Converting a Passage
from Scientific to Popular Style

This assignment asks you to try your hand at translating a piece of writing from one rhetorical context to another. As background, you need to know that sometimes Reader’s Digest includes a section called “News from the World of Medicine,” which contains one or more mini-articles reporting on recent medical research. The writers of these pieces scan articles in medical journals, select items of potential interest to the general public, and translate them from a formal, scientific style into a popular style. Here is a typical example of a Reader’s Digest mini-article:

Complete Article from Reader’s Digest

Cheese could be the secret of a healthy, cavity-free smile, according to recent study by a professor of dentistry at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

In the study, John Hargreaves found that eating a piece of hard cheese the size of a sugar cube at at the end of a meal can retard tooth decay. The calcium and phosphate present in the cheese mix with saliva and linger on the surface of the teeth for up to two hours, providing protection against acid attacks from sweet food or drink.

Now compare this style with the formal scientific style in the following excerpts, the introduction and conclusion of an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Excerpt from Scientific Article in a Medical Journal

From “Aspirin as an Antiplatelet Drug,” Carlo Patrono

Introduction: The past 10 years have witnessed major changes in our understanding of the pathophysiologic mechanisms underlying vascular occlusion and considerable progress in the clinical assessment of aspirin and other antiplatelet agents. The purpose of this review is to describe a rational basis for antithrombotic prophylaxis and treatment with aspirin. Basic information on the molecular mechanism of action of aspirin in inhibiting platelet function will be integrated with the appropriate clinical pharmacologic data and the results of randomized clinical trials. . . .

Conclusion: Aspirin reduces the incidence of occlusive cardiovascular events in the patients at variable risk for these events. Progress in our understanding of the molecular mechanism of the action of aspirin, clarification of the clinical pharmacology of its effects on platelets, and clinical testing of its efficacy at low doses have contributed to a downward trend in its recommend daily dose. The present recommendation of a single loading dose of 200-300 mg followed by a daily dose of 75-100 mg is based on findings that this dose is as clinically efficacious as higher doses. The satisfactory safety profile of low-dose aspirin has led to ongoing trials of the efficacy of a combination of aspirin and low-intensity oral anti-coagulants in high-risk patients. Finally, the efficacy of a cheap drug such as aspirin in preventing one fifth to one third of all important cardiovascular events should not discourage the pharmaceutical industry from attempting to develop more effective antithrombotic drugs, since a sizable proportion of these events continue to occur despite currently available therapy.

Assume that you are a writer of mini-articles for the medical news section of Reader’s Digest. Translate the findings reported in the article on aspirin into a Reader’s Digest mini-article.

Although the style of the medical article may seem daunting at first, a little work with a good dictionary will help you decipher the whole passage. We’ve reproduced excerpts from the article’s introduction and all of the final section labeled “Conclusion.” These two sections provide all the information you need for your article.

This Writing Exercise appears on pages 83-84 of The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing.

Page Last Updated: 17 August 2011