Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Words most overused by scientists to annoy reviewers

I was reading this funny article today about the overuse and misuse of the word "literally".  It was funny not only because I see this happening so often in communication, but also because one person I know continues to use the word "figuratively" in place of the word "literally".  It drives me a little crazier each time I hear it, but he is someone that I would not dare to correct.  The article made me think about some of the overused words that come up often in science writing and grant proposals.  Obviously, there are some words that just can't be avoided.  Significant, innovative, hypothesis, conclusion, objectives, aims, goals, and several others are included out of necessity.  Other repeat offenders, however, come up so often that one wonders if the Thesaurus function even still exists in Microsoft Word.  Examples of words that should be banished from the vocabulary of all aspiring researchers include:
  • aspire - as in "This project aspires to cure diabetes in elephants."  I aspire to be a millionaire someday.  Or one of Angelina Jolie's kids.  Either way, the word has no place in your grant proposal. 
  • ground-breaking - as in "This ground-breaking project will cure cancer and make rainbows appear in the sky."  This is a serious claim to make and unless you are Allison Dubois and know for certain that you can back up the huge claims you are making in your application, you should avoid the use of this word.  It conveys a sense of ego that you do not want to put into the mind of a reviewer.
  • utilize - as in "Research support staff will utilize the SAS program to perform data analysis."  They won't be utilizing it.  They will just be using it.  Don't try to make it sound fancy.
  • examine - as in "Samples will be examined for color and clarity."  There are many other synonyms that can be used in place of this word.  Use a thesaurus to come up with some instead of peppering your text with examinations. 
What are some other examples of overused words that should be banished to a deserted island?

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