Writing a paper – day 2: language for showing development 2 (word focus)

Writing a paper – day 2: language for showing development 2 (word focus)

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When writing academically, it is often necessary to discuss the ways in which things develop. The following language can be helpful in doing this. Although you may be familiar with this vocabulary, it may be useful to pay attention to the more nuanced meanings across different word forms.

to refine
  1. to make small changes in order to make something better

E.g. After we had refined the process, we were able to begin field-testing.

  1. to make something purer by removing other substances)

E.g. When oil is refined, several by-products are produced.

Noun form


  1. (countable) a small alteration that improves something

E.g. After carrying out multiple refinements, we were able to test the mechanism.

  1. (uncountable) the process of making something pure by removing other substances

E.g. During refinement of the element in its raw state, various impurities are extracted. 

  1. (uncountable) being well educated and polite – and also enjoying music, art and other things of high cultural value or that are associated with high social class

E.g. The venue boasts an air of refinement, with multiple galleries, opulent ballrooms and beautifully manicured gardens.

Adjective form


  1. a substance that has had other substances removed from it to make it purer

E.g. Participants were asked to report their daily intake of refined sugar.

  1. a person who is well-educated and polite

E.g. In order to be considered refined, young women of this era were expected to display extensive knowledge of literature, music, art and opera.

to proliferate

to grow rapidly in quantity – often biological

E.g. Plant life will proliferate in this environment.

Noun form

proliferation (meaning: a sudden increase in amount)

E.g. The proliferation of reality TV shows is reflective of their success.

Adjective form

  1. prolific (meaning: producing a lot of something – books, ideas, offspring)

E.g. This prolific plant species was first recorded in 1869.

  1. proliferous (meaning: used to describe plants or animals that produce buds or side shoots in order to reproduce)

E.g. This proliferous plant can only be found in the southern hemisphere.

Other Phrases
  1. to be the workhorse in the field of X (meaning : to be a useful machine or piece of equipment in an area of study)

A workhorse is often used to describe someone/something that does work that is boring and/or hard.

E.g. The traditional upright microscope has long been the workhorse in the field of biology.

  1. to transform the field of X (meaning: to completely change an area of study)

E.g. Developments in AI have transformed the field of digital engineering.

Examples of this language in use

Examples of language from this lesson can be found in the following extract.


Recent advances in ultrafast X-ray sources promise to transform the field of X-ray science in the twenty-first century. The generation of high-brightness (in some cases, fully coherent) ultrafast X-ray pulses spanning the EUV, soft X-ray and hard X-ray ranges now enable sensitive probing of structural dynamics in matter on the fundamental timescales of atomic motion. The development of tuneable subfemtosecond coherent X-ray sources further enables element-specific probing of electronic structure, charge dynamics and coupling to atomic structure on fundamental timescales of electronic motion. Synchrotron-based X-ray sources have been the workhorse in the field of X-ray science for nearly half a century, and effective methods have been developed to extend the time resolution of these sources to the sub-picosecond regime. Table-top plasma X-ray sources have been refined to become compact, reliable sources of less than 100 fs hard X-ray pulses at the laboratory scale, and table-top HHG XUV sources have opened the attosecond time domain. Most significantly, XFELs have been demonstrated, and are proliferating worldwide. They provide tuneable coherent X-ray beams, many orders of magnitude brighter than any previously available X-ray source, with pulse durations that are now extending to the attosecond domain.

This extract is taken from: Schoenlein RobertElsaesser ThomasHolldack KarstenHuang ZhirongKapteyn HenryMurnane Margaret and Woerner Michael, 2019, Recent advances in ultrafast X-ray sources Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A. 377: 20180384. 20180384. http://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2018.0384

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Lesson tags: English for scientists, language for showing development, word focus, writing a paper
Back to: English for Scientists