Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon

Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations.


A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.


A Note on the Different Versions

All different versions/banks have been used and refined following student and instructor feedback, and all of them focus on the same important concepts. We cycle different versions across different terms to minimize the potential that students enrolled in our course in concurrent terms will share answers (e.g. we do not use the same version in concurrent terms).

Please note that while the initial choice of which version to use is somewhat arbitrary, it is important to use the same version for the pre-, in- and post-class activities as a whole unit; this is because some of the questions appearing in the in-class lesson/workshop and/or post-class activities build on work completed in the pre-class activities (e.g. do not use pre-class version 1, and post-class version 2 together).

Succinct Writing, Dealing with Jargon: In-Class Activities, Instructor Timing Guide

This guide complements the final worksheets (and the PowerPoint file), but please have a look at these so you know when you should display certain slides.

* Please note that this is one of the busier in-class activity sets, so you should try hard to keep to time. It is most important that students complete the first three Activities in their entirety in class; they can take Activity 4 away with them. *

* Please also note that there are three pages in the ‘Student’ copy/handout of these activities, but there is also a separate handout (Activity 4 Solutions – For Students) that should be withheld until you move on to Activity 4 (or given to students to take away if you have not got that far by the end of the class. *


Activity 1 (work alone, 10 min + 5 min for instructor to show solutions, total time elapsed = 15 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 1 and then spend a further five minutes showing suggested solutions on the PowerPoint, as well as discussing these with the class.


Activity 2 (work together, 10 min, total time elapsed = 25 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 2.

* Please note that this activity requires students to give feedback on material they should have brought with them from the pre-class activity set (Question 10). If students have not completed the pre-class activities, they will not have a re-written paragraph to share with a partner. In this instance, ask these students to join other groups and give feedback on the paragraphs written by other people. This will still allow them to be part of the activity (they just won’t receive any feedback on a paragraph they have written). *


Activity 3 (work alone and then together, 15 min, total time elapsed = 40 min)

You should allow 15 minutes (or however much time you have remaining) for students to complete Activity 3.

* Students that did not bring a paragraph can return to working in the groups of people that did. Again, they will not receive feedback on their written work, but will still be part of the activity and will hear how useful their feedback was in helping others improve their work. *


Activity 4 (as a class, 5 min, total time elapsed = 45 min)

Before students leave, you should distribute the two pages of the other student handouts that show the suggested improvements that could have been made to the abstracts they have been working on. If you have time, you might wish to discuss the suggested solution(s), but as long as students have these handouts they can take them away and see where the improvements should have been made in their own time.

Version 1

Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon: Student Pre-Class Activities

As scientists you will likely have to communicate at least some technical information to non-specific audiences, so knowing how to do this effectively is another important skill to master. In these activities, you will focus on improving the succinctness of your writing. In addition to looking at techniques and tips that will help you write clear, simple sentences, you will gain specific practice with the use of scientific jargon.

One golden tip that you should try to put into practice when editing your work is this: Read your sentences individually and ask yourself whether every single word is necessary. Often, when thinking like this, you will be able to reduce the length of your sentences and replace certain words to make things flow more smoothly.

Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

The goal here is to make you think about every single word in your sentences, so that you write things as concisely as possible. Pay particular attention to ensuring that each sentence does not contain unnecessary words or phrases. You can often make things more concise by writing in the active voice; this will help you keep your sentences clear and concise (for more information on this, see the student resource on UBC’s website here).

Each of the following five questions comprise a sentence (or sentences) that should be written more concisely; some could be re-written in the active voice, while others contain unnecessary words that could be removed.

Follow the question-specific hint to help you re-write these sentences (1 mark for each question). In all cases, you should use fewer words than in the original versions.

Q1 (re-write in the active voice): A new computer program has been developed by scientists that will allow companies to reduce costs and carbon emissions when they use cloud-computing facilities.
Q2 (remove six words): The upshot of this is that the breakthrough could cut costs in half and reduce carbon emissions by a quarter.
Q3 (re-write in the active voice): Previously, companies were unable to split the load between different cloud-computing servers, which was seen by computer scientists as being inefficient.
Q4 (remove two words): Now, by using the program ‘Stratus’, companies can split the load between servers located all around the world, which will ultimately result in more efficient use.
Q5 (re-write the first sentence in the active voice, and remove one word from the second sentence): It was thought by the developers that ‘Stratus’ would save considerable money. However, they were completely shocked when testing showed it could save the average company 60%.

The Importance of Using Simple Words and Eliminating Redundant Qualifiers

One of the greatest misconceptions in writing is the idea that you need to use intellectual-sounding words to give your work a sense of power. Your only goal should be to write something that is easily understood by whoever reads it. The best way of achieving this is to write short sentences containing words used frequently by everybody.

So, instead of ‘'elucidating a concept to change the views of your myopic readers’, you should just ‘explain a concept to change the views of your short-sighted readers.’ Similarly, don’t tell your audience that your invention will have ‘universal applications across the globe’ when they already know that ‘universal’ means that something applies to every situation. Redundant qualifiers such as this should always be avoided, so, you should simply have written: ‘universal applications.’

Question 6 (5 marks)

Try to spot the five overly fancy words and/or redundant qualifiers in the paragraph below. Copy and paste the paragraph and bold these five words (1 mark for each correctly bolded word).

It is critically vital that researchers do not know which group of subjects receives the drug in medical trials. This is because such knowledge can cause researchers to assimilate and analyze data in a subjective way. If researchers were aware, others could then question the final results of such experiments. People would sometimes be reticent to trust the ultimate conclusions made by the researchers in these circumstances.

Eliminating Ambiguous Words

The goal of this activity is to highlight how important it is to eliminate ambiguous (unclear) words from your writing. A word (or phrase) is ambiguous if it could potentially mean different things to different people.

For example, the statement that ‘Male salmon grew frighteningly quickly’ could mean they grew much more quickly than expected, or that you were actually scared by their speed of growth. Similarly, the statement that ‘these males grew significantly faster than females’ is also potentially problematic because ‘significance’ means something different when it refers to a statistical comparison than when it is used to convey something noticeable; so, a scientific audience and a non-scientific audience might interpret the meaning very differently.

Question 7 (6 marks)

In the following short paragraph, there are three potentially ambiguous words. Copy and paste the paragraph and bold the three ambiguous words (3 marks). Then, copy and paste it again with edited versions of these three words. Make sure you bold your edits, and that they remove the ambiguity in the original paragraph (3 marks).

Many researchers working in specific science disciplines, such as genetics, have made amazing discoveries that have more useful applications in other disciplines, such as food science. For example, a recent genetic breakthrough should make it easier to see whether chocolate is as pure as the manufacturers claim. Previously, specialists estimated that up to 20% of the chocolates you see on the shelf were made using different varieties of cacao beans than was claimed. The importance of this finding is not easy to digest because it is not clear whether customers care, as long as their treats taste good. However, the new fingerprinting technique will illuminate the true origins of chocolates because scientists will be able to match protein samples to the DNA of specific cacao bean populations, and this could mean many manufacturers will face legal trouble.

Dealing with Technical Jargon

When we talk about ‘technical jargon’ we mean words, phrases, abbreviations/acronyms and/or concepts that are only likely to make sense to someone with specialist knowledge in that field of expertise. For example, the statement that ‘Group A beetles proved to be monophagous’ would make perfect sense to ecologists or crop farmers, who know that “monophagous” means the beetles only eat one species of plant, but without specialist knowledge, you would be very confused.

There are two main ways to deal with technical jargon; you can either explain things by (1) using non-technical language instead, or you can (2) use parentheses, or commas, to explain what the jargon means. The choice between these two often comes down to circumstance.

For example, if you only need to refer to something once, you can easily use non-technical language to explain what you are trying to say. However, if you will need to refer to it again and again, it is usually smart to use parentheses or commas to explain what the problematic term means. If you do this, you can then use the originally problematic term throughout your writing in the knowledge that it will no longer be perceived as jargon to your readers.

So, if we use the ‘monophagous beetles’ as an example again, you could either write: “Group A beetles proved to only eat one plant species, so farmers can continue to grow wheat, barley…”, or, you could write: “Group A beetles proved to be monophagous (they only ate one species of plant), so farmers can continue to grow wheat, barley…”

Questions 8 and 9 (2 marks each, 4 marks total)

Read the statements that make up the following two questions; in each case, there is one piece of technical jargon that could stop non-specialist audiences from understanding what the author is trying to say (this has been bolded for you). For each question, your task is to re-write the sentence so as to remove the jargon. Try to write two versions of each sentence by using each of the two techniques described above (1 mark for each appropriate re-write, one using commas or parentheses, one using non-technical language). Hint: You might need to use a search engine to understand what the jargon means yourself, before you re-write the sentences.

Q8: One of the biggest environmental concerns associated with afforested areas is the sudden release of high concentrations of nutrients into an ecosystem following timber collection.
Q9: This is especially true when endangered species live in nearby oligotrophic rivers.

Question 10 (5 marks)

Choose one of the two journal articles below (the links to these can be accessed by clicking on each article title below, but you can also find them yourself by using a specialist search engine, such as Google scholar).

1) Avoidance of feeding opportunities by the whelk Buccinanops globulosum in the presence of damaged conspecifics. (2012)

2) Social learning of predators by tadpoles: does food restriction alter the efficacy of tutors as information sources? (2014)

Read the abstract carefully and try to put the contents into your own words in a way that makes the sentences more concise (2 marks), less ambiguous (1 mark), and less jargon-heavy (1 mark). Write all this in 75 – 150 words (1 mark).

*** Bring your summary to class for the in-class activity session because you will use it to work with a partner in a peer-review exercise. ***

Version 2

Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon: Student Pre-Class Activities

As scientists you will likely have to communicate at least some technical information to non-specific audiences, so knowing how to do this effectively is another important skill to master. In this unit, you will focus on improving the succinctness of your writing. In addition to looking at techniques and tips that will help you write clear, simple sentences, you will gain specific practice with the use of scientific jargon.

One golden tip that you should try to put into practice when editing your work is this: Read your sentences individually and ask yourself whether every single word is necessary. Ask whether a friend with no science background could read your work without being confused. Often, when thinking like this, you will be able to reduce the length of your sentences and replace certain words to make things flow more smoothly.

Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

The goal here is to make you think about every single word in your sentences, so that you write things as concisely as possible. Pay particular attention to ensuring that each sentence does not contain unnecessary words or phrases. You can often make things more concise by writing in the active voice; this will help you keep your sentences clear and concise (for more information on this, see the student resource on UBC’s website here).

Each of the following five sentences are less concise than they could be; some could be re-written in the active voice, while others contain unnecessary words and/or phrases that could be removed. Try to re-write each sentence by using at least two fewer words, and without losing/changing the sentence meaning (1 mark). Target word counts are provided for each sentence. Hint: There are multiple potentially correct ways of re-writing these sentences more concisely.

Q1: A new metabolic pathway has been created by chemical engineering researchers that is likely to have implications for the biofuel industries. Target: ≤ 19 words.
Q2: In essence, the breakthrough could cause a 50% increase in biofuel production. Target: ≤ 10 words.
Q3: Previously, two out of every six carbon atoms that entered the pathway were lost, which was seen by researchers as inefficient. Target: ≤ 19 words.
Q4: The new synthetic pathway ensures that all six carbon atoms that enter the pathway are converted into the product that is a pre-cursor to many biofuels. Target: ≤ 24 words.
Q5: The researchers responsible for making the discovery of this new pathway believe it can be used to successfully convert many different types of sugars. Target: ≤ 22 words.

The Importance of Using Simple Words

One of the greatest misconceptions in writing is the idea that you need to use intellectual-sounding words to give your work a sense of power. Your only goal should be to write something that is easily understood by whoever reads it. The best way of achieving this is to write short sentences containing words used frequently by everybody.

So, instead of ‘elucidating a concept to change the views of your myopic readers’, why not just ‘explain a concept to change the views of you short-sighted readers?’ Similarly, why tell your audience that your invention will have ‘universal applications across the globe’ when they already know that ‘universal’ means that something will apply to every situation? Redundant qualifiers such as this should always be avoided, so, in the previous example, the author should simply have written: ‘universal applications.’

Question 6 (5 marks)

Try to spot the five errors in the paragraph below. These errors include overly fancy words and redundant qualifiers. Copy and paste the paragraph and bold the five errors (1 mark for each correctly bolded error).

It is absolutely vital that researchers do not know which group of subjects receives the drug in medical trials. This is because such knowledge can implore researchers, often subconsciously, to record and analyze data in a subjective way. Also, if researchers were aware, others could then question the final outcome of such experiments. People would likely be reticent to trust the ultimate conclusions made by the researchers in these circumstances.

Eliminating Ambiguous Words

The goal of this activity is to highlight how important it is to eliminate ambiguous (unclear) words from your writing. A word (or phrase) is ambiguous if it could potentially mean different things to different people.

For example, the statement that ‘Male salmon grew frighteningly quickly’ could mean they grew much more quickly than expected, or that you were actually scared by their speed of growth. Similarly, the statement that ‘these males grew significantly faster than females’ is also potentially problematic because ‘significance’ means something different when it refers to a statistical comparison than when it is used to convey something noticeable; so, a scientific audience and a non-scientific audience might interpret the meaning very differently.

Question 7 (6 marks)

In the following short paragraph, there are three potentially ambiguous words. Copy and paste the paragraph and bold the three ambiguous words (3 marks). Then, copy and paste it again with edited versions of these three words. Make sure you bold your edits, and that they remove the ambiguity in the original paragraph (3 marks).

There are multiple examples of incredibly important scientific breakthroughs that took decades to be acknowledged by society. Very often, this was because those responsible for the discoveries did not attempt to illuminate non-specialist audiences about the main parts of their work. Devastating discoveries, such as many disease-fighting drugs, could have gone unreported if the gravity of their potential impact was not clearly explained by the talented researchers who made the breakthroughs.

Dealing with Technical Jargon

When we talk about ‘technical jargon’ we mean words, phrases, abbreviations/acronyms and/or concepts that are only likely to make sense to someone with specialist knowledge in that field of expertise. For example, the statement that ‘Group A beetles proved to be monophagous’ would make perfect sense to ecologists or crop farmers, who know that “monophagous” means the beetles only eat one species of plant, but without specialist knowledge, you would be very confused.

There are two main ways to deal with technical jargon; you can either explain things by (1) using non-technical language instead, or you can (2) use parentheses, or commas, to explain what the jargon means. The choice between these two often comes down to circumstance.

For example, if you only need to refer to something once, you can easily use non-technical language to explain what you are trying to say. However, if you will need to refer to it again and again, it is usually smart to use parentheses or commas to explain what the problematic term means. If you do this, you can then use the term throughout your writing in the knowledge that it will no longer be perceived as jargon to your readers.

So, if we use our ‘monophagous beetles’ as an example again, you could either write: “Group A beetles proved to only eat one plant species, so farmers can continue to grow wheat, barley…”, or, you could write: “Group A beetles proved to be monophagous (they only ate one species of plant), so farmers can continue to grow wheat, barley…”

Questions 8 and 9 (2 marks each, 4 marks total)

Read the statements that make up the following two questions; in each case, there is one piece of technical jargon that could stop non-specialist audiences from understanding what the author is trying to say (this has been bolded for you). For each question, your task is to re-write the sentence so as to remove the jargon. Try to write two versions of each sentence by using each of the two techniques described above (1 mark for each appropriate re-write, one using commas or parentheses, one using non-technical language).

Q8: Although it might seem hard to believe, idiopathic mutations are often responsible for helping individuals adapt better to their environments.
Q9: For example, many different butterflies have evolved as Batesian mimics this way.

Question 10 (5 marks)

Choose one of the two journal articles below (the links to these can be accessed by clicking on each article title below, but you can also find them yourself by using a specialist search engine, such as Google scholar).

1) Avoidance of feeding opportunities by the whelk Buccinanops globulosum in the presence of damaged conspecifics. (2012)

2) Speaking across levels – generating and addressing levels confusion in discourse. (2013).

Read the abstract carefully and try to put the contents into your own words in a way that makes the sentences more concise (2 marks), less ambiguous (1 mark), and less jargon-heavy (1 mark). Write all this in 75 – 150 words (1 mark).

*** Bring your summary to class for the in-class activity session because you will use it to work with a partner in a peer-review exercise. ***

Version 3

Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon: Student Pre-Class Activities

As scientists you will likely have to communicate at least some technical information to non-specific audiences, so knowing how to do this effectively is another important skill to master. In this unit, you will focus on improving the succinctness of your writing. In addition to looking at techniques and tips that will help you write clear, simple sentences, you will gain specific practice with the use of scientific jargon.

One golden tip that you should try to put into practice when editing your work is this: Read your sentences individually and ask yourself whether every single word is necessary. Ask whether a friend with no science background could read your work without being confused. Often, when thinking like this, you will be able to reduce the length of your sentences and replace certain words to make things flow more smoothly.

Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (2 marks each, 10 marks total)

The goal of this activity is to make you think about making every single word in your sentences count, so that you write things as concisely as possible. You should pay particular attention to ensuring that each sentence does not contain unnecessary words or phrases. You can often use lively verbs to write in the active voice and keep your sentences succinct and easy to understand (for more information on this, see the student resource on UBC’s website here.

Each of the following five sentences has a single unnecessary and/or confusing block of words/phrase that makes it less concise than it could be. Copy and paste the sentence and bold the unnecessary/confusing word(s) (1 mark). To make you think about writing as concisely as possible, you should then re-write the sentence using at least two fewer words, but without losing the meaning (1 mark). Target word counts are provided for each sentence. Hint: There are multiple potentially correct ways of re-writing these sentences more concisely.

Q1: The Nobel Prizes, awarded each year to people making outstanding research contributions, remain controversial because not everyone believes them to be awarded completely fairly. Target word count = ≤ 22
Q2: There are many views on this matter, but the most common is that researchers who make major contributions are often not credited. Target word count = ≤ 20
Q3: For example, many are of the belief that Andrew Benson and James Bassham should have been credited for their work on carbon assimilation in plants, along with Melvin Calvin, who was the sole recipient in 1961. Target word count = ≤ 34
Q4: The 'Calvin cycle' helped us shed light on the cellular processes of plants. Target word count = ≤ 11
Q5: In essence, Benson and Bassham's work was also very important in helping us understand these processes. Target word count = ≤ 14

The Importance of Using Simple Words

One of the greatest misconceptions in writing is the idea that you need to use intellectual-sounding words to give your work a sense of power. Your only goal should be to write something that is easily understood by whoever reads it. The best way of achieving this is to write short sentences containing words used frequently by everybody.

So, instead of ‘elucidating a concept to change the views of your myopic readers’, why not just ‘explain the concept to change the views of the short-sighted readers?’ Similarly, why tell your audience that your invention will have ‘universal applications across the globe’ when they already know that ‘universal’ means that something will apply to every situation?

The goal of the questions in this section is to make sure you do not over-complicate your writing with needlessly fancy words, and give you some practice in spotting redundant qualifiers in your writing (e.g. 'totally unique').

Questions 6 and 7 (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

Try to spot the unnecessary words/redundant qualifiers in the following two sentences (questions). Copy and paste the sentences and bold the one unnecessary word/redundant qualifier in each case (1 mark).

Q6: It is absolutely vital that researchers do not know which group of subjects receives the drug in medical trials.
Q7: If they did know, sceptics could then question the final outcome of such experiments.

Questions 8 and 9 (4 marks each, 8 marks total)

In each of the following two questions there are two errors. These might be overly fancy words and/or unnecessary words/redundant qualifiers. Copy and paste the sentences and bold the two errors (2 marks). Then re-write the sentences appropriately; this will involve omitting unnecessary words/redundant qualifiers and providing an alternative, simpler version for overly fancy words (2 marks).

Q8: Studies have shown that people are reticent to trust many drug trials for other, additional reasons.
Q9: Another is that people are oftentimes unconvinced by trials that utilize small sample sizes of people.

Eliminating Ambiguous Words

The goal of this activity is to highlight how important it is to eliminate ambiguous (unclear) words from your writing. A word (or phrase) might be ambiguous for one of three main reasons:

1: It might be jargon used in an inappropriate setting. For example, it might only make sense to someone with specialist knowledge in that field of expertise (e.g. ‘Group A salmon grew significantly more than Group B salmon’ would mean different things to scientists and non-specialist audiences with no knowledge of statistics).

2: It might use an adjective that could cause different readers to interpret the meaning of your sentence differently (e.g. ‘Group A salmon grew frighteningly quickly’ could mean they grew much more quickly than expected, or that you were scared by their speed of growth).

3: It might contain overly long strings of adjectives and nouns (e.g. It is hard to read: ‘Group A salmon featured aggressive dominant voracious-feeding Type II males’).

Questions 10 and 11 (2 marks each, 4 marks total)

In each of the following two questions, there are two ambiguity-related errors that can be improved. Copy and paste the sentences and bold the two ambiguous words (2 marks).

Q10: Such a devastating discovery could go unreported in the press if the gravity of its application is not clearly explained.
Q11: Despite this, the trend for energy conversion is impressively different between the mice fed different diets in this experiment.

Questions 12 and 13 (2 marks each, 4 marks total)

In each of the following two questions, there are two ambiguity-related errors that can be improved. In these questions, these errors are already bolded for you. Copy and paste the sentences and re-write them to remove the ambiguity (2 marks). Hint: There are multiple potentially correct ways of re-writing these sentences to remove ambiguity.

Q12: When writing about science and/or research, even seasoned professionals sometimes use language that is too pedestrian to engage their audience.
Q13: However, it can also be ridiculously tempting to exaggerate when trying to illuminate the best parts of your work.

Question 14 (5 marks)

Choose one of the two journal articles below (the links to these can be accessed by clicking on each article title below, but you can also find them yourself by using a specialist search engine, such as Google scholar).

1: Avoidance of feeding opportunities by the whelk Buccinanops globulosum in the presence of damaged conspecifics. (2012)

2: “The Words of Things Entangle and Confuse”: The Ambiguous Political Concept). (1982)

Read the abstract carefully and try to put the contents into your own words in a way that makes the sentences more concise (2 marks), easier to read (1 mark), and less jargon-heavy (1 mark) in 75-150 words (1 mark).

*** Bring your summary to class for the in-class activity session because you will use it to work with a partner in a peer-review exercise. ***

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Version 1, Version 2, and Version 3 Solutions

Succinct Writing, Dealing with Jargon, Peer Review : Student In-Class Activities

Peer Review

Peer review is one of the most important steps in the scientific process. After scientists complete an experiment, they write up a description of it and attempt to get this published in a journal, or in a book, in the hope that it will be read by other scientists and make some impact in its own field. It is hard to be completely objective about your own scientific work, which is why journal or book editors send manuscripts to other experts, to be reviewed anonymously. These 'external reviewers' provide feedback to the editor and author(s), and in some cases their reviews prevent publication of the article if they judge it to be unimportant, misinterpreted, or poorly written (even if the science is amazing!).

Following review, you (the author) will be given an opportunity to revise your work, to make it acceptable for publication. The review process prevents poorly constructed arguments or badly written manuscripts from getting into the scientific literature. Just as importantly, it provides authors with a fair opportunity to improve the article by correcting poor experiments or analyses, and by improving the writing.

It is very important to recognize that peer review in science is grounded in: (1) the criticism of the strength of the argument made by an author (based on the experimental design, the manner of observation or comparison, and the interpretation of results), and (2) the strength and clarity of the scientific writing/editing.

In these in-class activities, we will focus on the second of those components, because editing fits more closely with the theme of improving your writing skills to become more effective science communicators.

Activity 1 (work alone, 10 minutes)

One of the most common misconceptions about peer review or providing feedback is that being critical is unkind. It is true that there is a fine line between being mean and being constructive. However, if you only provide positive feedback, this does not give a person the chance to improve their work (or learn new skills).

All of the sentences in the short paragraph below could be improved, and some of them have multiple problems! Imagine that you are reviewing your friend’s work here. These problems (which include the use of jargon, ambiguous words, non-concise sentences, redundant words/phrases, and so on) have already been highlighted and explained for you (see red parts of paragraph and explanations below); if you have time, think about how you would improve them, but, more importantly, write down what you would say to your friend to help him/her improve the paragraph. Hint: You can write down specific things you would say, as well as general tips for improvement.

Competition for food resources that are completely1 imperative for the survival of any individual of a species ensures that there are powerful selective forces>2exerted3 on these individuals. Because competition should typically (in more cases than not4) be significantly5 higher between conspecifics6 than between members of different species, those that are impressive7foragers8 typically pass their genes on to future generations in time to come9. That individuals develop multi-faceted predator-induced context-dependent behavioural strategies10 in the short-term is also interesting. It shows that the burning11 desire to survive can cause individuals to develop completely12 unique strategies based on the environments in which they find themselves to be living in13.

Specific problems:

1: Redundant word. 2: Jargon (should be explained in lay language). 3: Unnecessarily complex word (‘put’ is better than ‘exerted’). 4: Redundant phrase. 5: Jargon. 6: Jargon. 7: Ambiguous meaning (‘successful’ is better than ‘impressive’). 8: Jargon. 9: Redundant phrase. 10: Hard to read, non-concise sentence with lots of adjectives, redundancy and jargon (‘complex strategies due to the presence of predators’ is better than ‘multi-faceted predator-induced context dependent behavioural strategies’). 11: Ambiguous meaning (‘strong’ is better than ‘burning’). 12: Redundant word. 13: Non-concise phrase (‘live’ would be better than ‘find themselves to be living in’).

* Please note there will be a brief class discussion about Activity 1; you can talk about the kind of feedback you provided (and what you should have said). *

Activity 2 (work together, 10 minutes)

Take out the abstract that you re-wrote for one of the two journal articles posted on Connect (Question 10 of the pre-class assignment). Pass it to a partner, and have him/her provide some general feedback while you do the same for his/her abstract. When reading your partner’s work before giving feedback, focus on the following three things:

  1. Are there any sentences that could be more concise?
  2. Are there any unnecessarily complicated words or redundant qualifiers?
  3. Are there any ambiguous words in the sentences?
  4. Is there any jargon that should be dealt with?

Activity 3 (work alone, and then together, 15 minutes)

Now, spend a few minutes to re-write your version of the abstract to improve it based on the feedback provided by your partner. Once you have completed your re-write, pass it to the partner you worked with before, and (1) have him/her assess whether it has been improved, and (2) tell him/her whether you found his/her feedback useful.

The purpose of this exercise is two-fold. Firstly, it should show you the importance of editing your work to improve it based on what your peers advise you, and secondly, it should indicate how useful your feedback is; if someone has edited their work based on what you suggested they should do, and it still doesn't read smoothly, then perhaps you were not constructive enough in what you said.

Activity 4 (as a class, 5 minutes)

Spend some time looking at the sample versions of the re-written abstracts to make sure you were on the right track in terms of highlighting issues with the writing, and phrasing your review in a constructive way.

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: In-Class Activities Solutions

Version 1

Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon: Student Post-Class Activities

The activities included here are designed to give you more hands-on practice in improving your writing by making it more succinct and easy to follow. The activities serve as a follow-up to some of the skills you learned in the pre and in-class activities for this topic, while introducing some new, more specific guidelines.

Question 1 (6 marks)

When you edit your work, it is a good idea to do it on a sentence-by-sentence basis. In terms of succinctness, the best sentences are those that do not contain any more words than are required to get your point across. Consider some commonly used ‘wordy phrases’ in Table 1 below. All of these can be shortened without losing their meaning; it is your task to come up with succinct, one-word alternatives.

Table 1: Try to come up with simpler, shorter alternatives to these wordy phrases. Use just one word as your alternative for the wordy phrases below (A, B, C, D, E and F).

Wordy Phrase Succinct Alternative
A: Until such time as…
B: An appreciable number of…
C: In the event of…
D: To cut a long story short…
E: With the exception of…

Question 2 (7 marks)

Another way of improving your work is to replace overly complex words with simpler ones. Although different language is suitable for different audiences, you should never be afraid to write something as simply and clearly as possible.

In this question, you need to identify and then replace the seven unnecessarily complex/potentially ambiguous words (1 mark for each word that is correctly identified and replaced with a suitable alternative). Copy and paste the paragraph before bolding the unnecessarily complex words. Then, copy and paste again and make your changes to the bolded words. Hint: If you correctly identify an overly complex word but do not come up with a good alternative, you will score a ½ mark for that word.

Having failed to make any demonstrable progress with our DNA techniques literature review, we started Thursday’s class with less zeal than we had the previous one. Although we were initially excited by the chance to read about such important science, we were soon deflated when we realized the profundity of the background material that we would have to dissolve into something more palatable for our classmates. Nobody wanted to choose an easy topic for dissemination at first, but we soon realized why reporting technical science is so challenging.

Question 3 (4 marks)

Read the following sentences and try to spot the four words that are ambiguous in some way (and which should be changed when editing, 1 mark for each word that is correctly identified and replaced with a suitable alternative). Copy and paste the paragraph before bolding the ambiguous words. Then, copy and paste again and make your changes to the bolded words. Hint: If you correctly identify an ambiguous word but do not come up with a good alternative, you will score a ½ mark for that word.

Last week, we were flying. Mike’s discovery with the new compound put us ahead of schedule. However, we still have to solve the problem of the funny smell that arises when we burn the compound. We do not know how to do this and our self-belief is low. Such an unwanted evaporation is a particularly challenging psychological element of the research process.

Question 4 (8 marks)

The final question in this post-class set of exercises is designed to make you think logically about editing your work, and to demonstrate what you have learned in this unit.

When producing a final draft of writing, you should aim to make sure all sentences:

  1. Are written succinctly
  2. Are free from ambiguous words
  3. Are free from overly fancy words and redundant modifiers
  4. Deal with jargon by either removing it entirely or by explaining its meaning (using parentheses, or commas)

The paragraph below fails on all of these levels. It is your task to re-write it so as to address the problems (8 marks). You can change the text considerably but to score highly, you must ensure that your version gets the same message across as the original and uses a similar (or fewer) number of words. Hint: There are 2 marks available for each of the four things you need to address (listed above).

We are often warned by our instructors and peers that we should try to keep up to date with our assignments, but I personally know lots of students who are loath to begin working on these until the last possible moment. Nerves in the hippocampus are thought by researchers to be responsible for stimulating emotions, such as lethargy. This malaise can often manifest itself as a passive serenity in students, which can be very frustrating to instructors. However, to their credit, these same students, who seem to be making pedestrian progress at the early stage of a course, often motor when deadlines begin to mount up. The final outcome, however, is often regret, as these students feel they could have achieved higher grades with a little more preparation, which presents a challenge to pedagogical researchers to design ways of encouraging better time management.

Version 2

Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon: Student Post-Class Activities

The activities included here are designed to give you more hands-on practice in improving your writing by making it more succinct and easy to follow. The activities serve as a follow-up to some of the skills you learned in the pre and in-class activities for this unit, while introducing some new, more specific guidelines.

Question 1 (4 marks)

When you edit your work, it is a good idea to do it on a sentence-by-sentence basis. In terms of succinctness, the best sentences are those that do not contain any more words than are required to get your point across. Consider some commonly used ‘wordy phrases’ in Table 1 below. All of these can be shortened without losing their meaning; it is your task to come up with succinct, one-word alternatives.

Table 1: Try to come up with simpler, shorter alternatives to these wordy phrases. Use just one word as your alternative for the wordy phrases below (A, B, C and D).

Wordy Phrase Succinct Alternative
A: In like manner…
B: On account of…
C: At this moment in time…
D: To cut a long story short…

Question 2 (4 marks)

Another way of improving your work is to replace overly complex words with simpler ones. Although different language is suitable for different audiences, you should never be afraid to write something as simply and clearly as possible.

In this question, you need to identify and then replace the four unnecessarily complex words (1 mark for each word that is correctly identified and replaced with a suitable alternative). Copy and paste the sentences before bolding the unnecessarily complex words. Then, copy and paste again and make your changes to the bolded words. Hint: If you correctly identify an overly complex word but do not come up with a good alternative, you will score a ½ mark for that word.

Having failed to make any tangible progress with our DNA analyses, we begun Thursday’s lab with less alacrity than we had the previous one. Although we were initially excited by the chance to work with a real science problem, the perplexing nature of the material soon deflated us. Nobody wanted to do an easy experiment to begin with, but we soon realized why investigating previously unsolved problems is so challenging.

Question 3 (4 marks)

Read the following sentences and try to spot the four words that are ambiguous in some way (and which should be changed when editing, 1 mark for each word that is correctly identified and replaced with a suitable alternative). Copy and paste the sentences before bolding the ambiguous words. Then, copy and paste again and make your changes to the bolded words. Hint: If you correctly identify an ambiguous word but do not come up with a good alternative, you will score a ½ mark for that word.

Last week, we were flying. Mike’s significant discovery with the new compound put us ahead of schedule. Now, we just need some luck with the next stages. One problem we still have to solve, however, is the funny smell that arises when we burn our compound. It can take a while to get to know new lab partners with different personalities, but Mike and I got on famously right from the start.

Question 4 (8 marks)

The final question in this post-class set of exercises is designed to make you think logically about editing your work, and to demonstrate what you have learned in this unit.

When producing a final draft of writing, you should aim to make sure all sentences:

  1. Are written succinctly
  2. Are free from ambiguous words
  3. Are free from overly fancy words and redundant modifiers
  4. Deal with jargon by either removing it entirely or by explaining its meaning (using parentheses, or commas)

The paragraph below fails on all of these levels. It is your task to re-write it so as to address the problems (8 marks). You can change the text considerably but to score highly, you must ensure that your version gets the same message across as the original. Hint: There are 2 marks available for each of the four things you need to address (listed above).

We are often warned by our instructors and peers that we should try to keep up to date with our assignments, but I personally know lots of students who are loath to begin working on these until the last possible moment. Nerves in the hippocampus are thought by researchers to be responsible for stimulating emotions, such as lethargy. This malaise can often manifest itself as a passive serenity in students, which can be very frustrating to instructors. However, to their credit, these same students, who seem to be making pedestrian progress at the early stage of a course, often motor when deadlines begin to mount up. The final outcome, however, is often regret, as these students feel they could have achieved higher grades with a little more preparation, which presents a challenge to pedagogical researchers to design ways of encouraging better time management.

Version 3

Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon: Student Post-Class Activities

The activities included here are designed to give you more hands-on practice in improving your writing by making sentences more succinct and easier to follow; they serve as follow-ups to the skills that you learned in the pre- and in-class activities for this unit. They also introduce some more specific guidelines.

Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

When you edit your work, it is a good idea to do it on a sentence-by-sentence basis. The most succinct sentences are those that contain no more words than are needed to get the point across. Consider the commonly used ‘wordy phrases’ shown in Table 1 below. They can all be shortened without losing meaning. It is your task to come up with more succinct alternatives. Use just one word as your alternative.

Table 1: Try to come up with one-word alternatives to these wordy phrases.

Wordy Phrase Succinct Alternative
Q1: As a result of…
Q2: At this point in time…
Q3: Despite the fact that…
Q4: In conjunction with…
Q5: Without a shadow of a doubt…

Questions 6, 7 and 8 (2 marks each, 6 marks total)

You can also replace overly complex words with simpler ones. Although different language is suitable for different audiences, you should never be afraid to write something as simply as possible. In the following questions, replace the unnecessarily complex words with suitable alternatives Copy and paste the sentences before making your replacements. Hint: There are two words to replace in each sentence.

Q6: At any university, there are a myriad of social temptations that afflict study plans.
Q7: Allotting enough time to study is pivotal if you are to succeed in your classes.
Q8: But omitting all fun events from your schedule can cause emotional capitulation.

Question 9 (4 marks)

Read the following two sentences and try to spot the four words that are unnecessarily complex. Copy and paste the sentences and bold the four words that should be changed (1 mark for each correct answer).

Q9: We did not know it at the time, but the professor imparted a lesson of great wisdom by allowing us to flounder with our experiments. In doing do, she imbued us with a greater will to succeed and provided us with a laboratory experience that was far more congruent with reality than some other courses do.

Question 10 (2 marks)

Re-write the sentences that appeared in question 9 so that they are more concise (use fewer words) but get the same message across (1 mark), making sure you either remove all four overly complex words or replace them with more suitable alternatives (1 mark). Hint: You can change the way the whole sentences are written as long as you achieve the goals of the question.

Using Strong Verbs

By now you are hopefully more comfortable using the active voice to make sentences more succinct (see the UBC website student guide for guidance). Another reason for preferring the active voice in many situations is that the verbs associated with actions tend to be stronger. For example, rather than saying: “Calibration of the photometer was conducted,” you should say: “Ben calibrated the photometer”. In this example, the sentence is now more succinct and it is easier to understand; we know exactly who did what, and have gained this information in just four words!

Questions 11, 12, 13 and 14 (2 marks each, 8 marks total)

For the following questions, re-write the sentence in the active voice (1 mark) to make use of a stronger form of the main verb in the sentence (1 mark). Hint: The word that you should use as the main verb in your sentence has been bolded for you.

For example, “Satisfaction was apparent by the cheers of colleagues,” would need to be changed to something like: “Colleagues cheered with satisfaction,” to gain both marks for this sentence.

Q11: Categorization of the affected proteins was still achieved by the team.
Q12: The analysis of the data was done by two team members.
Q13: Destruction of the cell buffers was effected by the high temperature.
Q14: Grading of the papers was performed by the TAs.

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Version 1, Version 2, and Version 3 Solutions

Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon In-Class PowerPoint

Timing Guide

Pre-Class Activities: Version 1  |  Version 2  |  Version 3

In-Class Activities

Post-Class Activities: Version 1  |  Version 2  |  Version 3


The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for suggested solutions password protected page for: Pre-class activity, Post-class activity, and In-class activity solutions