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03 December 2013  |  Posted in Research and Writing, Text formatting  |  Comment on this post »

According to linguists, the early languages of humans did not have articles to accompany nouns, the necessary information concerning number and specificity being conveyed through context or helper words somewhere else in the sentence. This admirable systems still exists in many languages of the world, including Russian, Hindi, Chinese, and Japanese, but at some point other languages evolved a set of words to precede nouns to indicate this information.

a-vs-the-vs-nothing-knowing-when-to-use-the-right-articleIn English the definite article “the” originated from the word “that” which was one of the words used to specify the location of an object. (English used to have three ways of indicating location—“this,” right here; “that,” further off; “yon,” much further off.) The word “that” eventually evolved into the definite article “the,” which indicates that a certain specific object is being referred to. The alternative is the indefinite article “a/an,” which does not specify any particular object, but means one of any number of possibilities. (A/an was derived from the word “one,” and it can still have this meaning.)

The distinction between using a definite vs. an indefinite article can be subtle. If you are assembling a distillation apparatus and you need a condenser you might tell your assistant, “Bring me the condenser.” Since you used the definite article, this implies that want a certain specific condenser, perhaps the one he put in the drying oven a few hours earlier. He probably knows which one you want, but if he doesn’t he’ll ask. On the other hand, if you say “Bring me a condenser,” this implies that there are more than one condensers available in the lab and that it doesn’t matter which one he brings. Any condenser will do.

Compared with many languages article usage in English is pretty simple. German has twelve articles. English has only three, and there is no difference in meaning between a/an—use “a” with a noun that begins with a consonant sound; use “an” with a noun that begins with a vowel sound. It’s the sound that’s important, not the letter the word starts with. Thus, “an NMR spectrum” since the abbreviation NMR is pronounced “en-em-are.”

There are a few places where no article appears—the so called “zero-article.” Plural nouns generally don’t take articles—“Spectra are shown in supplemental information.” Singular nouns of a general nature denoting something which is made up of many parts (“mass nouns”) are treated like plural nouns in this respect—“Chromatography is a good way to purify organic compounds.” No native English speaker would say, “The chromatography is a good way to purify organic compounds.” But if you asked someone why he omits the definite article here, he might have a hard time explaining it to you—“I don’t know. Nobody says it that way. It wouldn’t sound right.” Since plural and mass nouns refer to many objects there is usually no need for definite or indefinite articles with them, and it would be confusing if articles were used. This is why article use here “wouldn’t sound right.”

This post was written by William Stevenson, an English editor with Enago based out of the USA.

03 September 2013  |  Posted in Presentation aspects, Publication, Text formatting  |  Comment on this post »

Writing a paper is a lot of work: Organizing the data, drawing the figures, writing everything from the experimental section to discussion in a clear and effective manner. But now the paper has been submitted, the reviewers have been kind, and the editor has notified you that the paper has been accepted for publication. So, the whole laborious process is finished, right?
Not quite. There are still a few matters to address. When the proofs arrive, go over them with a fine tooth comb. Mistakes do happen while going from manuscript to final copy.

Text. It is remarkable how often errors appear in the text of a published paper, even in respected journals. (And don’t get me started on patents!) Perhaps the errors were always there and escaped notice somehow, or perhaps they crept in during the transcription from manuscript to final copy. I read a recent Chemical Review article and noticed three or four places where there were mistakes, usually minor verb-noun number agreement problems, but at one point the sentence was so garbled that it was difficult to understand. Catch these mistakes in proof before they get into print.

Figures. Check to make sure all figures are labeled properly and in the correct place in the text. Also, inspect the figures for clarity, since the reduction in size required in the journal copy may change the legibility considerably.

Tables. Strings of numbers in columns are places where errors often occur, so take another look at these.

References. Typing in references is one of the most tedious parts of writing a paper, but it’s important to get every detail right. It’s annoying and time wasting for a reader to search for a reference and find that the citation does not exist. In my graduate school group, my adviser always had his secretary independently check all references, but evidently other groups are not so careful, since I have come across dead ends several times.
Writing a paper is a long, difficult, but ultimately rewarding process. Having run the race almost to the end, make sure not to stumble right before the finish line.

Click to download a checklist on How to Ensure an Error-free Final Manuscript, which you can print and hang at your desk to refer anytime.

This post was written by William Stevenson, an English editor with Enago based out of the USA.

Check the list of accepted papers that have been edited by Enago.

08 November 2010  |  Posted in Journal requirements, Text formatting  |  1 Comment »

Authors are required to follow prescribed writing styles, formats and guidelines mandated by a research journal when submitting articles for publication. This is to ensure that an article is consistent with the language and presentation quality characteristic to that journal. These criteria are usually outlined on the “Instructions to Authors” (also referred to as “Guidelines to Authors”) page/s of the journal. The first step in preparing an article for publication is to check the requirements specified by the chosen journal.

There are several generic requirements and conventions, and in addition there are ones pertaining to specific subject areas. These are related to language and presentation, conventions, notations, citations and other aspects. These guidelines are typically updated at periodic intervals at meetings of eminent and experienced editors in specific fields. Some of the commonly used style guides and manuals are listed below.

Listing of style guides
 Type/Subject Area

 Association/Organization  Style Guide

 General  Modern Language Association

 MLA Style Manual: 3rd Ed.

 General  American Psychological Association

 APA Style Manual: 6th Ed.

 General  University of Chicago Press

 Chicago Manual of Style: 16th Ed.

 Physics and Astronomy

 American Institute of Physics  AIP Style Manual: 4th Ed.
 Chemistry  American Chemical Society

 ACS Style Guide: 3rd Ed.

 Biology  Council of Science Editors

 CSE Manual: 7th Ed.

 Mathematics  American Mathematical Society

 AMS Handbook

 Engineering  Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers  2009 IEEE Style Manual
 Medicine  American Medical Association  AMA Manual of Style: 10th Ed.
 Meteorology  American Meteorological Society  AMS Style Manual



The above list is representative, but is not meant to be comprehensive.

Once an article is written in conformity with the appropriate guidelines specified above, professional editing services can be utilized to crosscheck or improve on both language and presentation aspects. This can serve to expedite both the editorial and peer-review process, and increase the chances of acceptance of the article for publication.

This post was written by William Stevenson, an English editor with Enago based out of the USA.



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