Exciting AND Consistent? Verbs and Nouns in Scientific Writing
Pop quiz: Which of these sentences is more interesting?
1. We did the experiment, and it was a vivid example of the power of broccoli to make kids gag.
2. We performed the experiment, which vividly demonstrated the power of broccoli to make kids gag.
You chose the second one, right? (Please make my former English teacher heart happy and say you did.) That’s the power of verbs other than “to be” and “to do,” my friends.
The Edge for Scholars’ favorite scientific editor, Hope Lafferty, has a video all about why you should think carefully about your choice of verbs and how to replace too-common, too-boring ones. Grant reviewers and journal editors want to be excited by your work. Help them out by making your writing exciting, too.
…But don’t go too far. “If a variety of verbs is good, then surely a cornucopia of nouns is even better!” Not really. Nouns are your anchors. Get too wild, and readers will lose track of exactly what you’re trying to say. In a post about noun consistency, Hope writes, “In scientific writing, compliance and adherence are my two favorite examples. Clinical researchers might not see any problem with alternating these words for the same concept. Epidemiologists, however, would find the mixed use confusing. Some readers would too, especially if the terms keep switching in the text. We were talking about compliance. Now we’re talking about adherence. Did I miss something? Readers believe it’s their problem, when it’s really a problem with the writing.”
You can write crystal clear prose that still thrills your reader. Use consistent nouns and vary your verbs to talk about the same thing in exciting ways.