study harder.
○ UK I suggest that he should study harder. ("He had better study harder." is more conversational)

Whichever style you use, be sure to be uniform and consistent; that is, avoid mixing the American and British styles.

1c. use the standard rules of written English

  • use proper sentence structures, and avoid incomplete sentences. Always check for complete subjects and complete verbs.
  • use the proper conjunctions and/or punctuation to join sentences.
  • use the parts of speech properly
  • ensure that subjects and verbs agree with each other
  • ensure that pronouns and the antecedents agree with each other
  • avoid overusing pronouns
  • ensure proper spelling at all times
  • use the proper preposition to communicate the functional relationship
  • and all the other points of English that you has likely learned once already.

2a. minimize idioms: avoid using "get"

The word "get" is informal and has more than 20 definitions.

6. ORIGINAL
To get achievements about our aims and targets, …
6. REVISED
To achieve our aims and targets, …

7. ORIGINAL
Firstly, to monitor outdoor fields and to get environmental information over long periods of time, …
7. REVISED
Firstly, to monitor outdoor fields and to obtain environmental information over long periods of time, …

(see file "13 GET" for a complete list of examples)

2b. avoid using idiomatic verbs

8. ORIGINAL
Furthermore, individuals, groups and organizations have to agree to contribute their physical energy and throw in more ideas and investment to conserve Nan more actively and efficiently.
8. REVISED
Furthermore, individuals, groups and organizations have to agree to contribute their physical energy and develop more ideas and investment to conserve Nan more actively and efficiently.

9. ORIGINAL
These natural events can wipe out development gains and accumulated wealth in hazard prone areas.
9. REVISED
These natural events can eliminate development gains and accumulated wealth in hazard prone areas.

2c. avoid using "a lot of" or "lots of"

10. ORIGINAL
There are lots of stakeholders such as the local government, the community, businesses, non-governmental organization, and others.
10. REVISED
There are numerous stakeholders such as the local government, the community, businesses, non-governmental organization, and others.

11. ORIGINAL
Millions of bytes of data resulted from lots of experiments.
11. REVISED
Millions of bytes of data resulted from numerous (many) experiments.

2d. avoid using idiomatic phrasing used in conversation

12. ORIGINAL
This zone is very, very essential.
12. REVISED
This zone is essential.

13. ORIGINAL
Our novel approach is very unique.
13. REVISED
Our novel approach is unique.

2e. Avoid using "till" → "until"

14. ORIGINAL
Data on fishing activities from GPS and reported landings of Indian mackerel has been collected on 10 boats from May 2011 till March 2012, and maps of the distribution of fishing activities and productive fishing grounds has been made.
14. REVISED
Data on fishing activities from GPS and reported landings of Indian mackerel has been collected on 10 boats from May 2011 until March 2012, and maps of the distribution of fishing activities and productive fishing grounds has been made.

15. ORIGINAL
From 1998 till now, eco-industries have developed with rapid speed.
15. REVISED
From 1998 until now, eco-industries have developed with rapid speed.
From 1998 until now, eco-industries have developed rapidly.
(more concise)

3. never use contractions     縮約 (形)

can't
didn't
don't
he'd
I'm
isn't
it's
mustn't
shan't
she'd done
shouldn't
that's
there're
there's
they're
won't
wouldn't
cannot, can not
did not
do not
he had
I am
is not
it is
must not
shall not
she had done
should not
that is
there are
there is
they are
will not
would not
16. ORIGINAL
Correctness of the calculation couldn't be estimated.
16. REVISED
Correctness of the calculation could not be estimated.

17. ORIGINAL
But there are problems with the assumption that any magnetic islands don't exist is used or constraints of calculation are unknown.
17. REVISED
But there are problems with the assumption that any magnetic islands do not exist is used or constraints of calculation are unknown.

18. ORIGINAL
This antibody doesn't react with soluble fibrin, but only reacts with insoluble stabilized fibrin (fibrin clot).
18. REVISED
This antibody does not react with soluble fibrin, but only reacts with insoluble stabilized fibrin (fibrin clot).

19. ORIGINAL
Therefore, it's difficult to comprehend the influences from other areas.
19. REVISED
Therefore, it is difficult to comprehend the influences from other areas.
(see "01 Weak Subjects)

Therefore, comprehending the influences from other areas is difficult.
(stronger subject)

20. ORIGINAL
What's more, the order of magnitude can be easily controlled by selected PC.
20. REVISED
What is more, the order of magnitude can be easily controlled by selected PC.

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