Choose better verbs!

Scientific writing is not creative writing. But that does not mean that you cannot be more creative in your choice of words. The best way to introduce creativity into your writing is to use verbs that are different from those that are usually found in scientific writing. Nevertheless, you have to be careful in your use of verbs: some are more appropriate than others for scientific writing. Here, we present some examples of the creative use of verbs that will make your writing more powerful and persuasive.

 

Imaging studies reveal findings

In medical articles, the author often needs to describe imaging results, whether from plain x-ray, computed tomography, or magnetic resonance imaging. Authors typically use verbs such as “show.”

A chest x-ray showed a 3 × 4 cm lucency in the right lower lobe.

Brain MRI showed a hypodense lesion in the caudate nucleus.

Abdominal CT showed a fluid collection surrounding the pancreas.

While it is true that imaging techniques show findings, what they really do is reveal findings. The verb “to reveal” comes from the Latin word velum, meaning veil and the prefix re-, which in this context expresses reversal. In other words, the verb reveal means to remove the veil that hides something. Radiological images remove the veil of the skin and expose the body underneath. Trading “show” for “reveal,” we obtain:

A chest x-ray revealed a 3 × 4 cm lucency in the right lower lobe.

Brain MRI revealed a hypodense lesion in the caudate nucleus.

Abdominal CT revealed a fluid collection surrounding the pancreas.

X-ray of a hand

The best way to introduce creativity into your writing is to use verbs that are different from those that are usually found in scientific writing.

Instead of “demonstrate,” try “suggest”

Scientific authors frequently need to describe their experimental results. To do this, they often use the verb “demonstrate.”

Taken together, our data demonstrated that prolactin levels are disordered in Boney–Maroney syndrome.

These results demonstrate that Edgell syndrome and Belknap syndrome exist on a pathological spectrum.

Demonstrate is a perfectly good verb, but suggest is better. The verb “demonstrate” derives from the Latin demonstrare, meaning “to point out.” The verb “suggest” derives from the Latin sub– (from below) + gerere (to bring). This meaning is preserved in modern English. To suggest is to bring an idea from below to the surface and present it to the reader as a compelling idea for consideration.

Taken together, our data suggest that prolactin levels are disordered in Boney–Maroney syndrome.

These results suggest that Edgell syndrome and Belknap syndrome exist on a pathological spectrum.

There is also a philosophical reason to prefer the verb “suggest.” In science, we must always be careful when presenting results that we should not be too sure of our findings. Our experiments, no matter how elegant, can only get us closer to the truth, but modern science suggests that no experiment can ever demonstrate a fact; at best, experiments suggest facts.

 

Avoid the verb “prove”

A consequence of this philosophical stance is that no scientific study can ever prove a fact. The best we can do is get closer to the truth. It should be pointed out that mathematical proofs are excepted from this rule. Everywhere else in science, proof is not available to the scientist. Philosophers of science refer to “epistemological humility,” which is simply an admission that we can never know the truth for certain.

Our results prove that Egger body proteins are responsible for the symptoms of Boney–Maroney syndrome.

The study of Boney et al. proved that prolactin mediates the generation of Egger bodies.

Instead of the verb “prove,” in these cases, it is better to substitute verbs such as “show” or “demonstrate,” both of which are more appropriate here than in our previous examples.

Our results show that Egger body proteins are responsible for the symptoms of Boney–Maroney syndrome.

The study of Boney et al. demonstrated that prolactin mediates the generation of Egger bodies.

Try these verb substitutions the next time you write a scientific paper. You may find that the editors and reviewers will look much more favourably on your paper, increasing the likelihood that you will get published.

Like our blog? We suggest even more reasons why you might need an academic editor to improve your chances of publication here.

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