Writing a review – day 2: uncountable nouns and useful phrases

Writing a review – day 2: uncountable nouns and useful phrases

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Uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns are words that do not have a plural form and most cannot be used with ‘a’ or ‘an’ before them and we cannot quantify them. In science and research quite few of the frequently used words are uncountable nouns such as ‘knowledge’ underlined in bold in the extract below.

Other uncountable nouns are research, evidence, information, behavior, advice, water, air, equipment, software, work, progress, travel.

When referring to the quantity of an uncountable noun we use expressions like, some, a lot of, a piece of, or we can use an exact measurement like 1kg of or 1 litre of. To ask about the quantity of an uncountable noun you ask ‘how much’ and not ‘how many’.


Table 1: uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns Correct use Incorrect use
knowledge this has advanced our knowledge; we have greater knowlegde because of…. a knowledge; knowledges
research this important research; this is a useful piece of research a research; researches
evidence we have some evidence; there is no evidence; we have greater evidence an evidence; evidences
information there is good information; some information; no information exists… an information; informations
behavior some of the behavior; it behaves unpredictably behaviors
equipment this was the wrong equipment for; some equipment was used…. an equipment; equipments
advice some advice would be; our advice is…. an advice; advices
water some water should be; 1 litre of water was added a water; waters
air some air was trapped; 1 litre of air was… an air; airs
software We used the sofware to; some software was… a software; softwares
work A good piece of work; the work was carried out…. a work; works
progress good progress was made; they made some progress a progress; progresses
travel The travel was long; we travelled for 2 hours… a travel
Useful phrases for reviews

Read through the review below and then we will consider some more useful phrases.

Reviewer #2:

Busnadiego et al. investigated the interplay between autoantibodies against antiviral type I IFNs, COVID-19, and reactivation of persistent Herpesvirus infections. In about 10% of their over 100 ICU patients with COVID they detected antibodies neutralizing IFN-a2 and/or IFN-o, mostly of the IgG type. The antibodies were present in the plasma as well as in tracheobronchial secretions, indicating they could positively influence SARS-CoV-2 replication in situ. No particular pattern of antibody increase or decrease could be discerned over the observation period. While the association of such anti-IFN antibodies with COVID-19 has already been described, the authors went on to demonstrate that the anti-IFN autoantibodies were also a predictor of Herpes virus (HSV, CMV) reactivation in the COVID patients.

This important and interesting study shows that the association of anti-IFN autoimmunity with severe COVID-19 may not only (or not necessarily) be based on an elevated SARS-CoV-2 replication, but perhaps because IFN neutralization can reactivate latent Herpes virus infections, a known other COVID risk factor. Moreover, the authors have established a convenient and sensitive neutralizing assay for type I IFNs that will facilitate similar screening efforts in the future.

The results are therefore advancing our knowledge, will inspire further studies, and may help to improve diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19. I have only minor remarks.

Minor points:

– Apart from the mention that the bead-based assay for autoantibody screening was based on methods from a previous study, the rationale for choosing these three specific IFN subtypes remains unclear.

– Patients were also tested for anti-IFN-b autoantibodies (line 202), but the result of the screen is neither shown nor mentioned. Only the lack of a correlation with IFN-a2 antibodies is described later on (line 236). Similar plots as the ones in Fig.1A and B would be helpful to understand the role (or non-role) anti-IFN-b autoimmunity.

– Why are the detection thresholds for IFN-a2 and IFN-o antibodies set differently? Please provide an explanation.

– Is it known whether the anti-IFN-a2 antisera would also be neutralizing other IFN-a subtypes? Please add at least a short discussion.

– Description of figure 1 in the main text: Please do always provide the number of samples and not only of patients in the text, as it was done in line 219 for the IFN-a2 IgG positives. Otherwise it looks like a discrepancy between the numbers in text and the dots in the figure.

The review included here comes from a PLoS Biology article: https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article/peerReview?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3001709

investigated the interplay between this phrase highlights the connection between two things.

Alternative: the authors investigated the connection between A & B

No particular pattern of…… could be discerned: describes that there was no effect on something.

Alternatives: there was no effect on [something]; there is no connection

Opposites: the authors found that A did respond to B.

This important and interesting study: useful phrases to demonstrate a positive view of the article

the authors have established: describes there is a useful result

Alternatives: the authors have shown; the results demonstrate

The results are therefore advancing: similar to the phrase above describing a result, however, this could simply be written as: ‘these results advance……’

the rationale for……. remains unclear: shows that something is not well explained.

Alternatives: the authors should explain why….; it is confusing why….

but the result of……. is neither shown nor mentioned: describes that the authors have missed something or failed to show some results.

would be helpful to: this phrase is a polite way of suggesting something new.

Alternative: the authors could consider….

Please provide an explanation and please add at least a short discussion: these phrases ask the authors to add more detail. The second one could be simplified to: ‘please add a short discussion’.

Otherwise it looks like: describes that something missing could appear like an error.

Alternative: this could appear as an error

Further study for this week

If you have time for further study this week try to write a review for a piece of research you are familiar with. Use the advice above and the advice in the other Journal entries for this week.

Try today’s quiz below.

Lesson tags: English for scientists, Uncountable nouns, Useful phrases for reviews
Back to: English for Scientists