I’ve come across a number of language concerns in science writing. Below is my ever-growing list of writing faux-pas (and solutions):
Conditions | Disease | Disorder
Conditions, diseases and disorders are often used interchangeably. While some argue that it’s just a matter of opinion, these words have different connotations and should be used accordingly. In the field of psychiatry, you can get into hot water if you call some mental illness a disease. That said, things can get tricky when you’re trying to define terms like “obesity,” which now has a new medical definition. That said, some genetic disorders are considered diseases as well, so it’s not a simple subject.
Effect | Affect
These two near homophones are often mixed up because they both can function as verbs and nouns. Confusing, right? As a rule of thumb, most of the time, effect is a NOUN and affect is a VERB, with effect typically meaning the result of some cause (cause and effect) and affect being used as a verb akin “to influence.” Basically memorize this sentence to affect the effects is interference, one must use affect and effect correctly. When “effect” is used as a verb it means to bring about, as in a legislature effects changes in the legal system. Affect the verb implies influence, effect the verb is the real deal, bringing something into being. Affect the noun is primarily used in psychology; it is meant to describe feeling or emotion, or the observed expression of emotion; if someone is described as having no affect, that person is emotionally numb or flat. See the Grammar Girl’s explanation for more examples.
That | Which
The simplest rule to remember the difference between THAT and WHICH is to use WHICH with a comma and THAT with everything else. BUT, if you really want to know–you use THAT with RESTRICTIVE CLAUSES and WHICH with NON-RESTRICTIVE CLAUSES. What’s a restrictive clause? It’s a word or phrase that provides crucial information that cannot be eliminated without losing the meaning of the sentence. A non-restrictive clause is extra information–often set aside with the use of commas–you can remove non-restrictive clauses from your sentence and the meaning of the sentence (though less robust) still makes sense. Examples: Restrictive Clause: “Dogs that bark drive me nuts!” Non-restrictive clause: “Diamonds, which are expensive, make good gifts.”
A comma splice is the misuse of a comma to join two independent clauses. For example: “It is nearly midnight, we cannot reach town before dawn.” Although acceptable in some languages and compulsory in others, comma splices are usually considered style errors in English.
There | Their | They’re
There is a location (“Look over there”) | Their denotes possession as in “Their writing” | They’re is a contraction for “They are”
Its | It’s
Its is a possession as in “Its color is blue” | It’s is a contraction for “It is”
Air | Ere | Err | Heir
Air is in the atmosphere | Ere is a poetic phrase meaning “before” | Erris a mistake as in “To err is human, to forgive divine” | Heir is a person inheriting something
Here | Hear
Here is a location (“Look over here”) | Hear is a verb meaning to perceive sound
Bare | Bear
Bare as an adjective means naked or without basics; Bare as a verbmeans to uncover or expose | Bear as a noun is a large mammal; Bearas a verb means to carry, support, endure, turn (bear right/left), or to give birth to a child or grow/flourish (bears fruit)
Where | Wear
Where is a location (where do you live?) | Wear as a verb means to have on one’s body or carry (wear a dress) or to damage or erode; Wear as a noun denotes an article of clothing or the wearing of clothing or a state of being