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Interpreting Statements in Scientific Papers

What Common Research Phrases Really Mean


Mad scientists probably write papers with these phrases.

Mad scientists probably write papers with these phrases

Digital Vision, Getty Images

We've all read these phrases in a scientific paper (and many of us have written them). Some people think scientists speak a completely different language from other people, especially in peer-reviewed publications. Here's my attempt at a translation. If you have an alternate interpretation for a statement, please feel free to e-mail it to me at chemistry@aboutguide.com and I'll add it. I've also got a quiz about research statements, if you think you can tell the difference between what a scientist means and says.

"It can be shown"

Somebody said they did this, but I can't duplicate their results. I can't even find the reference, or else I would have cited that instead.

"It has long been known"

I don't know the original reference.

"A trend is evident"

Okay, a trend does seem apparent to me, but no statistical analysis in the world will support it.

"Of great theoretical and practical importance"

Means it is interesting to me or else I want it to be interesting to somebody with money so they will fund my research.

"Although there are no definite answers to these questions..."

My experiment failed, but I still want to get published.

"Three samples were selected for detailed study"

Because the other ones sucked!

"Typical results are shown"

Either means the only results are shown or the best results are shown.

"These results will be described in a subsequent report"

Could mean: "I had to hurry and get this paper published" or "My sabbatical is over and it's someone else's job to figure out the data."

"The most reliable results are those obtained by Smith."

Smith is or was my graduate research assistant.

"It is believed that..."

I think this (and either no one agrees with me or else I didn't consult anyone).

"It is generally believed that"

I think this and at least one other person agrees with me.

"Additional work will be required to elucidate the mechanism"

I don't have a clue what is going on and I'm not going to be the one to figure it out.

"Correct within an order of magnitude"

So very, very wrong.

"It is hoped that this study will stimulate further investigation"

If I cared about further investigation, I'd tell you about my future plans. You can do the research. You won't get any answers either.

"Thanks are due to Joe Shmoe for assistance with the experiment and to Sam Smith for his help in preparing this paper"

Shmoe did the work. Smith wrote the paper. My lab hosted the experiment, so I get all of the credit and any awards that might be given.

"A careful analysis of obtainable data"

I analyzed what data I could, which wasn't much because the other data was lost (chemical spill, computer error, equipment malfunction, etc.).


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