Long subjects

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A Most Serious Subject by Stuart Richards, Attribution-NoDerivs Licence

In scientific writing, there can be a tendency to write really long subjects in sentences. The subject is the thing which the sentence is about. It does the action in the sentence. Take a simple sentence like

The dog ate the bone.

The subject of the sentence is “the dog”. It does the eating.

You might make the subject longer by adding some descriptive and qualifying words to make the sentence about a more specific dog.

The brown, long-haired dog ate the bone.

The subject is now “the brown long-haired dog”.

So that’s manageable for readers and the sentence is fine. But sometimes authors stack up so many descriptors and qualifiers on their subject that it takes ages to get to the verb. Until the reader gets to the verb, they don’t know what is happening, as it’s the verb that tells them this.

Take this sentence:

An immunologically mediated reaction to a protein allergen (food) possibly precipitated by mucosal disruption (viral) activates the cascade of immunologic events that may create and perpetuate recurrent oral diseases. Lyon (2005) page 898

The verb in this sentence is “activates”. There are 15 words to read before you get to the verb. Did you find it easy to read? Where is the subject? Its all of those 15 words. Some punctuation might have helped the reader a bit, with a dash and some commas, like this:

An immunologically-mediated reaction to a protein allergen (food), possibly precipitated by mucosal disruption (viral), activates the cascade of immunologic events that may create and perpetuate recurrent oral diseases.

For more information on using hyphens see my recent post here.

So how could this sentence be improved? Well the first line of attack would be to break the ideas up into more than one sentence. Basically the author is saying three things:

  1. Viral diseases may disrupt the mucosa and allow proteins from food to penetrate.
  2. Protein allergens may initiate immunologic reactions
  3. Immunologic reactions may create and perpetuate recurrent oral diseases

Writing out what you are trying to say in point form like this, then helps you structure more simple sentences for readers.

Reference
Lyon KF (2005) Gingivostomatitis, Vet Clin Small Anim, 35, 891-911

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One thought on “Long subjects

  1. Pingback: 2016 posting roundup | MVM learning

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