Scientific writing - using pronouns.
Thread poster: patyjs

patyjs  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 21:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
Feb 11, 2012

I recently translated a scientific article for publication in a journal. The article was subsequently reviewed (not by the journal) and some recommendations made. The reviewer suggested that the use of pronouns, particularly at the start of a sentence, is poor writing and highlighted the following examples (among others):



As (pronoun) a preamble, the Delphi method has been widely used to obtain a constant flow of expert opinions through survey...

The research was carried out on women residents of impoverished areas since that [pronoun] sector presents more challenges in terms of access to health systems...

This [pronoun] approach has three characteristics: anonymous response, interaction and controlled feedback, as well as a statistical group response

Glumac et al. (2011) suggested this [pronoun] step as equivalent to the brainstorming of the classical Delphi method



The feedback (always good to have) definitely helped and I have been able to improve the text (sometimes choosing clarity at the expense of economy). Nevertheless, the examples given above have me scratching my head.

Any thoughts?


 

Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:46
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
Pronouns? Feb 11, 2012

Any thoughts? Well, if my grammar doesn't fail me, the words which the reviewer criticizes in the last three sentences aren't even pronouns at all, but demonstrative determiners, which makes me doubt the credibility of the reviewer - but then again, I'm by no means an expert here. I'd be glad to learn a lesson.

I'm not sure what the problem in the first sentence you quote is supposed to be.



[Bearbeitet am 2012-02-11 18:36 GMT]


 

Luis Ruiz
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:46
English to Spanish
+ ...
Feedback is always welcome Feb 11, 2012

As far as I know, THIS is a demonstrative when it modifies a noun, like "this city", or "this approach"; and THIS becomes a pronoun when it replaces a noun, e.g. "this is strange". Whoever reviewed your work was not so accurate as to their grammar. By reading your translation, I cannot find any fault. But perhaps I am missing a point there. Anyway, I am no native speaker of English, however, I find that your translation is very good.

 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 10:46
Chinese to English
Non-linguists don't know (anything) Feb 12, 2012

If you read Language Log, you'll know that this is a familiar complaint. Non-linguists' understanding of grammar is minimal, and their grasp of the most basic linguistic vocabulary extremely shaky. It looks to me like your reviewer is expressing little more than a personal prejudice.

But the issue of both demonstratives and pronouns in academic writing is quite an interesting one. I was doing some work on this a little while ago for my MA, and they are both quite rare in this formal register. In particular, I found zero pronouns in entire papers (I was looking at microbiology papers, so not quite the same field, but the register is about the same). Demonstratives were very limited, too. The cohesive effect of demonstratives was generated instead by the use of repetition (a lot more than other written registers) and some relative pronouns (who, which, etc.).

With this kind of feedback, I guess you have to just ignore what the reviewer says, concentrate on the sentences and words that he's highlighted (excuse the sexism, but I bet it's a man...), and try to work out what he means.


 

Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:46
French to English
+ ...
Basically nonsense, but... Feb 12, 2012

patyjs wrote:
This [pronoun] approach has three characteristics:


OK, so saying either (a) that 'this' is a 'pronoun' here, or (b) that 'pronouns' are inherently 'bad at the start of sentences' (or whatever) is clearly symptomatic of not knowing what one is talking about and attempting to blind people even more ignorant than oneself with pointless superficial pseudoscience.

Here's what I say: don't worry about pointless arbitrary arguments about whether you want to decide that particular words fall into such-and-such a category*, or that particular categories are appropriate in particular places, or other pointless arbitrary prescriptive nonsense.

Instead, sit back from your text and think at every stage "does what I am writing sound clear and well-written"?

* I say that as somebody with a couple of degrees in linguistics and a vested interest in various applications of text analysis. Don't get me wrong-- in some circumstances, lexical categorisation can be a useful and interesting exercise; but I don't think it buys you anything here.

[Edited at 2012-02-12 06:12 GMT]


 

Roy OConnor
Local time: 04:46
German to English
Your text is fine. Feb 12, 2012

I wouldn't worry if I were you. Let's face it, scientific and technical texts sometimes are not the most interesting and captivating items to read. Following arbitrary rules can make an already difficult text sound artificial.

In my experience of writing for US and British technical magazines it is much more important to aim for a natural style which flows properly and lets the reader concentrate on the content. If you have to break the odd rule here and there, then so be it. After all, Star Trek would not be the same without its famous split infinitive in "to boldly go where no man has gone before".


[Edited at 2012-02-12 10:37 GMT]


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:46
Hebrew to English
This is how I would see it..... Feb 12, 2012

Luis Ruiz wrote:
As far as I know, THIS is a demonstrative when it modifies a noun, like "this city", or "this approach"; and THIS becomes a pronoun when it replaces a noun, e.g. "this is strange".


efreitag wrote:
Well, if my grammar doesn't fail me, the words which the reviewer criticizes in the last three sentences aren't even pronouns at all, but demonstrative determiners


What really clinches it for me though is that as far as I'm aware, "as" can be (act as) an adverb, a conjunction or a preposition (http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/as)
....but never a pronoun!

Have you asked the "reviewer" for clarification on these points?



[Edited at 2012-02-12 08:45 GMT]


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
Nowt wrong there Feb 12, 2012

patyjs wrote:

I recently translated a scientific article for publication in a journal. The article was subsequently

Any thoughts?


There is absolutely nothing wrong with the sample sentences above, which in my not-so-humble-after-all opinon are perfectly acceptable and correct for use for in any sort of publication, literary, scientific or otherwise. Whether the words in question are pronouns or not is moot and unimportant.

The only thing certain we can truly discern from the examples is that the person pro/prescribing them must be a prat, and is talking out of his or her opinionated and myopic (insert preferred noun here).

[Edited at 2012-02-12 16:10 GMT]


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
A golden rule Feb 12, 2012

Neil Coffey wrote:

Here's what I say: don't worry about pointless arbitrary arguments ... or other pointless arbitrary prescriptive nonsense.

Instead, sit back from your text and think at every stage "does what I am writing sound clear and well-written"?

Edited at 2012-02-12 06:12 GMT]


Exactly! Is it good, does it sit, sound and flow right, is it fit-for-purpose? Debating wooly, opinionated prescriptive nonsense like the asker describes is just a waste of time.


 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 20:46
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Nothing wrong Feb 12, 2012

There is nothing wrong with the text. In my work with a scientific journal, I receive many articles without pronouns from authors, for whom English is a second language. It appears that pronouns are not used in their native language and this may also be the case with the reviewer of this article.

 

Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:46
French to English
+ ...
Analysis Feb 12, 2012

Luis Ruiz wrote:
As far as I know, THIS is a demonstrative when it modifies a noun, like "this city", or "this approach"; and THIS becomes a pronoun when it replaces a noun


Well, that's one arbitrary analysis. Another arbitrary analysis is that "this/that" don't change their category but have both transitive and intransitive uses (or similar). But that's the point: it's just an arbitrary analysis, and which analysis is "right" depends on your particular purpose.

It makes little sense (though a frequent flaw in prescriptivist argumentation is that it is precisely what they attempt to do) to take what is an arbitrary analysis/categorisation and then 'a postiori' expect that language/speakers to magically fall in line with some rule that you've invented based on that arbitrary categorisation.


 


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Scientific writing - using pronouns.

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