Word Usage in Technical and Scientific Writing


I just returned from teaching a scientific writing course and, as is typical, had questions about the use of particular words. In this case, the participant had problems with her staff using the word "that." I'm also involoved in a LinkedIN group that's discussing the use of the word "so" and how this word is seeming to pop up in conversation (much like "like" has become part of the vernacular). I'm always amazed at people's focus on words rather than on content. In other words, rather than focusing on the use of a particular word, we should be focusing on the content of what we're writing. Is what you're writing compelling? Does it meet your readers' needs? Will your audience be able to use the document? Is the document accessible? These are the important elements of effective writing, not worrying about whether you're using "that." After all, unless a reader him or herself is compulsive about a particular word, they're going to more interested in their ability to get through the document quickly and easily and if the document meets their needs. While I'm not suggesting that words aren't important, I do believe that focusing on them to the exclusion of focusing on the document and its content is detrimental.