In the previous two posts, I discussed the importance of sensitivity and avoiding bias in scientific writing. These concerns fall under the broader umbrella of writing with an objective tone. The scientific method dictates that research be conducted as objectively as possible, meaning that all parts of the research, including observation, measurement and analysis, should set aside human perceptions and notions such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and observations based on human senses such as ‘hot’ or ‘fuzzy’, and should rather be conducted using standardized units of measure and equipment, and proven mathematical and statistical principles, and likewise the results should be discussed in an objective and unbiased way.
Even if research has been properly conducted according to these established methods, as humans, we may also sometimes let our assumptions and biases creep into our writing. One of the common ways authors can compromise the objectivity of their writing is by the use of words or expressions that come across to the reader as promotional language or advocacy. These can appear anywhere, but usually appear near the end of the Abstract or in the Discussion and/or Conclusions where an author might want to make a claim about the significance or potential relevance of their findings.
The most common problems seen with respect to promotional language occur when authors include claims that oversell the significance of the research, overstate the efficacy of a drug or treatment, claim superiority of a drug or concept, or exaggerate the benefits of a discovery when the evidence does not entirely support it. When writing, superlatives such as “unprecedented” or “groundbreaking” should be avoided. Hyperbolic language such as “extremely”, “amazing”, or “enormous” should also be avoided or used sparingly.
- Thus, the MedMachine2000TM demonstrates unprecedented usefulness for identifying cancer in patients with late-stage testicular cancer.
- Thus, the MedMachine2000TM may prove useful as an additional tool for physicians in identifying late-stage testicular cancer in Japanese patients.
There are a number of conventions that can help authors present their findings in an objective manner. For example, in drug trials, while commercial names may be mentioned at first use if absolutely necessary, the generic name of the drug (e.g. sildenafil citrate rather than Viagra) should be used primarily throughout the manuscript as the experimental results will be related to the actual active ingredient, and not the brand name drug itself. Similarly, when we talk about a device being developed, using the trade name for the device over and over again in the paper will make the text read like ad copy and may distract from the research. Thus, as with drug names, it’s generally best to refer to the device as what it is, e.g. flow cytometer or microneedle rather than using a trade name. Attention to these issues is particularly important for authors presenting the results of sponsored research, as there is increased scrutiny around how drug company-sponsored research is presented.
Once your manuscript is complete, you can also have an impartial colleague review it for you just to be sure that the work has been explained objectively and you have not inadvertently overstated your findings or described your drug product or device in a way that could be interpreted as marketing.
by Scott Wysong, Quality Control Editing Team