May 7, 2009

Language Tips: Thinking outside the box & furthermore, further, and moreover

Posted in furthermore/moreover/further, thinking outside the box at 9:02 am by dlseltzer

Sightings:

Mark spotted this sighting:

Some believe that punctuation is not important. If you agree, compare the following two letters.

Dear John:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we are apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours? Gloria

Dear John:
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we are apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be? Yours, Gloria

Tip 1: Thinking outside the box

A reader recently wrote a message that I am quoting, here, with permission of the reader:

Can you help this non-native speaker with a 2-part question?

This is for the Limitations section of a paper I am writing:

“….the generalizability of our study is limited by the fact that our data source are administrative claims data from…”

Question 1 — I know it is [best] to not write ‘the fact’ but sometimes it feels that the alternative sentence construction suggested by editors (…’is limited by that our data source’…) is plain awkward. Thoughts?

Question 2 — I always get tripped by this –in this sentence, I equate a singular noun (data source) with a plural noun (admin claims data). Should I connect with ‘is’ or ‘are’?

Let’s start with the first question. The editors are correct that the use of ‘the fact’ doesn’t contribute to elegant writing. However, their suggestion, ‘is limited by that our data source,’ is extremely ugly and awkward. The problem that both the reader and the editors have is that they are trying to improve the phrase while maintaining the phrase’s current structure. My suggestion, when you have what we might call ‘a failed phrase,’ is to think outside the box. There is no need to twist ourselves or our words into knots; we can just begin anew and keep the message but throw the original phrase out. There are lots of ways to rewrite this:

‘…the generalizability of our study is limited by our data being administrative claims data from…’

‘….the generalizability of our study is limited due to our reliance on administrative claims data from…’

‘…the use of administrative claims data limits the generalizability of our study…’

While there are other, and probably better, ways to rewrite this phrase, the phrases above kill two birds with one some stone, so to speak. They eliminate the problematic ‘the fact’ as well as the need to address question 2, above.

When we have awkward constructions, such as the construction above or the use of the hideous singular ‘they,’ it’s useful to think of ways you can completely rewrite the sentence and still maintain its sense. For example, earlier this week, I came across this:

Clinical staff who see the patients for follow-up will ask the patient if they are interested in participating in this study.

We’ve talked about this use of ‘they’ in this way before. I will stand by my earlier advice and recommend that we re-write this sentence to avoid this structure. The simplest change would be this:

Clinical staff who see the patients for follow-up will ask if they are interested in participating in this study.

The point I’m trying to make is to not get hung up with trying to fix a failed phrase or sentence–think outside of the box, and come up with a new way of stating your thoughts.

And for you trivia buffs or etymologists out there: thinking outside the box is an expression invented by management consultants in the 70s to refer to thinking creatively. You might think that the box they are referring to is a conventional box, but that is not the case. The consultants who invented the expression were referring to a puzzle first seen in 1914. The challenge, in the puzzle, is to connect the dots by drawing four straight, continuous lines and never lifting the pencil from the paper.

Image

One solution:

Image

And that’s the box in ‘thinking outside the box.’

And a quick answer to question 2, above. The subject in the phrase is ‘source’ (as in data source) which is singular and takes a singular verb, in this case, ‘is.’

Tip 2: Furthermore, further, and moreover

A reader asked me to talk about the differences between furthermore, further, and moreover. This is a simple task as there really are no differences. While some people discern a mild difference between furthermore and moreover, I would disabuse you of that notion. All of these words mean ‘in addition to’ or ‘additionally.’

When used at the beginning of a sentence, they must be separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma.

Furthermore, receiving a large, R01 type grant, will result in your losing your ‘new investigator status which, in this case, is a good thing.

Moreover, using the word ‘gender’ when you mean ‘sex’ as in ‘we have found that men and women have different reactions to this therapy; these gender-based outcomes…’ is simply wrong and should be avoided.

Further, when typing, you should only put one space after a period, not two.

When used to join two sentences, they should be preceded by a semicolon and followed by a comma.

This proposal is very strong; furthermore, it meets all of the goal stated in the RFA.

This experiment is looking very promising; moreover, I think it is going to prove our hypothesis.

I am looking forward to this trip; further, I am looking forward to being by the ocean again.

Now, that I use it in a sentence, I realize that, although it is technically correct, I would not use further as a conjunction (a word that connects phrases, words, or clauses) at all.

Finally, don’t forget the difference between further and farther: further refers to a figurative difference – You are further along in finishing this publication than you think – and farther refers to a literal distance – Charleston is farther from Pittsburgh than New York. And there’s no such word as ‘farthermore.’

4 Comments »

  1. Lala said,

    Can one start a sentence with ‘for example’?

    • dlseltzer said,

      Not in formal writing. What your example is an example of should precede ‘for example.’ Green vegetables are often healthful foods, for example, spinach contains significant quantities of calcium and iron.

      • Richard said,

        Of course you can:

        Green vegetables often are helpful foods. For example, spinach can turn you into Popeye.

  2. Travis said,

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an extremely long comment
    but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say great blog!


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