From JNEB: Scientific Writing—What’s in a Word | Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB)

From JNEB: Scientific Writing—What’s in a Word

Posted by: on Sunday February 18, 2024
Most authors and readers know they need to be careful not to overstate findings, to distinguish between causation and association, and to accurately represent the data. While some authors that submit to JNEB received classroom training on how to structure a scientific paper, others may not have had that opportunity. Fortunate persons may have had personal mentors to coach them through a thesis or dissertation, while some may have struggled on their own. It is the job of the JNEB editorial staff to carefully review submissions for content and potential impact on the field.
However, the JNEB editorial staff is also responsible for ensuring that the journal reflects the best in scientific writing. Even the most meticulous scientific writers misuse words and forget grammar rules. These mistakes delay the reviewing process, frustrating authors and JNEB editorial staff. This column aims to address the most common mistakes seen in submissions. Hopefully, this list will help identify and clarify these kinds of issues.
While this reminder may seem picky (it is!), attention to the details helps to speed up the review process and enhances the quality of the manuscripts.
Calories vs. energy A calorie is not a nutrient – it is a measure of energy, like an inch is a measurement unit of length. One calorie (actually kcal) is the amount of heat it takes to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius at one atmospheric pressure. Therefore, there are no empty calories! There is no inherent moral value (‘good’ vs. ‘bad’) to a calorie.
Control vs. comparison Unless someone has a magic wand, there is little hope of ‘controlling’ human behavior in an experiment. However, if the study design is an RCT (randomized-control study), the term ‘control’ is acceptable.
Nutritional vs. nutrition The addition of ‘al’ at the end of a word changes a noun into an adjective. Instead of nutritional education, say nutrition education.
Sugar vs. sugars ‘Sugar’ generally refers to a 6-ringed carbon molecule found in specific plants, ie, beet and cane. ‘Sugars’ is a term that describes a group of molecules of a varying numbers of carbon atoms in differing formations (eg, fructose, galactose, lactose).
Which vs. that A general rule of thumb – if you can substitute ‘that’ for ‘which’ and the sentence still reads correctly, do it. Or if you choose to use ‘which’, precede it with a comma.
Increased or higher Use of either of these words is contingent on the reference point (ie, baseline measure rather than between two groups). When comparing two groups (eg, vegetable intake), use ‘higher’ not ‘increased.’ When comparing a measurement from the same group, then ‘increased’ can be used.
Greater or larger These are comparison descriptors – the writer must provide the referent. When using these terms, always ask yourself ‘than what.’ (eg, ‘greater weight’ should read ‘greater than seen in men’).
Consumed or reported Unless there is verifiable evidence, be cautious. Use ‘he reported to consume’ rather than ‘he consumed.’
Should JNEB refrains from using ‘should’ or ‘needs to.’ Consider using ‘could’ or ‘is warranted.’
Data This is a plural for datum. Make certain the verb being used reflects this. Use ‘The data WERE’ not ‘the data WAS.’
Use of colon (:), comma (,) and semi-colon (;) When using a colon within a sentence, separate the sections with semi-colons, not with commas. Always use a semi-colon when joining two sentences, typically with words such as ‘however’ or ‘because’. The sentence should read: ‘…occurs; however, … ‘ NOT ‘…occurs, however, …’