Sentence of the Week

“The proportion of biopsies that occur because of these false-positive results that are retrospectively deemed unnecessary (that is, the woman did not have cancer) is about 7%; therefore, many more women will undergo unnecessary biopsies under annual screening than biennial screening.”

The University of Chicago Writing Program offered this passage from a medical journal as its sentence of the week. It’s not a particularly egregious example of bad writing, but it does not convey its meaning as clearly as possible. They identify three main weaknesses:

  1. A long wait for the verb in the first clause.
  2. A long chain of modifiers for “biopsies.”
  3. A missing statistic

Their rewritten sentence reads:

When women between the ages of forty and sixty-nine receive annual mammograms, they get almost twice as many false-positive results as they would if they received mammograms biennially. These false-positive results can lead to unnecessary biopsies. When women in this age group get a positive result on an annual mammogram and then get a biopsy, only X% of them prove to have cancer. But the other Y% prove to be cancer free. Therefore, many more women will undergo unnecessary biopsies under annual screening than biennial screening.

Significantly, the new version is longer than the original. Usually brevity is desirable, but in this case it can squeeze out important statistics and cloud meaning.


9 Responses to “Sentence of the Week”

  1. 😀 .. fantastic example

    It isn’t easy to confuse me, but already first part of this sentence did the job 🙂

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  3. I know that this blog post was all about writing, but the topic of false positives in mammograms was of interest to me, as well. That was why I stopped to read more.

    “A long wait for the verb in the first clause.” It did take a long time to get to ‘is’, and next time I write in my blog, that is one of the things I will take into consideration, trying to curb my run on sentences.


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  5. Fantastic article – Thank you very much!

  6. literki says:

    thanks!I’m thinking about creating my own but I’m not sure where to begin. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?

  7. Excelente articulo, la prevención es el mejor método de evitar este tipo de canceres.


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