By Konrad Höffner


2015-04-28 13:12:55 8 Comments

In scientific writing, I always feel the need to logically connect all my sentences to have a clear logical path between beginning and end of a paragraph, else it is just feels like a list of random phrases to me and not a complete argument. However, more often than not, the only fitting connector is "however", as "but" is informal. Is it acceptable to use "however" very often or is that bad style and in the latter case, how can I improve it?

An example

Blue data is better than red data. Standard algorithms, however, are all written with red data in mind and don't work on blue data. Violet algorithms handle blue data as well as red data, however they are very slow. Blue-only algorithms can process blue data really fast, however most blue data is mixed with a small percentage of red data.

4 comments

@terdon 2015-04-28 13:44:55

Yes, however is fine and extremely common in scientific writing. There's nothing wrong with but either, by the way. You can also use other alternatives. For example:

Blue data is better than red data. Standard algorithms, however, are all written with red data in mind and don't work on blue data. Violet algorithms handle blue data as well as red data, but they are very slow. On the one hand, blue-only algorithms can process blue data really fast; on the other hand, most blue data is mixed with a small percentage of red data.

What is certainly true, however, is that not only is the word however used in scientific writing, it is far more common there than anywhere else. See this COCA result:

COCA diagram showing that however is more common in academic writing

@Marius Hancu 2015-04-28 13:53:53

"There's nothing wrong with _but _either, by the way." I agree.

@Marius Hancu 2015-04-28 13:46:50

Possible fixes:

Blue data is better than red data. Standard algorithms, on the other hand, are all written with red data in mind and don't work on blue data. Violet algorithms handle blue data as well as red data, yet they are very slow. Blue-only algorithms can process blue data really fast, even though most blue data is mixed with a small percentage of red data.

Also, consider the alternatives:

Synonyms for however adv

still, nevertheless, nonetheless, notwithstanding, withal, yet, after all, all the same, anyhow, be that as it may, but, despite, for all that, howbeit, in spite of, on the other hand, per contra, though

[Sorry, Lucky, I didn't see your link at the time of editing; you were earlier]

@Konrad Höffner 2015-04-28 14:27:01

Thanks for the great rewrite! The last sentence, however, has a meaning different from what I intended but I guess I didn't express it clearly (meaning blue-only algorithms don't work on the usual blue mixed with a bit of red). But it is just a test sentence so it's not so important.

@alx 2015-04-28 13:46:08

In many cases cases you use however improperly, and you refer to the wrong points. In addition to 'however' the formal writing connectors can be

  • although
  • whereas
  • while
  • whilst

I rewrote your piece, with my suggestions in bold and unnecessary words in [brackets]

Blue data is better than red data, although standard algorithms [, however,] are all written with red data in mind and don't work on blue data. While violet algorithms handle blue data as well as red data, [however] they are very slow. Blue-only algorithms can process blue data really fast, however most blue data is mixed with a small percentage of red data.

Also be careful with 'as well as'. While it can not be confused with ',as well as' meaning 'along with' because it would have been prefixed with coma in that case, it is better to use 'as efficiently as' instead for better clearness.

@Konrad Höffner 2015-04-28 14:32:15

Are you sure the first sentence is correct? I interpret "although" to mean "even though" ("he is a good man even if he doesn't pay taxes") while I wanted to say "while he is a good man, he doesn't pay taxes" (for me, the first version sounds defensive while the second sounds less judgemental).

@alx 2015-04-28 14:48:25

@Konrad Höffner - 'Although' = 'though', and I understand my own sentence in this way: Blue data is better than red data, but standard algorithms are all written with red data in mind and don't work on blue data.

@Oldbag 2015-04-28 13:24:23

If you start the statement with "while" or "although" once in a while, you can cut out some of the "however's".

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