April 15, 2010

Language Tips: would or will & in order to and so as to

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:09 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Will or would

We’ve talked about word choices before. I’ve been reading (and writing) proposals lately, and I have encountered some word choices that could be improved.

I have seen lots of sentences like this:

This study would contribute to our knowledge in this field.

This R21 award would provide pilot data for an NIH RO1 randomized control trial in the future.

[BONUS: What else is wrong with the second sentence? Find the answer after the second tip.]

Guys, stop using the word ‘would’ in your grant proposals. ‘Would’ is conditional and implies that a condition must be satisfied before something happens.

If funded, this study would contribute to our knowledge…

Or even worse:

If you kindly give me your money, this study would…

Stop it. Use an active word instead. It will liven up your prose and put a smile on your face.

This study will contribute to our knowledge in this field.

Will is a lot stronger. It exudes confidence. We will do this. We will get funded. We will succeed.

Be positive. Be active. You will see the difference (although it may not REALLY put a smile on your face).

Tip 2: In order to and so as to

The focus group’s membership will be kept confidential so as to avoid making anyone uncomfortable about participating.

In order to evaluate the effects of health literacy on post-transplant adherence and outcomes, we must also consider the health literacy of caregivers.

These sentences come from recently read grant proposals . Both of the phrases (‘in order to’ and ‘so as to’) mean the same and can be used interchangeably. But the question I have, is why use them at all? In almost every case, our writing can be tightened and improved by forgoing ‘ in order’ and ‘so as.’

The focus group’s membership will be kept confidential to avoid making anyone uncomfortable about participating.

To evaluate the effects of health literacy on post-transplant adherence and outcomes, we must also consider the health literacy of caregivers.

The superfluous words bring nothing to the writing but more words. And these days especially, with the shortened number of pages allowed in NIH grant proposals, we need every bit of space, we can get. Why waste space on these tired words?

You may have noticed that, at the beginning of this tip, I said, ‘In almost every case…’ There is a reason for that. You need to use the whole phrase before a negative infinitive.

In order not to dilute the sample, we kept it separate from the other chemicals.

But, in general, it is safe to (and wise to) leave out these unneeded and tired old words.

BONUS: So what is wrong with this sentence besides the use of the weak word, ‘would’?

This R21 award would provide pilot data for an NIH RO1 randomized control trial in the future.

This writer was planning to conduct a randomized controlled trial, not a randomized control trial. It’s a common mistake, but one we should avoid since RCTs are such an integral part of what many of us do.

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