Tips for More Effective Technical Writing

Tip #7 NEGATIVES→AFFIRMATIVES     否定 → 肯定

Basic Guidelines
Using negative forms in English, and perhaps any language, requires some thought to optimize their power. The most common negative words used in English are "not" and "no". However, these rather small words (only two or three letters) are often overlooked by readers all the more because it is so small and so commonly used.

Virtually every sentence contains function words (those that describe relationships between/among words) and content words (the "meat" of your message).

Example It is not necessary for Joe to finish the experiment by Friday.
Function words It is     for   to   the   by  
Content words     not necessary   Joe   finish   experiment   Friday.

If the reader forgets or ignores the "not" in this sentence for any reason whatsoever, then the reader will likely internalize and understand the wrong meaning on a more subconscious level:

Possible (subconscious) Misinterpretation
Content words     (not) necessary   Joe   finish   experiment   Friday.

The probability that a reader (and an audience too!) will likely misinterpret the intended meaning often increases when "not" is used. Speed reading curricula often caution readers to slow down, or even stop, when encountering "not"; thus, breaking the reader's reading rhythm and in effect wasting some of the reader's time and "intellectual" energy.

What to do:


1. ORIGINAL
The cycle numbers of the 2nd PCR were not much affected. (11)
1. REVISED: ADVERB
The cycle numbers of the 2nd PCR were little affected. (10)

2. ORIGINAL
Currently, individuals are well aware of the significance of sustainability but they do not have sufficient governmental support or a social guideline to fully turn these intangible concepts into action and incorporate them into their daily lifestyles. (38)
2. REVISED: VERB
Currently, individuals are well aware of the significance of sustainability but they lack sufficient governmental support or a social guideline to fully turn these intangible concepts into action and incorporate them into their daily lifestyles. (36)

3. ORIGINAL
Individual sea turtles with a grey background in the table were not used in the analysis due to failure of retrieving data-logger. (22)
3. REVISED: BETTER VERB CHOICE
Individual sea turtles with a grey background in the table were omitted from the analysis due to failure of retrieving data-logger. (21)
Individual sea turtles with a grey background in the table were excluded from the analysis due to failure of retrieving data-logger. (21)

4. ORIGINAL
When those conditions do not meet the requirement, cured CFRP structures generally do not have sufficient strength. (17)
4. REVISED: VERB/ADJECTIVE
When those conditions fail to meet requirements, cured CFRP structures generally have insufficient strength. (14)
When those conditions fail to meet requirements, cured CFRP structures generally lack sufficient strength. (14)

5. ORIGINAL
The cause of the Big Bang is still not known. (10)
5. REVISED: ADJECTIVE VERB
The cause of the Big Bang is still unknown. (9)
The cause of the Big Bang remains unknown. (8)

6. ORIGINAL
However, detailed management guidelines or methods are not developed. (9)
6. REVISED: ADJECTIVE/OTHER
However, detailed management guidelines or methods are undeveloped. (8)
However, detailed management guidelines or methods remain undeveloped. (8)
However, detailed management guidelines or methods are yet to be developed. (11)

COMMENTS
"… yet to be …" is an older, more formal phrase and is more positive-looking than "not yet". "… yet…" is almost always followed by an infinitive (不定詞) in such instances.

7. ORIGINAL
Two individual sea turtles were not used in the analysis due to failure of retrieving data-logger. (16)
7. REVISED: VERB
Two individual sea turtles were omitted from the analysis due to failure of retrieving data-logger. (15)
Two individual sea turtles were excluded from the analysis due to failure of retrieving data-logger. (15)

8. ORIGINAL
The cell was so scarred that it is was not recognizable. (11)
8. REVISED: ADVERB/PREPOSITION
The cell was so scarred it that is was unrecognizable. (10)


Negative included in the adverb
"too"
The cell was too scarred to recognize. (7)

Negative included in the preposition
"beyond"
The cell was scarred beyond recognition. (6)

The following lists are also part of the sections on Negatives.

Common Negative Prefixes 否定接頭語

more than 550 possible combinations
(Old English origin)
meanings: not, opposite to, contrary to
UN-
not affected unaffected
not anticipated unanticipated
not bound unbound
not calculated uncalculated
not certain uncertain
not contaminated uncontaminated
not determined undetermined
not founded unfounded
not important unimportant
not knowingly unknowingly
not likely unlikely
not mitigated unmitigated
not perturbed unperturbed
not professional unprofessional
not stratified unstratified
not written unwritten
more than 130 possible combinations
(Greek/Latin origin)
meanings: not, without
IN-
not accessible inaccessible
not accurate inaccurate
not coherent incoherent
not direct indirect
not efficient inefficient
not evitable inevitable
not operable inoperable
not validate invalidate
few possible combinations
(1st letter is "r")
meanings: not, without
IR-
not rational irrational
not regular irregular
not religious irreligious
not responsible irresponsible
not reversible irreversible
not revocable irrevocable
not rotational irrotational
few possible combinations
(1st letter is "l")
meanings: not, without
IL-
not legal illegal
not logical illogical
more than 50 possible combinations
meanings: not, remove, expel
DIS-
not association dissociation
not continuous discontinuous
not order disorder
not satisfied dissatisfied
not similar dissimilar
unlimited possible combinations
(makes 2 distinct groups)
meanings: not, absent
NON-
not combustible noncombustible
not competitive noncompetitive
not conformity nonconformity
not linear nonlinear
not polar nonpolar
not rigid nonrigid

★ Always consult a collegiate or unabridged dictionary to verify the nuances of words before using them in your final draft.
Subtle, yet important differences in nuance may arise due which negative prefix is used.

unsatisfied   vs.   dissatisfied


He was not satisfied with his job, but he tolerated the conditions because he has a large family and no company would likely hire him at his age.
He unsatisfied with his job, but he tolerated the conditions because he has a large family and no company would likely hire him at his age.
(no action taken to obtain the desired improvement in working conditions)

He was not satisfied with his job, so he left the company, went back to school, got a degree in systems engineering and now he has a new job at twice the pay.
He was dissatisfied with his job, so he left the company, went back to school, got a degree in systems engineering and now he has a new job at twice the pay.
(action is taken to obtain the desired improvement in working conditions)

Action Verbs (動詞)

not accept reject
not admit deny
not in consistent with contradict
not agree to do something refuse
not allow something to happen prevent
not allow inside/outside bar
not arm disarm
not believe disbelieve
not consider ignore
not continue discontinue
not do (something) avoid
not encourage discourage
not have lack
not include (inadvertently) omit
not include (on purpose) exclude
not make possible (make impossible) preclude
not permit forbid
not permit prohibit
not remember forget
not succeed fail
not sure about doubt

Adverbs (副詞)

not often seldom
so X that … cannot V too X to V

Prepositions (前置詞)

with no care careless
unable to remember … beyond my memory.
He did not keep his research notes. He threw his research notes away.
not in stock out of stock
have no disease free from disease

★ Always consult a collegiate or unabridged dictionary to verify the nuances of words before using them in your final draft.

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