— A plea for scholarly writing

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Abstract

Scientific writing is a skill that needs to be developed through concentration and practice. By the final draft of a paper, each sentence should have been crafted to convey information clearly, succinctly, and accurately. The standard of writing in current scientific journals has reached an all-time low, in terms of both poor grammar and imprecise communication. This situation has been fueled on one hand by escalating costs of publication and an attempt to shorten papers and, on the other hand, by inadequate training in the structure of the English language. The English language, being a composite of Anglo-Saxon languages and French, is one of the most expressive languages of the world. Many words of Anglo-Saxon origin have a counterpart of French origin. These paired words are not exact synonyms but rather, over the years, have come to express slight nuances of meaning that give to English an unusual precision and richness. Not only has English changed in the above way but also multiple spellings for particular words were reduced to a single, accepted spelling, rules for punctuation that reduced ambiguity were established, and guidelines for grammar and the structuring of sentences came into play. The preparation for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857 and reached fruition 70 years later after tens of thousands of participants contributed to the organization of 414,825 precise definitions under the editorship of Professor James Murray (Winchester 1998). This dictionary was a milestone in the development of the English language and it became the official standard. These improvements have been largely ignored in recent elementary and secondary education in the United States and few young Americans understand the structure or usage of their own language, a misfortune that becomes painfully obvious to most teaching faculty on a daily basis. It is paradoxical that many educated foreigners have a better grasp of the structure and grammar of English than do many Americans whose native language is English. How often does one wince at the grammatical errors made by announcers of news on television or at the linguistic atrocities committed in newspaper articles? As deplorable as is the degradation of English within the populace at large, it has not sunk to the depth plumbed by scientific writing. The refinement of English over the centuries has been fractured by a generation of scientists who supposedly are dedicated to precise thinking and accurate methodology. It …

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