April 17, 2014

Weekly Language Usage Tips: statistics show/demonstrate/indicate/reveal

Posted in statistics show/demonstrate/indicate/reveal at 8:57 am by dlseltzer

Tip: statistics show/demonstrate/indicate/reveal

A reader writes:

Good morning Deb,

First, please do not retire. Your thoughtful and clear explanations are invaluable to me as I too edit and revise academic research papers, mostly written by second-language speakers. Since I live in a largely non-English-speaking community, I quite often find my own English has been corrupted and doubt creeps in.

So, here is my question: Do statistics show/demonstrate/indicate/reveal  information? especially in reference to the Human Sciences.

Hope this gives you too some food for thought.

Thank you once again for your invaluable assistance.

First, I thank the reader for the very kind words. Second, I have retired, but not from the wlut. What is changing is this: I have found myself to be incredibly busy working on various projects, and since the point of retirement is to take it easy, I am going to write the wlut every other week instead of every week. So keep your questions coming.

Now to your question: Do statistics show/demonstrate/indicate/reveal information?

I think they all work. Let’s look at the definitions. They are pretty similar.

Show: to present, point out, to allow to be seen

Demonstrate: to make evident, show

Indicate: to point out, show

Reveal: to make known, disclose

There’s a lot of overlap there. There are some nuanced differences, but they are minor.

Statistics show that the trajectory of the disease is steep.

Statistics demonstrate dramatic declines in vaccine-preventable diseases.

Statistics indicate that the economy is improving (that may be wishful thinking).

Statistics reveal that up to 35% of Americans are overweight.

So they all work. Garner tells us not to use ‘indicate’ when ‘show’ or ‘say’ will suffice. I’m not as concerned about that. Sometimes in our manuscripts, we need to use a number of words with similar meanings. We want to be clear and concise, but we don’t want the writing to be boring.

I’m more concerned about this:  Talk about boring—statistics show/demonstrate/indicate/reveal—that’s pretty drab writing. I bet that there are stronger, more active ways of communicating what you are trying to say. Sometimes, you may need to use this construction, but first try and see if there is a stronger way to say it. Okay?

See you in two weeks!


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