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Is it in your nature to use “nature” in your scientific writing?

June 26, 2011 Filed under Blog, Featured, Writing 

Some authors have a habit of using the word “nature” commonly in their writing. I suspect that they don’t even think about it. It just seems, well, natural.

In fact, the word is empty of meaning in many contexts.

“cumuliform nature”: “the cauliflower-like visual appearance of convective clouds”
“nature of the convection”: What do you mean? Morphology? Intensity? Size? Severity? If so, how is the severity measured?

How many other words do you use in your writing that should be rewritten to say what you want more explicitly? Here are a few other words that I think hide the physical processes involved, allowing authors to say something that sounds “scientific”, but lacks precision.

“A cold front with strong dynamics moved through Colorado.” What does “dynamics” mean in this context? Forcing for ascent through a deep layer? Strong low-level ascent at the leading edge?

“Cloud-top radiative cooling plays a strong role in marine stratocumulus.” What does “role” mean in this context? What aspects of stratocumulus? Longevity? Occurrence? Thickness?

Eloquent Science (Table 10.4 on p. 95) has other examples of similar words to be avoided.

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