Writing a paper, general style – day 4: writing style – collocations

Writing a paper, general style – day 4: writing style – collocations

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Today’s Journal article is not about conclusions, but instead covers an aspect of writing style that can be used in any area of your article. Collocations are combinations of words that are commonly used together. A collocation could be a combination of:

adjective + noun

adverb + adjective

adverb + verb

These words are often used together to add emphasis and can be particularly useful in your science writing as they can either add strength to the point you are making or modify the point you are making to make it more credible. Below are several examples of how they can be used.

Adjective + noun collocations

  1. A profound impact (meaning: a big effect or influence)

The change in climate had a profound impact on our study.

Other strong adjectives that collocate with ‘impact’ Weaker adjectives that collocate with ‘impact’ (for the opposite effect)






  1.  A high proportion (meaning: a large part or share of something/a group)

A high proportion of samples were contaminated.

Other strong adjectives that collocate with ‘proportion’ Weaker adjectives that collocate with ‘proportion’






  1.  An immediate consequence (meaning: the effects of something that happen right away)

One immediate consequence of the change in company structure was increased employee retention.

Other adjectives that collocate with ‘consequence’ meaning ‘now’ or ‘close to now’ Adjectives that collocate with ‘consequences’ to show a  larger impact over a period of time




  1.  Increased pressure (meaning: more force)

When placed under increased pressure, the material did not react as expected.

Other adjectives that collocate with ‘pressure’ to mean ‘a large amount’ Adjectives that collocate with ‘pressure’ to mean ‘too much’






  1.  A substantial distance (meaning: a long way from something else)

Radioactive particles were found a substantial distance from the test site.

Other adjectives that collocate with ‘distance’ to mean ‘long’




Adverb + adjective collocations

  1. Particularly vulnerable (meaning: very weak or easily hurt)

This area of coastline is known to be particularly vulnerable to erosion.

Other adverbs that collocate with ‘vulnerable’ to mean ‘very’





  1.  Highly dangerous (meaning: very likely to damage someone/something)

The use of flammable liquids is highly dangerous in this environment.

Other adverbs that collocate with ‘dangerous’ to mean ‘very’



Adverb + verb (or verb + adverb) collocations

  1.  To significantly affect (meaning: to change something in a major way)

Regular testing appeared to significantly affect patient outcomes.

Other adverbs that collocate with ‘affect’ to mean ‘in a major way’ Adverbs that collocate with ‘affect’ to mean ‘in a negative way’






 Affect vs effect

  • ‘to affect’ is a transitive verb. (E.g. The lack of treatment negatively affected patient mobility.)
  • ‘an effect’ is a countable noun. (E.g. The lack of treatment had a negative effect on patient mobility.)
  1. Continuously intensifying (meaning: becoming greater all the time without interruption)

Deforestation in this area has been continuously intensifying in recent years.

Strong adverbs that collocate with ‘intensify’ to show a big increase



  1.  To spread rapidly (meaning: to grow or affect a larger areas quickly)

Diseases such as cholera and typhoid spread rapidly when there is limited access to sanitation.

Other adverbs used with ‘spread’ to show speed Adverbs used with ‘spread’ to show something happening over a large area




Collocations extract

This extract from an article contains examples of all the collocations covered in today’s lesson.

Light to intermediate oil sheens increase Manx shearwater feather permeability

Oil pollution has profound negative impacts on the marine environment, with seabirds particularly vulnerable to oiling, due to the amount of time spent on the sea surface foraging or resting. Exposure to oil can affect feather structure and influence waterproofing, buoyancy and thermoregulation. We investigated the effects of surface crude oil on the feather structure of Manx shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus), a seabird species that spends a high proportion of time on the water surface. Sampled body contour feathers were exposed to varying thicknesses of surface crude oil before assessing their resistance to water permeation, increase in mass and clumping of feather barbules. Surface oil as thin as 0.1 µm was enough to increase feather permeability, while greatest impacts on permeability were caused by exposure to dark colour surface sheens 3 µm in thickness. Increases in feather mass of up to 1000% were noted in heavy oiling scenarios due to contact with thicker oil slicks, which may significantly affect wing loading and energetic expenditure.

  1. Introduction

Industrialization of the marine environment is continuously intensifying, with all marine habitats affected by at least one anthropogenic influence [1]. This places increased pressure on marine ecosystems through stressors including habitat destruction, overfishing and pollution. Oil spills are one form of environmental pollution that poses both immediate and long-term consequences for marine ecosystems. Large-scale oil spill disasters have been frequently recorded over the past number of decades, including the Exxon Valdez (Alaska, 1989) [2], Sea Empress (Wales, 1996) [3], Prestige (Spain, 2002) [4] and Deepwater Horizon (Gulf of Mexico, 2010) [5]. While not as immediately damaging as an acute large-scale leak, persistent or chronic oil pollution can also impact vulnerable marine populations over much greater time scales. The rapid release of large volumes of oil during catastrophic spill events directs immediate focus on rectifying the incident, whereas cases of persistent and chronic oil pollution often occur on a smaller scale but on a much more frequent basis. Such persistent oil spills can also have a greater long-term impact on marine life than rapid spills like Exxon Valdez [6].

The spread of oil from the point of release is a complex process. The volume of oil spilled, along with the chemical composition and stage of refinement can affect the spread of oil across the water surface, where it can be further transported via wind and water currents [7,8]. Crude oils are notorious for spreading rapidly as a thin film coating on the sea’s surface. The buoyancy and viscosity of such oils make it a highly dangerous substance that can be problematic for a wide range of marine life, particularly those that interact with the sea surface. Natural breakdown of oils through emulsification in water can occur over time, or through human intervention via the addition of emulsifiers or in situ burning. The wider extent of impacts from crude oil spills, however, are not well understood, as slicks can be transported large distances, affecting organisms ranging substantial distances from the original incident.

Extract taken from: Murphy E., Jessopp M., and Darby J., 2022 Light to intermediate oil sheens increase Manx shearwater feather permeability R. Soc. open sci. 9220488220488 http://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.220488

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Lesson tags: collocations, English for scientists, Writing style
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