Writing a review – day 3: writing style and useful phrases

Writing a review – day 3: writing style and useful phrases

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Adopting a formal writing style

Today we will consider some key elements of writing style.

Often journals or your university department will have a style guide which will give you information about whether you should use British or American English, how to spell certain words, how to use hyphenation and punctuation and so on. If there is no style guide the most important thing is to be consistent in your approach.

However, scientific English is normally written in a formal style so you should always avoid using slang or informal words and phrases and avoid shortening phrases to contracted forms.

Example – slang or informal English:

I guess…. Should not be used in science writing, you could instead write: My assumption….; I presume….

Example – contracted form:

It’s…. should always be written as It is….

These words will often be said in spoken English, only avoid using them in written research or research reviews.

Below are some other examples of informal and formal language.

Informal Formal for research
a lot of many/much/twelve
info information
kind of, sort of somewhat
lab laboratory
til until/to
all right fine
a bit some
okay satisfactory
you, e.g. you can understand… it is understood…

Here are some other examples of contractions that should be given in full:

Contraction Formal for research
I’d I would
It’d It would
You’re You are
He’s He is
She’s She is
It’s It is
That’s That is
There’s There is
Who’s Who is
I’ve I have
aren’t are not
isn’t is not
can’t cannot
couldn’t could not
shouldn’t should not
didn’t did not
don’t do not
hasn’t has not
hadn’t had not
Useful phrases for reviews

Read through the review below and then we will consider some more useful phrases. You will see that overall this review is well written apart from a few missing words and grammatical errors. It is easy to understand and directly addresses the points needing to be made without additional or unnecessary words.

The paper entitled: Facile extraction and Characterization of Calcium Hydroxide from Paper Mill Waste Sludge of Bangladesh present a method to recover calcium (as Ca(OH)2) from the waste stream of paper industry. Considering the current interest for circular economy, and for the recovery of chemicals with potential to be reused as efficient resources, the topic is very interesting. The experimental procedure, interpretation of the data, characterization of the fractions are mainly free of misinterpretation, however, the paper lacks in my opinion important concept to make it really appealing in a broader context.

The authors start the paper with the importance of recovering the calcium carbonate, however their work focuses on Ca(OH)2 due to the fact that they are using aqueous HCl to treat the initial sludge.
How much NaCl is generated in the process to recover calcium hydroxide in water? The authors could evaluate the E factor of their process, i.e. (mass of wastes/mass of product) – according to Sheldon (see: https://www.sheldon.nl/roger/efactor.html ).
According to the stoichiometry reported in the equations at page 5 of the manuscript, to extract one mole of Ca(OH)2, 2 mols of NaCl are generated as wastes. This is a kind of old chemistry and contradicts some of the principle of the Green Chemistry (Anastas and Warner).
Considering that calcium is an abundant chemical element, what could be the benefit of such a process making use of HCl and NaOH?
Besides the major point above that needs to be critically addressed, the authors might enrich the paper considering the following points:
Specify the function of calcium carbonate in the process of paper and cardboard production;
Which impacts are generated by an enrichment of calcium ions in the environment (soil/water…), and why it is important to avoid the release in the environment of the paper sludge?
Are there organic components present in the initial sludge? Are they completely removed by the HCl/NaOH treatment?
– Considering that Ca(OH)2 absorbs CO2, to which extend the (mainly) Ca(OH)2 recovered can be re-used in the paper industry?
– Are the other major components (SiO2 and Fe2O3) still present in the final solids, or are they in the water phase together with the wasted NaCl?
– Product A and Product B have different FTIR spectra, each of which is described in great details by the authors but the differences are not rationalized. Considering that the Raman and the XRD are similar, what is the difference between these two products?
– Figure 1 has the gm in both x and y axis label, please specify what is meant here
– English needs some rephrasing in some points, however, the understanding is not heavily affected.

This review was published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, written by an anonymous reviewer: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.220681

The author of this review uses some phrases that could easily be applied to other reviews and particularly asks a series of direct questions for the authors to answer:

the topic is very interesting: highlights an important aspect of the work, that it is topical and therefore of interest. However, in English the main subject normally appears at the beginning of the sentence and the sentence should be restructured to start with this: i.e. ‘The topic is very interesting considering the current interest for….

Free of misinterpretation: this highlights that the writing in the article is clear and not ambiguous – again an important aspect for the reviewer to comment on.

to make it really appealing in a broader context: this could be simplified by removing the word ‘really’ which is redundant here. However, with this phrase the author identifies that the paper lacks novelty in the specialty as a whole.

Alternative: ‘the study lacks novelty…’; ‘the study lacks impact….’

Opposite: The study offers a new understanding; the impact of the paper is provided by….

The authors could evaluate: this phrase asks the authors to focus more on a particular item.

Specify: a useful word to ask the authors to be more specific. The reviewer also later asks the author to ‘please specify what is meant here’.

Alternative: add details about…

Which impacts are generated: this is poor English because the plural of impact in this context is also ‘impact’, it should read ‘what impact is generated…’ However, asking about the impact [of something] is helpful in evaluation.

Are there organic…: this question asks for more information on this specific point.

Alternative: Please clarify whether…

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.

Take today’s short quiz below to test your understanding.

Lesson tags: English for scientists, Formal writing, phrases for reviews, Writing style
Back to: English for Scientists 2022