Uncouple long strings of nouns and adjectives

Strings of pearls often arise from an overly zealous attempt to be brief. However, lucidity is too important to sacrifice on the altar of brevity. Additional words and punctuation are preferable to barely comprehensible meanings. Suppose you encounter the phrase aged dog meat samples. It might have at least five meanings: samples of aged meat used for dogs, samples of aged meat from dogs, aged samples of meat from dogs, aged samples of meat used for dogs, and samples of meat from aged dogs. While this example may seem silly and extreme, similar examples are common in scientific writing. How would you interpret brown egg laying flocks ? (It turned out that the eggs, not the flocks, were brown.)

Table 5.5. Strings of pearls: revising noun phrases that have too many modifiers

Sentence fragment containing a string of pearls

A system necessitated automated motor starting circuit A 4 month secretory cell produced mucosal accumulation history The negative penicillin skin test result group

Blue absorbing pigment spectral curve Climate controlled gene cluster phenotype variation

Two dimensional real time ultrasonographic blood flow detection techniques A calibrated transit time ultrasonic blood flow probe cable end

How it might be revised for clarity

An automated motor-starting circuit required by the system A 4-month history of accumulation of mucosa produced by secretory cells The group with negative results on the penicillin skin test Spectral curve for blue-absorbing pigment Climatically controlled variation in gene-cluster phenotype Ultrasonography techniques that detect blood flow in two-dimensional real time The cable end from an ultrasonic blood-flow probe calibrated to measure transit time ultrasonically

Disconnecting strings of pearls is tedious but straightforward. Working methodically through the typescript, circle every batch of more than two nouns. The goal should be to reduce these strings to simple pairs. As a memory trick, recall that "two is company, but three's a crowd." Because hyphenation links two words to reduce a three-word cluster to two, it often bends this rule a bit. However, any cluster beyond two or three words usually spells trouble.

Strings of pearls can be revised in many ways. Decide the precise relationship of one word to another, and express this relationship by inserting necessary words. Start with prepositions, commas, and hyphens. Watch for unintentional changes in meaning. Noun and adjectival forms often have subtly different definitions (as in paramedic training versus paramedical training). Do not add an adjectival ending if the noun more correctly expresses the thought.

Exercise 5.4. Clarity and brevity

A. Rewrite each of these at least twice to express different meanings clearly.

1. mature muscle iron

2. chronic depression symptoms

3. renal lithium excretion

4. The three cases all had histologically confirmed metastatic malignant intraabdominal tumors.

5. The present study examines various immunospecific drug sample combinations and their inhibition producing effects upon human peripheral blood leukocytes.

B. Reduce the following examples to a single hedge word apiece. Your interpretation may influence which hedge word is kept.

1. These observations serve to suggest the probable existence of a possible female sex pheromone.

2. It seems that it might possibly be very wise to follow the outlined procedure.

3. Our belief is that the study may show an apparent link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

4. A possible cause-and-effect relationship is not unlikely.

5. The results appear to indicate that the mixture may have been more or less saturated with oil.

C. Identify and remove redundancy.

1. It is interesting to note that the new organism is green in color, round in shape, 5 x 10 mm in size, and active with respect to motility.

2. The authors envision that approximately 20-30 steps that are collectively referred to as electrophoresis will be necessary in the majority of cases.

3. In the event that we hold a meeting at this point in time with reference to the data, consensus should not be difficult to attain.

4. It is not irrelevant to mention here that the case load included 15 young juveniles and 10 mature adults.

5. Fig. 1. The lateral white cells as they have been shown to appear in a living abdominal ganglion of a cockroach. The ventral view has the anterior at top. The scale bar is 0.1 mm.

6. The total absence of visible color was absolutely unique.

7. To determine the mobility activity of the organism, new state-of-the-art equipment was used.

8. For a full and complete understanding of the impacts and ramifications of the hot temperature upon the organism, it is our personal opinion that future plans should include a chilling procedure.

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