Biology 211 Recitation (D09, D10)

Some common writing problems - and how to make improvements

The examples below show sentences with two common writing problems, followed by suggestions for improvement.

Problem 1: Low information-to-text ratio.

Example. Many words are used, but little useful information is provided.

In the next section of the article, the author goes on to describe how Mickey Mouse evolved (Gould 1980).

Improvement. The description is given directly, including key information.

Mickey Mouse “evolved” as artists drew his eyes larger and larger over the course of many years (Gould 1980).

Problem 2: Little evidence of understanding.  Words and sentences are taken directly or changed only slightly from the original, often resulting in plagiarism.

Example 1.  Direct quotes are not an acceptable way to convey information because they give no evidence that you understand the idea quoted:

“Orchids manufacture their intricate devices from the common components of ordinary flowers” (Gould 1980).

Example 2.  The following two sentences are examples of plagiarism.  It doesn't matter that the author is cited—the citation is meant to indicate where you got the idea, not the words or the sentence structure.  The second sentence involves only rearrangement and changing of a few words, which still constitutes plagiarism:

Orchids manufacture their intricate devices from the common components of ordinary flowers (Gould 1980).


Orchids produce, from the common components of flowers, their complex devices (Gould 1980).

Example 3.  Using a thesaurus to substitute synonyms can also constitute plagiarism and often obscures the meaning of the sentence:

Orchids assemble their convoluted plans from the general apparatus of average flowers (Gould 1980).

Improvement.   Instead of simply making some changes to the sentence from your source, express an important idea in your own words, using your own sentence structure, based on your own understanding.  Typically you will combine information from different places (for example, from several different sentences) in order to make your point.

In orchids, typical flower parts like petals are modified into a variety of structures to attract pollinators (Gould 1980).


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