Redundancies In Scientific Reporting

Redundancies are common troublemakers in scientific communication. They come in various forms, some more obvious than others, but all of them unnecessary or even disturbing. Common redundancies include double negatives or doubling of words that have the same meaning (tautology).

Many of the words or expressions we use in scientific writing are useless but we still go on using them, mostly because others do so too. When I mention such terms in my lectures, students often argue that they have seen the term in print, which they regard as proof of validity. My answer to this is that many useless or even incorrect terms or expressions have been published and are being published, but this does not necessarily make them "correct."

It is true that traditions tend to change over time. A previously incorrect term may gradually become accepted because of its broad exposure. An example that springs to mind is "tolerance," a French word that has found its way into English usage in clinical reporting over the years. Another term illustrating the evolutionary nature of scientific English is "data." This plural form of the singular "datum" is being increasingly used as a collective noun, i.e., a noun that is plural in meaning but singular in form (see also 4.4, Subject-Verb Agreement). Thus, many writers prefer to say "this data shows," although the plural would be grammatically correct (i.e., these data show). Personally, I still favor proper subject-verb matching in this case, although I accept that "data" may eventually be declared a collective noun.

While the terms discussed above deserve your critical eye, there are many expressions that should simply be avoided. In the following, we will consider some typical causes of redundant and jargonized writing.

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