36

My team and I are drafting a technical report to summarize the methods and results of a pilot study we recently conducted. After drafting a handful of sections, I passed them off to our supervisor for revisions and suggestions. One comment he repeated several times was that parts of my text sounded "too conversational." I think he meant that I didn't sound professional or academic enough. He also suggested revisions that increased the word count and complexity of the sentences without adding any additional meaning. I disagree with those comments and I don't like the suggested edits, and here's why:

I always strive for clarity and brevity. I avoid using slang or colloquialisms, but I never add extra words (or extra-technical words) just to "sound smart." I believe that sometimes (always?), simple language is best. I also believe the impenetrable "academic" writing style of many scientists is a major shortcoming - it only hinders communication among scientists and isolates us from the public, who can't make sense of what we're trying to say. The higher word counts, more complex sentence structures, and lack of additional meaning in the revisions were a clear sign (to me, at least) that he was taking things in the wrong direction. I know there's room for subjectivity, but I honestly think the sentences I crafted are just better - and I don't want to trash them.

So, how can I respond politely to my supervisor without ruffling any feathers? If I were to defend my writing, I feel like I'd be calling his own writing skills and workplace authority into question. At the same time, I take pride in my writing and I want my published documents to reflect that.

And in a broader sense, how can we as writers rebut our editor's/supervisor's/thesis advisor's criticisms when we think they are clearly misguided? I don't think we should just "go along with it" and let them sully our writing, especially if our own names will be on the published document. How have other authors in the community approached this problem?

Edit: here's an example. My writing:

When the difference between unique observations was greater than 10% water cover, or when cover percentages did not equal 100%, points were discarded.

23 words, one sentence.

His feedback:

Too conversational:

Try To reduce sampling bias, input data points were removed when variance was greater than 10% between independent observations. Input data points were also removed if the percent cover class did not equal 100%.

33 words, two sentences. The only additional meaning added here is "to reduce sampling bias, which could be added to my sentence if it was important (IMO it's already obvious, given the context).

Anyways, two days later I'm not really as worked up about it anymore. This particular example was one of the most egregious, and in hindsight it doesn't seem like my text is near-perfect or that his edits are really that much worse. However, I still think this is an important question, and one I have been dealing with for a long time. This stuff comes up too often, because a lot of people in science just don't seem to care about writing, or they think they care but they never do anything to actually improve. So, I'm asking for help in this specific instance, but also for guidance on how to handle these situations more generally.

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    I'm with you; I always think that simpler and a little informal is easier to read than dense, jargon-packed academic writing. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Mar 26 '18 at 9:54
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    @Cloudchaser There's a difference between scientific terminology and jargon effluvia, though. I'm not suggesting using lay terms or euphemisms for precise definitions, but avoiding bloviation like leveraging intersectional synergies in the social space. That's unreadable. Deliberately making sentences longer and more complex purely for its own sake is not exact. It's padding. It's trying to sound smarter without being smarter. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Mar 26 '18 at 14:31
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    I find your supervisor's suggested revision much easier to understand. Your version has the "point" of the sentence (that data points were removed) at the end, so I have to parse all the stuff leading up to it into memory and then eventually get to what you were doing, and then re-evaluate the conditions I already read. Your supervisor's version tells me immediately what he is doing, followed by the condition. Eg -- what, followed by why rather than why followed by what. Fewer words is not always simpler. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Mar 27 '18 at 18:31
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    a) In a technical (statistical) context, "variance" and "difference" do not mean the same thing. Neither do "unique" and "independent", for that matter. b) Even though your supervisor has more words and more sentences, he has fewer words per sentence, which can enhance readability. – pwcnorthrop Mar 27 '18 at 21:11
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    You're getting caught up in the word "conversational," but I think the real message from your boss is that precision is more important than style. E.g. you need to say "data points" instead of "points" every time, even if it leads to awkward-sounding repetitions. – user30522 Mar 27 '18 at 22:51

12 Answers 12

46

One comment he repeated several times was that parts of my text sounded "too conversational." I think meant that I didn't sound professional or academic enough.

You'd be better off asking for clarification instead of guessing at the meaning.

He also suggested revisions that increased the word count and complexity of the sentences without adding any additional meaning. I disagree with those comments and I don't like the suggested edits, and here's why:

You're exactly like me here. I also disagree with pointless elaboration.

However, that doesn't mean that there's never a reason to elaborate. You've been silent on why you were suggested to elaborate. Maybe the supervisor didn't tell you, maybe he did but you don't think it's relevant, maybe you subconsciously omitted that from the question, or maybe you intentionally omitted it.
I'm not here to judge; but it's impossible to review someone's feedback as meaningful if we don't know the problem the feedback is trying to point out.

There are reason to elaborate an explanation:

  • Legal reasons
  • Disambiguation that may not seem necessary to you, but may be helpful to people who aren't as knowledgeable about the subject matter.
  • Rephrasing in order to avoid certain words which could be mistaken as keywords in a tangentially related subject matter (e.g. avoiding the word "class" in a C# educational application)

I get the feeling that you only presented part of the full picture.

I believe that sometimes (always?), simple language is best.

I agree with your intention, but not your statement. Not always. This is very dependent on who your target audience is.

  • For laymen, simple is most often the best option.
  • For experts, you should favor precision and disambiguation, even if that entails a higher complexity.
  • For lawyers and legalese documentation, pedantic precision and utter disambiguation is the standard.

I also believe the impenetrable "academic" writing style of many scientists is a major shortcoming - it only hinders communication among scientists and isolates us from the public, who can't make sense of what we're trying to say.

I have yet to lay eyes on a single document that is written in a way that:

  • The laymen find it clear and understandable
  • The experts find it detailed enough to rely on it
  • The lawyers find it disambiguated enough that there are no reasonable loopholes

If there were a writing standard that could fulfill all of these requirements, it would be the only writing standard that was in use since it has no drawbacks.

As a technical writer, you'll generally be writing documentation for experts. Experts generally don't see linguistic simplicity as the main priority. Therefore, simplicity should not be your main focus when writing.

The higher word counts, more complex sentence structures, and lack additional meaning in the revisions were a clear sign (to me, at least) that he was taking things in the wrong direction.

You're overgeneralizing. More often than not, reducing sentence complexity leads to a higher word count, and reducing the word count leads to increased sentence complexity.

If the supervisor were adding complexity and word count at the same time, his feedback would obviously not be good.

However, we come back to my earlier point that we're only hearing your side of the story. The level of detail and the (apparent) lack of common sense in the supervisor's feedback are not matching up. You are likely omitting a key part of the supervisor's side of the story (this may be unintentional, I'm not accusing you of anything).

I know there's room for subjectivity, but I honestly think the sentences I crafted are just better - and I don't want to trash them.

You tell us they're better, but you don't showcase your point. Since this issue very much hinges on whether the supervisor is correct or not; I'd say it's very relevant to include an actual example so that we can see if his feedback has merit.

If I were to defend my writing, I feel like I'd be calling his own writing skills and workplace authority into question.

Generally speaking, ask for them to explain the feedback instead of arguing why the feedback is wrong in your opinion. Asking for clarification shouldn't be interpreted as calling the other person's skills into question. If anything, asking for his explanation implies that he knows it better than you.

At the same time, I take pride in my writing and I want my published documents to reflect that.

Pride should not come at a cost to the company. If the supervisor's version is objectively more in line with the company's expectations, the supervisor's version should be picked. Regardless of whether your version was only marginally or notably worse.

I don't think we should just "go along with it" and let them sully our writing, especially if our own names will be on the published document.

With the exception of some egregious fringe cases, the customer (in this case the company) gets the product how they want it. If they stress that they want the word "computer" replaced with "puterbox" across the entire document, then that's their choice.

If the company makes demands that you personally cannot live with (e.g. ideological differences), then you can refuse the project; but this will of course have consequences. Depending on the company, this can be seen as insubordination and grounds for firing.

When you refuse a project, you should already have accepted the consequences of your refusal.

  • "that doesn't mean that there's never a reason to elaborate" - where did he say the revisions were for elaborating? I've been in the same situation - my former boss liked to edit my presentations to add tons of filler words, to make them sound more "business-y", while adding literally no extra details. It drove my absolutely insane. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Mar 27 '18 at 1:31
  • @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft Which is still a syntactical elaboration, regardless of whether it's necessary or not. – Flater Mar 27 '18 at 5:46
  • @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft: Also, "that doesn't mean that there's never a reason to elaborate" was meant as "elaboration isn't inherently bad" rather than "there was a reason for elaboration in this case". I interpret your comment as referring to the latter. – Flater Mar 27 '18 at 7:58
  • Even though experts don't see linguistic simplicity as a priority, it's still very possible for an expert to write in an "impenetrable" manner, i.e. excessively difficult to understand even for other experts. I wouldn't support throwing simplicity out the window entirely in technical writing. (Which I'm guessing you didn't mean, but it's not entirely clear from the answer.) You just have to seek simplicity while under the constraint of being precise. – David Z Mar 27 '18 at 9:27
  • @DavidZ: I referred to the main priority of the writing style for layman/experts/lawyers. For experts, linguistic simplicity is not the main priority. As you said yourself, precision is the main priority for experts. That doesn't mean that linguistic simplicity should be avoided, it just means that it should not be the #1 goal at the cost of everything else. This isn't a binary choice between "simple at all costs" and "as complex as it can be". The issue here is prioritization, which is a spectrum and not a black and white binary choice. – Flater Mar 27 '18 at 10:16
22

I'll start with something of a confession - I've been (and often still am) a supervisor who suggests changes to technical reports, instruction manuals and guides to functions which appear to have been written in a conversational style.

It's worth mentioning that there's a huge grey area between obscure and conversational language. In some cases it's as distinct as the formal "set the parameter" as opposed to the conversational "you should set the parameter" (in which case the formal approach is simpler), or using a passive rather than an active voice ("results were observed" instead of "we observed the results"). If your supervisor is suggesting something convoluted, it should be possible to remove that without becoming conversational.

But what this will really come down to is knowledge of the audience. It might be that your supervisor has knowledge of a house style, or the intended audience of the pilot study, which suggests the people reading the study (which may include people inside the organisation) might respond better to a more formal style.

If you believe the audience would respond better to a less formal style, this would be the line of argument that's likely to be the most effective. It's worth pitching this as a positive rather than concentrating on negatives in your supervisor's style - that's rarely a productive approach in a professional environment.

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    I thought of mentioning the experience of the supervisor and their possible familiarity with the requirements of the editors the paper is submitted to, but then thought my answer was long enough already. Good that you brought it up in your answer. – user29032 Mar 26 '18 at 8:30
  • @Cloudchaser When writing an answer, I try to write down everything I think needs saying, and then I go back and try to tighten up the language to make it shorter. ;) Often in the process, I find ways of reorganizing the way I present the content that end up making it easier to follow overall. – jpmc26 Mar 28 '18 at 18:39
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    @jpmc26 When writing an answer, I try to give it in as few words as possible, because I have found that those commenting on my answer have rarely read beyond the third paragraph ;-) – user29032 Mar 28 '18 at 18:59
12

When I wrote user manuals and so on, for A Big Company, they had a corporate style guide for technical writing.

Part of it said to minimise the "reading age" or "grade level" of text: to maximise its readability. There was a tool, built-into the word processor software, to evaluate the text's complexity.

It preferred shorter sentences.

One reason it gave, to prefer simpler grammar, was that English might be a second language for many readers. And in fact, I was working in Italy. Even if text must use some technical words, it can be direct, and you can prefer simpler non-technical words.

In summary there are automated readability tests, which you might find persuasive or informative -- perhaps they're only approximate but they're independent, impersonal, objective, and cheap.

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    The person asking the question is writing a scientific report that will be read by experts. You, on the other hand, wrote a user (!) manual, that will be read by lay people. I don't think the same writing strategies apply here. – user29032 Mar 26 '18 at 11:04
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    My recommendation, to avoid arguing with or to support his argument with his supervisor, was to use an objective measure of "readability". Also fwiw the user manuals I wrote weren't for laypeople -- they were e.g. for computer network administrators -- so certainly a technical vocabulary: but, even so, sentences as simple as possible. – ChrisW Mar 26 '18 at 11:24
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    Also, having or choosing a style guide can provide a basis for agreement. – ChrisW Mar 26 '18 at 11:47
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    @Cloudchaser I write technical documentation for very technical audiences, and our style guide calls for the same thing -- shorter sentences instead of paragraph-long chains of subordinate clauses, vocabulary that is more accessible so long as it is also correct (correctness is critical), etc. Our audience includes smart technical people whose primary languages are not English. Further, our documentation gets translated and we have to keep that in mind. – Monica Cellio Mar 26 '18 at 15:22
12

How should you respond? Take a careful and critical look at your own writing, and - in effect - do as your supervisor has suggested.

We all get attached to our own writing, word choice, phrases, and so on. Writers (novelists) are often given the advice to root their favourite, overused phrases and kill them off. As far as academic/technical writing is concerned, the responsibility lies with the author to make it understandable to the reader, and I agree entirely that clear and concise language is to be preferred. But that doesn't mean that the style of writing should be "chatty" or "informal".

To be honest, you sound too wedded to your own writing style; when comments like this come back from a future reviewer of your work - whether that's academic papers, or feedback from the people who read the report - you simply cannot argue with them that they are wrong and you are right. You have to be willing to bend, and to learn from the input of supervisors, editors, reviewers and so forth.

"Too informal" is how - in my experience - I would describe most writing from most undergraduate and graduate students (that, or overly grandiose). Learning to write well takes time, it takes feedback, and it takes humility. If you revise as suggested you are likely to end up with a more solid piece of work - this is my my experience from both sides of this scenario.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE Nick! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Mar 26 '18 at 15:15
  • This is great advice. There's no need to add complexity or unneccessary words - a writer should feel free to reject any specific edit that was suggested, especially if it results in inefficient or unwieldy prose. That said, there can always be constructive value found in almost any sort of editorial criticism, and there is always a way to improve our writing. In these situations I try and take a step back, both from what I've written and from what the editor has said, and try to figure out what common ground we can both work with, and what rewrites will get there. – Darren Ringer Mar 26 '18 at 16:44
9

There have been significant changes in technical communication style over the last 20 years, and particularly in the last five years as increasing volumes of evidence have shown that simple friendly language is both easier to understand and more respected by users.

But it sounds like your supervisor is a stickler and the way you convince a stickler is by citing an authoritative source. So here is that source. There are few works on technical communication style that are better established or more respected than the Microsoft Manual of Style. That manual has recently undergone a major update to bring it into line with modern practice and research. You can find it on line here: Microsoft Writing Style Guide

Here are the top ten tips from that guide (see the guide for details and examples of each tip):

Use bigger ideas, fewer words: Our modern design hinges on crisp minimalism. Shorter is always better.

Write like you speak: Read your text aloud. Does it sound like something a real person would say? Be friendly and conversational.

Project friendliness: Use contractions: it’s, you’ll, you’re, we’re, let’s.

Get to the point fast: Lead with what’s most important. Front-load keywords for scanning. Make customer choices and next steps obvious.

Be brief: Give customers just enough information to make decisions confidently.

When in doubt, don’t capitalize: Default to sentence-style capitalization—capitalize only the first word of a heading or phrase and any proper nouns or names.

Skip periods (and : ! ?): Skip end punctuation on titles, headings, subheads, UI titles, and items in a list that are three or fewer words. Save the periods for paragraphs and body copy.

Remember the last comma: In a list of three or more items, include a comma before the conjunction.

Don’t be spacey: Use only one space after periods, question marks, and colons—and no spaces around dashes.

Revise weak writing: Most of the time, start each statement with a verb. Edit out you can and there is, there are, there were.

  • "Skip periods (and : ! ?):" They aren't following their own advice! Or are those only supposed to be skipped for titles/etc. too? – JAB Mar 26 '18 at 15:01
  • I vehemently disagree with this new fashion of "one space after periods": One space after a period that ends an abbreviation, but not the sentence; two spaces (or a large space such as an "em space") after periods/question marks/exclamation points that end sentences. Especially considering that many abbreviations are followed by a proper name "Dr. Watson" it isn't sufficient for "period space capital" to signify "end of sentence", but "period space space" is visually different. – Monty Harder Mar 26 '18 at 15:52
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    @Montyharder Most modern publishing systems will filter out double spaces between sentences anyway. Word won't, which I suppose is why Microsoft still needs to say it. – user16226 Mar 26 '18 at 16:55
  • @jab titles and lists – user16226 Mar 26 '18 at 16:56
  • @MontyHarder to extend on what Mark said, tools like TeX will do inter-sentence spacing properly without needing extra ones, though you then have to explicitly mark spaces after punctuation that does not end sentences, depending on what follows. – JAB Mar 26 '18 at 17:08
5

Well, the first step would be to get an independent opinion on your text.

All writers, whether academic or fiction, are usually too involved in their own writing to be able to judge it objectively. Your supervisor might be right in their assessment of your writing as "too conversational", and then the best strategy for you would be to heed that criticism and revise your text accordingly.

So the first step I would take is to get another experienced (!) writer from your field and ask them to read your text. Point that person to the criticised passages and specifically ask them if they agree with the assessment that they are "too conversational".

If that second opinion agrees with the first, even if only partially, accept your supervisor's critique and follow their suggestions. If the second opinion agrees with you, then your course of action will depend on the personality and status of your supervisor.

If the paper will be published under your name (and not theirs too) and the supervisor is generally an openminded and relaxed person, tell them that you disagree, argue for your version, try to make them understand, and if they don't, insist, and submit your version of the text to the journal.

If you are the first author, but your supervisor is the research group leader and will be named as the last author (signifying their position) and they are of the dominant type, then you aren't really independent in your authorship but sort of writing on their commission, and the final decision is theirs, however much that might frustrate you. In that case, accept your dependency and follow their advice.

Building an academic career requires a balanced ability to both take a stand and let go. It will take a lot of social skill to know when to do which. There are supervisiors that will destroy your career if you go against them, and there are those who expect you to be critical of them and who will reward independent thinking. I don't know which kind your supervisor is.

5

Your supervisor is ultimately going to be responsible for the quality of your work, and he seems more familiar with the domain knowledge, so you should do everything you can to try to understand his point. If necessary you should work with him more closely, perhaps with specific examples, so you can understand his reasoning. It is possible that part of that conversation will involve him softening his stance a bit, but you have to be willing to follow his lead, as he is the supervisor.

I feel the need to point out that technical language exists for a reason; it often conveys a meaning that is specific within a specialized knowledge domain. When I review your two examples, I see several ambiguities in meaning that are resolved by your supervisor's changes.

When the difference between unique observations was greater than 10% water cover, or when cover percentages did not equal 100%, points were discarded.

To reduce sampling bias, input data points were removed when variance was greater than 10% between independent observations. Input data points were also removed if the percent cover class did not equal 100%.

  • A "difference greater than 10% water cover" is different from "10% variance." For example, a change from 10% water cover to 12% water cover is a 20% variance but only a difference of 2% water cover. I think (I need more context).

  • A unique observation is not necessarily an independent observation

  • A point is not necessarily an input data point

As a general rule, people who are adults and professional in their fields do not "use big words" to impress anyone; they are using them for their purpose, to quickly convey what is often a subtle meaning, something that can be easily missed.

  • 1
    Agreed with this. This looks more like technical reporting rather than technical writing. The former has rather more strict requirement for precision and clarity. I can't count how many papers I've read which suffered from ambiguous, sloppy writing that leave the reader asking questions about how to interpret what was said. Good technical reports deliberately use language with surgical precision to avoid this type of ambiguity. – J... Mar 29 '18 at 15:01
4

In my experience, accepted writing styles tend to fluctuate over generations and professions. I've been criticized, at various times, on both ends of arc as being "too formal" and "too personal", even though my personal style hasn't changed all that much over the years.

To your specific situation, the sentiment, "I want my published documents to reflect that", only works if you are the sole author. Given that you're working with a team, your writing needs to represent and be acceptable to the entire team. That doesn't mean you roll over on all criticism, but it does mean you have no right to insist on your perspective above all others. You will have to compromise.

As other respondents have pointed out, the best approach to resolving the differences is a frank discussion. Instead of using attack language, like "It should be such-and-such because so-and-so", try something like, "I see you want me to add such-and-such here. To me that seems too verbose. Why do you like this wording better?"

Such a discussion can be hard to have 'in the moment', especially if you're getting a lot of feedback at once. At the end of any review discussion, open the door for further discussion with something like, "This has been helpful. Do you have any time tomorrow for a follow up if I have more questions?" This gives you a day to digest and recoup. It also gives you a chance to decide which compromises you are willing to accept and which items you are willing to fight for.

3

If I were to defend my writing

Why is this an adversarial situation? Your writing is not some fortress under siege by a rampaging editor.

Assuming your supervisor/editor knows what they are talking about (which is not always true admittedly) then do not see this is an attack on your writing. Instead see it as suggestions on how to improve it and try to take that advice on board.

Maybe you disagree with specific changes being suggested, but since you haven't provided any we can't comment on that. Instead of rejecting the changes though ask him why - try to understand the motives behind the changes and what problem they are trying to fix. Drill down to get specific reasons, for example the fuzzy reason "that seems too conversational" might actually mean "this wording is the usual way to describe X in this field and people will expect it, using your wording will make us seem like we are not familiar with Y".

To return to the fortress analogy, your supervisor is not a rampaging army. However if he looks at your castle walls and thinks that some of them are a bit too low you should seriously consider his advice before the real hordes arrive.

2

I'm sorry, but your supervisor's version is much better, least by your stated criteria.

Your version:

When the difference between unique observations was greater than 10% water cover, or when cover percentages did not equal 100%, points were discarded.

What are "points"? Why are you discarding these "points"? Are you scoring the observations? Ironically, this is an example of the "impenetrable academic writing style" you lamented. Without knowledge of what you're doing, or an understanding of why you're doing this, lay people struggle to make sense of what you're saying.

Your supervisor's version:

To reduce sampling bias, input data points were removed when variance was greater than 10% between independent observations. Input data points were also removed if the percent cover class did not equal 100%.

Although this is longer, it is actually less complex, and easier to understand. Notice it did not use any more technical terms than yours. The added words only serve to clarify what these "points" are and why you discarded them. It actually reduced sentence complexity, by breaking your sentence into two simpler halves.

So in fact, this is the opposite of "add extra words just to sound smart". It is adding simple words to enable lay people to understand what you're talking about without further context.


At the root of this question, I think, is a confusion over the relationship of complexity and simplicity.

I believe that sometimes (always?), simple language is best . . . The higher word counts, more complex sentence structures, and lack of additional meaning in the revisions were a clear sign (to me, at least) that he was taking things in the wrong direction.

More is not more complex. Brevity is not simplicity. In fact, it's usually the exact opposite. The more ideas you try to fit into the same length, the more the degree of complexity increases in order to accommodate the information.

Your version is shorter, but your sentence is longer than each individual sentence from your supervisor's version. What's more, your sentence is also more complex - you used a compound-complex sentence; he used two complex sentences.

1

Write formatted text, that cannot be mistaken for spoken conversation.

Instead of listing multiple alternatives, examples, reformulations and additional explanations inline, write it like:

  • multiple alternatives
  • examples,
  • reformulations and
  • additional explanations.

Use many short sentence that are to the point. When in doubt, use simple language. When necessary, do what is needed, but try to get a simple style that is good for technical documents.

For example:

When the difference between unique observations was greater than 10% water cover, or when cover percentages did not equal 100%, points were discarded.

Becomes:

NOTE: When the difference between initial unique observation was

  • greater than 10% water cover; or when
  • cover percentages did not equal 100%

we discarded the points.

Observe that only the format has changed! Additionally, I doubt anyone would confuse the latter for 'conversational'. I also think that the text doesn't become less readable.

0

May I take a stab as analyzing your sup's advice?

You:

When the difference between unique observations was greater than 10% water cover, or when cover percentages did not equal 100%, points were discarded.

Him:

To reduce sampling bias, input data points were removed when variance was greater than 10% between independent observations. Input data points were also removed if the percent cover class did not equal 100%.

I believe that these changes are worth their weight. Here are a few stabs:

To reduce sampling bias (him, added)

...establishes the purpose of the action taking place in this sentence. The original sentence requires the reader to interpret the statistics purpose based on the implications of 10% water cover and not equaling 100%... not a clear connection in my mind.

"Variance... between independent observations" (him) vs. "difference between unique observations" (you)

This is an example of using well-defined terms within a given technical lexicon / knowledge domain (such as variance and independent) to serve Occam's razor: why introduce a new term to the lexicon when the existing term is just as good?

"Difference ... ... ... greater than 10% water cover" (you) vs. "variance greater than 10%" (him)

He has brought the > 10% to within one word of its modifier, whereas in yours the > 10% is four words away. I find percentages awfully ambiguous, and it is always good to fight that.

"10% water cover" (you) vs. "10%" (him)

This is your sup's bet that for the purpose of this sentence, it is not helpful to specify what the physical component is reflected by the measurement, and that it's better to focus on the statistical aspects.

"Cover percentages" (you) vs. "cover class" (him)

Using the expression X percentage of Y% includes a redundancy: "percentage" and the % sign. By introducing the word "class" your sup has improved the specificity of this value without increasing wordiness.

1 sentence (you) vs. 2 sentences (him)

Using one sentence, as you had done, for the two clauses diminishes the specificity of the mutual clause, "points were discarded". It also adds opaqueness because the reader has to interpret two cases before hearing about the action. With your sup's version, the action is paired with a case more quickly, followed by another similar case-action pair. This is easier to understand.

I hope you find this analysis useful! I certainly don't think you are wrong in your reaction, but I hope you always look for continuous improvement in your writing!

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