Language for research articles – day 1: language for speculating

Language for research articles – day 1: language for speculating

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Language for speculating

When writing about hypotheses and analysing research, it’s useful to know how to use a range of language for speculating.

Modals of deduction

We can use modal verbs of deduction to show how certain we are about something.

Present form:                   modal verb + infinitive (without to)

Past form:                         modal verb + have + past participle


We use the modal verb ‘must’ to show that we are certain about something.

Lack of access to clean drinking water must be the cause for dehydration.

(past form) The researchers must have found the results intriguing.

Can’t / Cannot

We use the modal verb ‘can’t/cannot’ to show that we think something isn’t possible

The change in hydration cannot be the cause as it did not occur until after the reaction had finished.

(past form) Given the nature of the sampling, the results cannot have been accurate.

Might, May, and Could

We use the modal verbs ‘might’, ‘may’, and ‘could’ to show that something is possible.

The use of this technology in the field could halve diagnostic waiting times.

The immediate roll-out might be inhibited by logistical challenges.

Increased photosensitivity may be a side-effect of prolonged exposure.

(past form) Due to an error on the label, test subjects may have taken an incorrect dosage.

Vocabulary for speculating


suggest (meaning: to be likely to be true)

the results suggest that the treatment was not effective on this group of participants.

These nouns are frequently used as the subject of ‘suggest’:

analysis, data, evidence, figures, findings, report, research, results, statistics, study, survey, theory

appear (meaning: to seem)

The samples appear to contain traces of an unidentified protein.


possible (meaning: something can be done)

It is possible that their findings will be supported by future research.

probable (meaning: something is likely to be true or likely to happen)

It is the probable source of the issue.

feasible (meaning: something is likely to have success)

The process is commercially feasible.

likely (meaning: probably true or probably going to happen)

The report concluded that sales are likely to fall.

reasonable (meaning: having good reasons to think something is true)

It was reasonable to assume that the scan would expose any large fractures.

conceivable (meaning: something is possible or something can be imagined)

It is conceivable that the change in temperature had an adverse effect.

The adverb forms for these adjectives are: possibly, probably, feasibly, likely, reasonably, conceivably.

Language for speculating extract

This extract from an article contains some examples of language for speculating.

Sleep-promoting neurons remodel their response properties to calibrate sleep drive with environmental demands

R23E10 neurons differentially encode arousal signals

Increased sleep drive may be maladaptive in many circumstances since falling asleep could place the individual in danger of immediate physical harm [7,8]. Increased sleep also competes with important waking behaviors such as foraging, eating, and mating [3,4]. However, sleep plays a critical role in learning and memory, supports adaptive behavior, and facilitates creative insight [9–12]. How do sleep-promoting neurons distinguish between competing drives? Our live-brain imaging data suggest the intriguing possibility that R23E10 neurons can distinguish between different types of waking and change their response properties accordingly. Specifically, R23E10 neurons selectively decrease their response to the wake-promoting effects of DA following conditions that promote plasticity. In contrast, R23E10 neurons increase their response to the wake-promoting effects of AstA during conditions when sleep drive is high but the expression of sleep might be dangerous (e.g., during sleep deprivation). Finally, R23E10 neurons appear to contain a memory trace of starvation as evidenced by the increase inhibitory tone conveyed by the recruitment of Dop1R1. It should be emphasized that we did not use TTX when evaluating the response properties of R23E10 neurons to different types of waking. As a consequence, it is possible that the difference in the intrinsic release of AstA and DA during these manipulations modified the response of dFB neurons. Such a possibility will be evaluated in future studies. Nonetheless, R23E10 neurons are plastic and can utilize AstA and DA in very different ways to favor specific behavioral outcomes.

As mentioned, increasing inhibitory signals onto sleep-promoting neurons during sleep deprivation may be an adaptive response that allows animals to stay awake despite increasing sleep drive. Indeed, lesioning galanin neurons in the preoptic area were found to reduce sleep rebound in zebrafish [89] and mice [90]. However, AstA is also reported to be a satiety signal that limits feeding [27,32,37,91]. The effects of AstA on feeding seem to be in conflict with the studies linking sleep deprivation to increased food intake [92–95]. Nonetheless, recent reports have identified complex interactions between hunger and satiety signals that may be nutrient specific and can be modified by Hebbian plasticity [32,34,40,44]. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that sleep deprivation must differentially activate neurons regulating a variety of motivated behaviors including satiety and sleep drive. Indeed, these data indicate that sleep deprivation may be harnessed as a tool to further explore how internal states impact neuronal circuits regulating conflicting goal-directed behaviors [30].

This extract is taken from: Dissel S, Klose MK, van Swinderen B, Cao L, Ford M, et al. (2022) Sleep-promoting neurons remodel their response properties to calibrate sleep drive with environmental demands. PLOS Biology 20(9): e3001797. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001797

There is no multiple-quiz with for this article.

Lesson tags: English for scientists, language for research, language for speculating
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