3.3.5 Rewriting specialist phrases
In this section you will apply some of the features that you have just observed in order to practise basic report-writing techniques.
Imagine that you are working with data obtained from a weather station. You have the following measurements for a particular period:
- Precipitation: 15 mm
- Wind velocity: 20 km/h
- Temperature: 20 °C
1 Write three simple sentences to describe these results, using the verb ‘to be’.
- The precipitation was 15 mm.
- The wind velocity was 20 km/h.
- The temperature was 20 °C.
2 Now rewrite the sentences using a verb other than ‘to be’.
This is a more difficult exercise. With the first sentence, the verb ‘to rain’ cannot be used with a quantity without sounding strange. You could write something like ‘15 mm of rain fell’, turning the rain into an agent, the thing that does the action.
The second sentence could be reworded as ‘The wind blew at 20 km/h’. Again, the wind is made into a grammatical agent here.
Finally, you might write something like, ‘The temperature stood at 20 °C’.
These transformed sentences describing data sound odd precisely because they turn the weather into something animate rather than an object of study, which is at odds with the scientific context. However, in everyday conversation or in literature, we often describe the weather as if it had a will and character of its own, e.g. ‘The wind was howling through the trees’. The field of science is interested in the effect of one process on another, which requires language to depersonalise such processes by turning them into nouns.
So, particular professions not only use words and phrases that are specific to them but can also assume a particular style of communicating which, in part, is shaped by the purposes for which they use the language. This is one of the challenges that you face when entering the world of academic study. Not only do you have to learn new words and their meanings, but you also have to adopt a new way of communicating.