Get help with prepositions and prepositional phrases

Words such as to and from are prepositions; they show the relations between other words. Not all languages use prepositions, and English differs from other languages in the way prepositions are used. Even native English speakers sometimes have trouble deciding which preposition to use. You may want to keep a list of prepositional phrases commonly used in your field. Textbooks and websites also can help.

Rather than becoming frustrated, keep the big picture in mind. There is no easy solution to the challenge of using prepositions idiomatically in any language. Each of the most common prepositions has a wide range of different applications, and this range never coincides exactly from one language to another. For example, while Spanish uses one preposition (en) in all these sentences, English speakers say:

The bacterial cultures are in the incubator.

The petri dishes are on the laboratory bench.

Professor Jones arrives in the United States on January 15 th.

English speakers often use prepositions as little more than space-fillers; see the section on "hiccups" in Chapter 5. These should be omitted.

She wrote up the laboratory report for all of us.

Better: She wrote the laboratory report for all of us.

Note that occasionally in English a preposition seems to have no object, but it is not a true hiccup because removing it changes the sense of the verb. Compare these sentences:

The fruit drops off the stem vs. The fruit drops the stem.

In such cases, the words that look like prepositions function instead as two-word verbs (phrasal verbs). Some of these phrasal verbs can be separated in a sentence, but others cannot. If in doubt, consult a comprehensive dictionary such as the Longman Dictionary of American English (Longman, 2004).


Every scientist is responsible for protecting the integrity of science.

Ethics refers to the choices we make that affect others for good or ill. Obviously, this is a multifaceted topic, and no book can describe how to act ethically in every situation.

Various ethical breaches can occur in science, as in any field. However, in science, two ethical errors are considered unforgivable - distorting your own data and plagiarizing the work of others. Both are matters of honesty vs. dishonesty, but in real life application they are not always as black and white as this distinction would make it seem.

It is difficult to assess whether scientific dishonesty is on the rise, or simply being reported more widely in our shrinking world. Every month, it seems, one can find reports of scientists forging, faking, or plagiarizing their way to success. The historical, political, and social context of these issues is beyond the scope of this book, but it makes interesting reading. Good places to start include LaFollette (1992), Buranen and Roy (1999), and the many references included in both.

Respect your data - and your readers

Scientific progress depends upon trust - trust in the personal honesty of other scientists and trust in the honesty of their data. Be careful how you approach your own research. Intentional dishonesty is easy to identify - and to avoid. Simply settle for nothing less than careful research, use of scientific reasoning, an open mind, clear and accurate communication, and a willingness to be honest at all costs (Davis, 2005).

Unintentional distortions can be more problematical. Was that odd result in one dataset simply an anomaly? Can you ethically delete the outlier that keeps your numbers from showing statistical significance to support the result you are almost certain should occur? Should you choose to use graph intervals that downplay differences you can't readily explain?

Ask for guidance from others in your field, but realize that you may be the only one who can answer such questions. Know the conventions for data presentation in your field, and check the accuracy of all details. Try your best to walk a middle line between a meticulousness that leads to overt paralysis and a casual slide down the slippery slope of dishonesty.

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  • anthony parker
    What preposition used in lab reports?
    8 years ago

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