Dear Participants,

I hope that you are managing to carry on as usual, even in the midst of the hot and humid Japanese summer, without suffering from “brain meltdown.”

In this review, I’d like to cover two points that often present problems for researchers writing scientific papers in English: (1) correct use of the pronoun that (and its plural form, those) to refer to something that has already been mentioned, and (2) how to avoid overusing the expressions known as sentence adverbials that are often seen at the beginning of a sentence.

(1) Correct use of that/those to refer to something already mentioned

Recently, a course participant wrote a note to me at the end of her text saying that she had difficulty in replacing words that had already been mentioned in the text using a simple word. Her text concerned the home ranges of the northern goshawk, a bird of prey found in many countries of the northern hemisphere including Japan, during the breeding season. One of the sentences in the text was as follows: “Although 80% of the locations of MD [the name of an individual goshawk] were within 3 km of the nest, those of the others [the other goshawks being studied] were within 5 km of the nest.”

Her question was whether the word those indicated “80% of the locations.” Unfortunately, the answer is no. In this case, those will be understood to refer only to “the locations.” In order to convey the intended meaning correctly here, it is necessary to repeat “80%”; i.e., “80% of those of the others. . . .”

The key point here is that, when using the pronouns that or those as a substitute for a previously mentioned word or group of words, the previously mentioned word or words in question (called the antecedent) must be the core noun or noun phrase (such as “the locations” in this case). If the antecedent is complicated because it is modified by additional information, such as in “80% of the locations,” it becomes unclear to the reader what exactly the pronoun is referring to. Therefore, when you have an antecedent-pronoun situation, always choose only the core noun or noun phrase as the antecedent, and repeat any additional information that is modifying it. This will ensure that the reader clearly understands what the pronoun is referring to.

(2) How to avoid overusing sentence adverbials

The term sentence adverbial refers to a word or phrase that modifies the whole sentence in which it appears, and is often (although not always) found at the beginning of the sentence. A sentence adverbial functions either to reveal the attitude of the writer toward the information given in the sentence (e.g., “Fortunately, . . . .), or to link the sentence to the preceding one (e.g., “Hence, . . . .”).

Examples often seen in scientific texts are words or phrases such as However, Therefore, On the other hand, In contrast, Thus, As a result, and so on.

Sentence adverbials are a very useful means of maintaining the smooth flow of information from one sentence to the next. However, care should be taken not to create a succession of sentences each starting with one of these expressions: For example:

First, we AAA. Next, we BBB. As a result, we found that CCC. However, DDD. On the other hand, EEE. Therefore, FFF.

Such repetitive usage can quickly create a feeling of boredom in the reader. Overuse of sentence adverbials in this way is, in fact, quite common in English texts written by Japanese researchers.

As a solution to this problem, if you find that you are using too many adverbials at the beginning of sentences, try to place some of them inside the sentence, rather than at the beginning, or else rewrite the sentence so as to eliminate them. For example:

First, we AAA. We then BBB. The results showed that CCC. It was found, however, that DDD. On the other hand, EEE. It was therefore concluded that FFF.

The key point here is to avoid becoming stuck in a pattern of beginning one sentence after another with an adverbial expression. If you find yourself in such a pattern, try to add a little variety to your sentence style.

I hope that the above guidelines are helpful to you in your writing. Keep up the good work!

Sincerely yours,

Bob Gavey
For World Translation Services, Inc.