¿Cómo escribir la introducción de un artículo científico?

I recently saw this video on academic writing shared on Facebook. It is from the Casa d’Estudis El Pont. It is a podcast/lecture from a class on how to write the introduction of your paper, and there is a corresponding PowerPoint slideshow as a visual aid.

It is a good resource, and in Spanish!

Please view using the following link:

http://casadestudiselpont.eu/redaccionintro.html

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Use Parallel Structure

In a way I don’t like giving strict advice. The creative side of my brain wants to believe in the potential to experiment with words and sentence form. The creative side of my brain believes that anything goes. I don’t always like to tell people how to write, because writing is one of those things that is subjective. It is art form and a vehicle of expression!

However, if we are to return to academic or scientific writing, one thing that will easily and immensely improve the clarity of your writing is the use of parallel structure. I suppose that academic writing is mainly about communicating ideas, arguments, and research findings, and so perhaps more experimental forms of writing should be relegated to literature. Okay, perhaps not relegated, but reserved for use outside of academic writing 🙂 (please ignore everything just written and proceed to the next paragraph)

Parallel structure in the context of writing basically means that there is a sort of consistency and pattern in the elements of a sentence that are similar in type.

This is best illustrated by examples.

For example:

“Erosion is caused by the compaction of soil, deforesting vegetation, poorly infiltrating soil, and high wind velocity.”

Notice that in the above sentence, compaction and velocity may both be considered to be nouns. While, deforesting and infiltrating may also be used as nouns, they are in a different format/tense from the other elements of the list. I don’t want to get into verb tenses specifically in this section, but I would consider the following to be an improvement:

“Erosion is caused by the compaction of soil, deforestation of vegetation, poor water infiltration, and high wind velocity.”

Notice that all of the elements in the list are now nouns and in similar format. While these are things that are not necessarily similar in nature, they still follow a similar pattern or structure in their description.

Maybe we can take a look at a simpler sentence:

“Johnny likes to bike, run, and hike.”

The verbs in bold are all the same tense, so this works well. We could also say:

“Johnny likes biking, running, and hiking.”

This also works well because all of the elements are in the same format/tense. And also:

“Johnny likes to bike, to run, and to hike.”

Good. What would NOT work is:

“Johnny likes biking, to run, and hike.”

While this sentence may sound very obviously awkward, this sort of awkwardness can sometimes be overlooked in longer or more complex sentences.

For example:

“Species richness had decreased in cow pastures with intermittent grazing and was higher in well-preserved riparian remnants.”

As your sentences become more complex, it becomes easier to accidentally use structures that aren’t parallel. Whether the above is actually incorrect might be a finer point of discussion. However, the above sentence would be easier to read and understand if it used similar verb tense throughout. For example:

“Species richness had decreased in cow pastures with intermittent grazing and had increased in well-preserved riparian remnants.”

Now this only works if “cow pastures” and “riparian remnants” were truly comparable in relationship to species richness within the context of the study (i.e., they both formed experimental units). If not, they would be best separated into two separate structures or sentences.

Similar structure often gives a more authoritative sound and feel to your writing, as if you are communicating your ideas as directly and clearly as possible.

So any time you are connecting two elements in a sentence by a conjunction (and, but, so, yet, or, etc.), try to use a similar structure for the elements that are being connected, compared, or contrasted.

Use Specific Adjectives and Precise Descriptions

Perhaps one of the easiest ways a language learner can improve their expression, communication, and writing in another language is by increasing their vocabulary.

This isn’t an easy task, but you can first focus on using more specific and more descriptive terminology when communicating an idea. This is especially applicable to technical, academic, and scientific writing, where you should focus on communicating facts, data, or other research findings as precisely and specifically as possible.

For example:

“Bananas are one of the most important crops.”

versus

“Bananas are the second most cultivated tropical crop worldwide in terms of volume, and in Mexico alone, over 95,000 tons are consumed per year.”

In this case, the second phrase is superior to the first. In the first phrase, bananas are just important. Important is a descriptive adjective that doesn’t give a lot of additional information. A lot of things are important, for example: socks, coffee, the sun and the moon, your boyfriend, global warming, etc.

You should ask yourself in this case, “What makes bananas (or any other subject) important in the context of my study?” and “What phrase could I substitute for important that would include more interesting or precise information?”

While it may be appropriate to use general statements, such as:

“Global warming is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity.”

You should always use these types of statements to lead into the specifics of your paper or subject. For example:

“Global warming is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity, and its effects are already evident in the sharp declines in agricultural output in many regions of the world. In Mexico alone, it was estimated last year that global warming had reduced crop yields by 35% (Bruselas et. al, 2014).”

(Please note that these statements were invented by myself to use as examples, and shouldn’t be considered to be facts.)

While we have already reviewed the case of important, another example would be the use of very. Very implies extremely, yet very rarely communicates precise information.

“The study was very important for the advancement of knowledge in plant-insect interactions.”

“The trees flowered very early in the season.”

Again, these statements aren’t necessarily poorly written and might be appropriate in certain contexts, but in the case of scientific writing, we should always default to the specific. I consider the following to be improvements:

“This study lead to an improvement in our knowledge on the factors influencing insect preference in selecting plants for oviposition.”

“The trees flowered, on average, two months earlier in comparison to previous seasons.”

So once again, to review, avoid general adjectives and descriptive phrases that aren’t precise. If you use a general description or statement, please find a way to incorporate it into the specifics of your study.

Thesauruses are also good resources for finding alternative descriptive words and adjectives. Thesaurus.com is a website that I frequently use for my own work, and I find it to be very useful for American English. These should be used with caution, as many words are generally synonymous yet vary slightly or hold a slightly different connotation.

What makes a good translator? (LIST)

What makes a good translator?

I have compiled a list of some of the qualities that I consider to define an excellent translator.

A good translator has:

  • Extensive knowledge of target language. While it is obvious that an excellent translator must have working knowledge of two languages, it is also essential that they have superb knowledge of the language they are translating into (i.e., their mother tongue). This includes knowledge of grammar and syntax, but goes far beyond this to what I describe in the following point: cultural context.
  • Cultural context. A good translator has an idea of how language is used in a given context. This means that they have a grasp of both professional and informal language and the appropriate vocabulary. Translating a business document entails a different type of language and focus versus translating a marketing or technical document. A good translator is a flexible writer and can adapt their style to reflect the voice of the original document but also follow an appropriate style for the publication or audience that they are writing for. This point is particularly interesting, where for example, the language used for writing a formal business letter or legal document in Spanish is significantly different from the way these documents would be written in English. This is a reflection of institutional and cultural differences regarding language expression and context. A good translator will not only understand languages, but differences in cultural expression.
  • Does not rely on literal translations. It is all about the meaning. A superb translator will focus on conveying ideas and meaning versus literally translating, searching to finding the right words for communicating subtle differences in language. Running across the field is not the same as gleefully prancing across the grass. While many verbs and nouns are broadly synonymous, a good translator understands their slight differences and is able to find the best word to use. You probably would have read a literal translation if you had finished reading a translated document and were able to understand it, but it just didn’t “sound right.” In this sense, meaning and ideas were perhaps literally conveyed, but the document was not well-written (according to the cultural context). This leads into the next point…
  • An overall enjoyment of reading, writing, and learning. An excellent translator is also a good writer. In addition to having a grasp of the cultural context, they also enjoy both reading and writing in their target language and are able to read a document in the source language and first of all, understand it. This potentially involves background research in subject-specific areas to be able to convey ideas, terminology, and acronyms following the conventions of that field. As a translator you are continuously learning, because it is impossible to be an expert in the subject matter of every document that you receive. A sense of curiosity and willingness to learn goes a long way in these cases.
  • Subject-specific expertise. While in the previous point I mentioned that it is impossible to be an expert in every field or every document you receive, being an expert doesn’t hurt either. The most accomplished translators have also focused on the subjects that they have the most working knowledge in, where their familiarity with the subject is exactly what makes them stand out from other translators.

So, these are some points that I consider define an excellent translator. Believe me, before I started translating I would have imagined that it is much easier than it is! As you may see, the above qualities go beyond just having a working knowledge of two or more languages. I believe that, above all, a love for languages and writing, along with a sense of curiosity, are the attitudes that distinguish all good translators.

The Many Trees of Denver (part 1)

As a new resident of Colorado, I found myself outside exploring the other day after an abrupt desire to get out of the house after a long day of working on my laptop.  When the desire hits, I often just walk. Mostly towards areas of green space, parks, or wherever the path is enjoyable to walk down. Following the green along the horizon, I was able to navigate myself to a nearby park. I was thoroughly excited upon my find, as viewing from my apartment the park would appear to be completely cut off by a freeway. However, as I have found Colorado to be rather amazingly up-to-par on their outdoor infrastructure, a cement bridge connected and carried me over the top of the freeway to an large stretch of green, a park with natural vegetation and an ongoing reforestation project, alongside biking trails and a Frisbee course. No, not a golf course, but something similarly designed to do with Frisbees.

Even more surprising to me as I kept walking was the immense diversity of trees that had been planted along the neatly manicured walking path that eventually wrapped around and directed me towards a more traditional park full of long waves of grass and baseball fields. Circling the immense stretch of green, I was fascinated by the different shapes of leaves, different shades of green and different silhouettes cast by the numerous species of tree. The parks I knew in California tended to stick to a somewhat standard pattern of tree staggering and often to only one or two species. Upon later investigation I learned that this is actually an ongoing effort and even contemplated at the legislative level, and Denver is home to one of the United States’ “best” urban forests!

Wow!