In How to Make Sentences in Scientific English, we talked about different positions in a sentence, for example, the topic and stress, and why you would choose to order information in a certain way. Please read that article before reading this one, which expands on that. In this article, we will look at how to link sentences in scientific English.
I remember when I first started to learn to write as a child in school. I wasn’t really taught how outside of a style of formulaic writing. One teacher I had would say:
Your writing is like salsa: very chunky. What you need to make is molasses: smooth and flowing.
It would be many years before I understood how to do that. It would also be a while before I realised that you usually don’t do that the first time you write something; it only happens when you go through it several times, reviewing and refining your words.
So how do we go from “chunky” to “smooth and flowing”? There are some similarities with making sentences flow in general English, but I do have some good news: scientific English has an additional advantage.
From chunky to smooth – How to link sentences in scientific English
As a quick reminder, the last item in a sentence is called the stress and the first position is the topic. In scientific English, the topic is almost always what the sentence is about. The stress is the new information that is added.
I said above that scientific English has an advantage over general English in how to make things flow. Here is where we can take advantage of it. Since sentences in Scientific English follow a formulaic pattern (presenting something old and adding new information to it), we can easily make use of two different types of linking, whereas it is harder for general English:
Topic-topic linking is when you join the topic of the previous sentence with the topic of the next sentence. Let’s look at the following example:
Astronomy (from Ancient Greek ἀστρονομία (astronomía) ‘science that studies the laws of the stars’) is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It uses mathematics, physics, and chemistry in order to explain their origin and evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and comets. Relevant phenomena include supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, quasars, blazars, pulsars, and cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, astronomy studies everything that originates beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Cosmology is a branch of astronomy that studies the universe as a whole.Wikipedia: Astronomy
In this example from the Astronomy article on Wikipedia, we see that the first two sentences directly use topic-topic linking. In this case, the topics are astronomy and “it”, which refers back to astronomy. The first sentence establishes what astronomy is and the second sentence uses this now “old” information to add information to it – what it uses.
Another good example of topic-topic linking is a list. Rather than saying “A is X. A is Y. A is Z”, X, Y and Z share the topic X. For a more scientific example:
The branches of science, also referred to as sciences, scientific fields or scientific disciplines, are commonly divided into three major groups:
Wikipedia: Branches of science:
- Formal sciences: the study of formal systems, such as those under the branches of logic and mathematics, which use an a priori, as opposed to empirical, methodology.
- Natural sciences: the study of natural phenomena (including cosmological, geological, physical, chemical, and biological factors of the universe). Natural science can be divided into two main branches: physical science and life science (or biology).
- Social sciences: the study of human behavior in its social and cultural aspects.
In this example, the bulleted list uses the topic “branches of science” and gives information about each one. Since they use the same topic, this is topic-topic linking.
Stress-topic linking is when you join the stress of the previous sentence with the topic of the next sentence. Let’s look again at the Astronomy example from Wikipedia:
Although the rules for distinguishing moths from butterflies are not well established, one very good guiding principle is that butterflies have thin antennae and (with the exception of the family Hedylidae) have small balls or clubs at the end of their antennae. Moth antennae are usually feathery with no ball on the end. The divisions are named by this principle: “club-antennae” (Rhopalocera) or “varied-antennae” (Heterocera). Lepidoptera first evolved during the Carboniferous period, but only evolved their characteristic proboscis alongside the rise of angiosperms in the Cretaceous period.Wikipedia: MOTH
In this example from Wikipedia’s Moth article, the first two sentences directly use stress-topic linking. The first sentence ends with “at the end of their antennae”. The second sentence starts with “antennae” and expands on this concept.
Practise linking during the writing process
To go from a collection of disjointed sentences to something that flows like Canadian maple syrup, we need to look at the contents of the sentences. First, make sure you get everything on your head onto paper. Next answer these questions: What did you write? What information do you need to convey? How does this information fit together? What should come first, second, third, etc?
Once you have answered these questions and have an idea of how the information should flow, put the information in the correct order. At this point, you can leave the sentences as they are. Just make sure they are in the correct order in terms of the information presented.
Once you are sure the information is in the correct order, it is now time to start rewriting individual sentences and linking them together. Start at the beginning and work towards the end. If you start in the middle, you may find that once you reach the beginning, you need to make more changes further down. During this step, feel free to combine and (more likely) break sentences apart). The motto of scientific English is short and sweet. Why write 10 long, complicated sentences when 10 short ones will do? Make it easier for everyone.
In How to Make Sentences in Scientific English, we talked about the position of information within a sentence. Using the ideas there, start with the first sentence. Which information is old information and what are we adding to it? The old information is the topic and the new information is the stress.
Now, look at the next sentence. What is the important information here? How does it relate to the previous information? Is it about the same topic in the first sentence? Then you will likely use topic-topic linking. Is it adding more detail? Then likely you should use stress-topic linking.
Repeat this process until you have gone through all the sentences in that paragraph. Remember you can also use special punctuation such as colons (:) and semi-colons (;) to help you create sentences that present information well and make it easier to link ideas/sentences together.
Once you have done this for your sentences, go through your writing again. Answer these questions with a yes or no:
- Can you identify how each sentence links to the next? Does the overall structure make sense? Does it tell the reader all of the information that it should in this paragraph?
- Are there any sentences that don’t flow well? Does there seem to be a break/jump between some of your sentences?
If you answered “yes” to the first set of questions and “no” to the second set, you should be set in terms of flow at the sentence level.
why link sentences in scientific English?
So we have talked about “how” but not really about “why”. In addition to the obvious answer that it makes your sentences flow better, the definitive answer is that it makes your article easier for your reader to read and understand. Because you slide from one topic to the next using some sort of linking, there is never a jump in the middle of a paragraph that may confuse a reader. They stay engaged because there is nothing to throw them off. That break can be the difference between them reading your entire article or stopping halfway through and never returning.
I have even better news for you: you can also use this technique to link your paragraphs together. One way is to link the last sentence of the previous paragraph with the first sentence of the next paragraph. You can read more about exactly how and when to link paragraphs here (coming soon).
Interested in learning more about Scientific English? You can read a brief post on the History and Use of Scientific English here. More posts on Scientific English are available on the Scientific English page.
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