Scientific Language: Information flow

To make your report an argument you need to use language structures to help link your ideas together to build up your argument in a logical way.

Language structures for linking your ideas together are:

  1. Cohesion or using conjunctions, reference words and vocabulary to link your ideas together (link to discussion: scientific language: cohesion)
  2. Information flow

Information flow in a text refers to how information presented in one sentence is linked to information in previous and in following sentences. Each sentence has a beginning and end structure. The beginning of the sentence is the FOCUS of the information or Theme and the end of the sentence contains the New information. Different patterns of information flow may occur.

Click on Theme and New to see an example of each pattern.

Pattern 1. Zig-Zag

Information presented in the New of one sentence may be picked up in Themes in a later sentence.

Theme 1New 1
Subjectswere randomly allocated to a nominally high- or low-cholesterol diet.
Theme 2New 2

The nature and quantity of the foods consumed

Notice how the words 'high- or low-cholesterol diet' in New 1 are picked up in the words 'nature and quantity of the foods consumed' in Theme 2

Pattern 2: Fan

In a related pattern to the zig-zag pattern, ideas introduced as News in the first sentence are picked up as the Themes of successive sentences. The result is a FAN pattern.

Theme 1New 1
However, the resultscould be altered by the fact that the compliance of subjects was not monitored.
Theme 2New 2
Some of the participantsdid not always follow the type of diet they were allocated with.
Theme 3New 3

The type and portion sizes of food consumed were not controlled

Notice how the word subjects in New 1 is picked up in participants in Theme 2 and the idea of non compliance and lack of monitoring in New 1 is further explained in Theme 3.

Pattern 3: Linear

To maintain the focus on one idea, information in one Theme may also be picked up by a Theme in a later sentence. This results in a linear or downward pattern.

Theme 1 New 1
Subjectswere picked in an age range 49-58 years (n=8, 6 male and 2 female).
Theme 2New 2
They ...

Here Theme 1 subjects is referred to again as they in Theme 2

Here is the beginning of the Discussion section from the example report. The Themes are highlighted. Click on the highlighted Themes to see an explanation of information flow. You can also see how cohesion works together with Information flow to develop this extract in a logical way by going to the discussion section

Consumption of a high cholesterol diet did not significantly increase blood cholesterol concentration over a 12 week period (Figure 1).

Similarly, over the same period, consumption of a low cholesterol diet did not significantly reduce plasma cholesterol concentration.

However after 12 weeks the plasma cholesterol concentration of the high-cholesterol diet group was 50% greater than that of the low-cholesterol group (P<0.05).

This result should be interpreted with caution because each of the 3 subjects used in the analysis for the high-cholesterol group finished the study with an identical plasma cholesterol concentration of 8 mM (probably coincidentally).

When the results were expressed as a change relative to the subjects' starting cholesterol concentration (Figure 2), there did appear to be a difference between the two dietary regimes. Although this difference did not attain statistical significance (P=0.06) it is possible that a better designed study could have given more definitive results.

The sentences below from the Discussion to a student's report on the experiment for measuring the rate of muscle glycogen consumption during exercise are in the wrong order. The Themes and other areas of focus have been highlighted for you. Drag and drop the sentences to re-order them correctly so that the information flow is clear. You will see a tick when you have made the correct choices. Click the Explanation button to see the information flow patterns.

  • The more unfit subjects appeared to have trouble completing the test.
  • It could prove interesting to extend the study to other age groups or to consider the effect of smoking, gender or Body Mass Index (BMI) on muscle glycogen catabolism.
  • Fitness levels were assessed over a 5 min period of maximum sustainable exercise.
  • Other indicators of fitness could be used, in conjunction with O2 consumption to more accurately establish fitness levels.
  • Perhaps some other exercise could be used e.g.: swimming.
  • To further examine this phenomenon, phosphorylase activity could be measured.
  • There are a number of reservations before firm conclusions can be drawn.
  • More subjects need to be recruited for this study before generalisations can be made with any confidence.
  • This made it difficult to investigate the full range of fitness levels.
There are a number of reservations before firm conclusions can be drawn.A fan pattern developed from the first Theme about reservations
Fitness levels were assessed over a 5 min period of maximum sustainable exercise.Linear pattern developed through fitness
Other indicators of fitness could be used, in conjunction with O2 consumption to more accurately establish fitness levels.
The more unfit subjects appeared to have trouble completing the test.Zig-zag pattern picking up on the not completing the test and finding another test or exercise
This made it difficult to investigate the full range of fitness levels.
Perhaps some other exercise could be used e.g.: swimming.
More subjects need to be recruited for this study before generalisations can be made with any confidence.Linear pattern developed through subjects
It could prove interesting to extend the study to other age groups or to consider the effect of smoking, gender or Body Mass Index (BMI) on muscle glycogen catabolism.Zig zag pattern picking up on the effect of smoking etc.
To further examine this phenomenon phosphorylase activity could be measured.
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