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Prepositional Phrase Strings

The passive voice almost always needs at least one prepositional phrase. For example, 'He kicked the ball' becomes 'The ball was kicked by him prepositional phrase. Although necessary, prepositional phrases can multiply in Academic/ Bureaucratic prose. Here is an example from a recent scientific paper. I have underlined the prepositions introducing the phrases.

Studies of the effects of above-ground herbivory on soil organisms and decomposer food webs, as well as the processes that they regulate, have largely concentrated on the effects of non-living inputs into the soil, such as dung, urine, body parts and litter. However, there is an increasing body of information which points to the importance of plant physiological responses to herbivory in regulating soil organisms and therefore, implicitly, key soil processes, such as decomposition and nutrient mineralization.

These two sentences, which are rather typical of scientific writing, are neither grammatically incorrect nor impossible to understand. But they are difficult to read because prepositional phrase strings divide the sentences into repetitive, boring fragments. In the spirit of Richard Lanham, I have exaggerated the fragments below.

Studies

of the effects

of above-ground herbivory

on soil organisms and decomposer food webs,

as well as the processes that they regulate,

have largely concentrated on the effects

of non-living inputs

into the soil,

such as dung, urine, body parts and litter.

 

However,

there is an increasing body

of information

which points

to the importance

of plant physiological responses

to herbivory

in regulating soil organisms

and therefore,

implicitly,

key soil processes,

such as decomposition

and nutrient mineralization.

How does this writing style affect the reader? That of course depends on the reader. Some readers may be impressed and may decide that these are serious and knowledgeable authors writing about a serious and complex subject. More critical readers will disagree. These readers will probably suspect that the authors are blowing official smoke and that the chances for clear information and skeptical analysis are small.

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