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.

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