Language problems

We often see the same language problems over and over again in the manuscripts we receive. Here we discuss some of the more common problem categories.

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Tense

When reporting new results, we generally use the past tense (We found that up to 10% DNA divergence did not prevent efficient gene isolation). When discussing published results, we generally use the present tense (Up to 10% DNA divergence does not prevent efficient gene isolation). The idea behind this convention is that in a current study, you are reporting what you did and what happened, but when you discuss a published study, you are citing accepted information. You can also present conclusions in the present tense.

When you want to suggest that a published result is tentative or controversial, however, you can use the past tense and continue on from there (The authors reported that up to 10% DNA divergence did not prevent efficient gene isolation, but we found that . . .).

Some other tenses are also useful. You can use the present perfect tense (takes has or have) to describe something that happened in the recent past and is still relevant (We have found that . . .). You can use the past perfect tense (takes had) to describe something that happened in the past prior to another event that happened in the past and was relevant (She had given birth by the time the doctor arrived).

"He who controls the past, controls the future; and he who controls the present, controls the past." –Motto of the Ministry of Information in 1984, by George Orwell

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Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525-1569)