Beware Dueling Luciferases!

Getting What You Want from Your Science Writing III

At 40 hours post-transfection, the cells were collected for duel luciferase assays.
—first draft of an article that crossed my desk one day

Spell-check programs are wonderful things for lousy typists like me. These programs are great at pointing out missed “opportunities”. However, these programs cannot replace a thorough proofreading. They will not distinguish between duel (a fight) and dual (two). Nor will they catch misuse of homonyms like: “their, there and they’re” or “your and you’re”. A spell-check program will not understand the difference between “serial dilution” (a series of solutions, each one more dilute by a specific amount) and “cereal dilution” (too much milk).

Consider this gem that was published in a prominent biotech trade publication:

…if the reaction lights up with five to ten seconds, the probe matches the DNA. The system’s thermostable enemas allow reactions to occur at elevated temperatures…

The desired word was “enzymes”. The typo was “enazymes”, and the spell-check choices were enzymes, enamels and enemas. The copy editor chose “enemas”. Go figure.

Or, consider the inconvenience caused to the sender of this e-mail by a spell-check program:

The steam will be shut off on Friday afternoon, April 1st. Sorry for the incontinence this may cause. We will be in full operation on Tuesday. (should have read inconvenience)

The moral of the story is this: Use spell-check programs; they eliminate many errors, but do not rely on spell-check to catch every error. Nothing replaces thorough review and proofreading.

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Michele Arduengo

Senior Content Developer / Social Media Lead at Promega Corporation
Michele earned her B.A. in biology at Wesleyan College in Macon, GA, and her PhD through the BCDB Program at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Michele manages the Promega Connections blog. She enjoys leisure reading, writing creative nonfiction and knitting, and the occasional cross-country skiing jaunt.

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