Which of the following is/are correct in scientific writing?
- As the participants discussed the problem they noted new terms and concepts.
- As the participants discussed the problem they were familiar with the main issues.
- As postgraduates all the participants said they now regularly use social media.
- As undergraduates the participants had all opened social media accounts.
All four sentences can be clarified. Firstly, “as” can be a subordinating conjunction but it has multiple meanings, so it is better to rewrite a sentence if the reader might misunderstand it.
Sentence (1) is correct, and “as” in the introductory subordinate clause means during the time that or while a process or event is/was happening. Some authors avoid using commas, but they can be added to separate an introductory subordinate clause or introductory phrase from an independent clause to help readers: “As the participants discussed the problem, they noted new terms and concepts.” However, “as” can also mean because, so the sentence could be rewritten to avoid any confusion: “While the participants discussed the problem, they noted new terms and concepts.”
Sentence (2) is ambiguous. If “as” means because, the tense of the first clause needs to be in the past perfect to mention a previous event as a reason: “Because the participants had discussed the problem, they were familiar with the main issues.” If “as” means while, the second clause needs to be amended to show an ongoing process: “While the participants discussed the problem, they became familiar with the main issues.”
Secondly, “as” can also be a preposition that is used before a noun to explain a role or purpose, but it can mean either when/while or because. In (3), a reason is given, so the sentence is clearer with an introductory subordinate clause: “Because they were postgraduates, all the participants said they now regularly use social media.”
Sentence (4) is ambiguous. It could mean: “When/While they were undergraduates, the participants had all opened social media accounts” [the participants are no longer undergraduates; the sentence is about timing of opening accounts], or “Because they were undergraduates, the participants had all opened social media accounts” [the participants are undergraduates and that explains the existence of accounts].
Which of these alternatives is correct?
The participants completed the survey but complained about (1) its / (2) it’s length.
The correct possessive form of “it” is (1), meaning that the survey was too long. The apostrophe in (2) indicates a contraction and that letters are missing (similar to “don’t” meaning do not, or “isn’t” meaning is not); “it’s” means it is or it has.
By Dr Trevor Lane, Education Director & Senior Publishing Consultant, Edanz Group
Grammar and punctuation are among the top reasons for being rejected by a journal. To ensure the language in your manuscript is publication-ready you should have a native-English-speaking expert in your field edit for grammar, clarity, and accuracy of scientific expression.