DESCRIBING CHANGES IN A VARIABLE
Changes in a variable over a period of time may be shown by a set of figures, or displayed visually as a line graph. Graphs can take an almost infinite variety of shapes, and the language used to describe them is correspondingly rich. Accordingly, all that can be offered here is some general hints about the most common features. 1. Introducing the description Typically the description opens with a sentence indicating: i) the variable, ii) the time period, and perhaps iii) the units of measurement Examples: The graph/table illustrates changes/variations/movements in the company’s share price over the period from 1991 to 2000 ... indicates the total value of mergers involving UK firms, in USD, each year between 1980 and 2000 ... shows how major banks’ profit margins have evolved/changed since 1960 Notes: i) Avoid ‘development/developed’, as they are qualitative, not quantitative ii) The time period may extend into the future (forecasts), in which case it may have to be described in two parts (up to the present; the future). Usually, the current month, year, etc is effectively part of the future, since no firm figures are available yet. 2. Describing values at a point in time Usually the description starts with a statement of the initial value of the variable concerned. It will end with a similar statement. a) Such statements can use verbs that collocate naturally with the variable (including ‘to be’). Examples: In 1991 the price was $13.87/the shares were worth $13.87 In the first/second of those years 23 per cent of firms were involved in mergers b) Alternatively, verbs used specifically for this purpose can be chosen Examples: At the start/beginning of the period the price stood at $13.87 At the end of the period margins amounted to 16 per cent Notes: i) In spoken language (eg describing an OHP transparency) it is possible to be more informal, and to use the present tense (eg ‘The graph starts at $13.87). However, these forms should be avoided in written language, or formal situations. ii) The verb ‘to reach’ is NOT appropriate for describing a starting value, since it implies a comparison with earlier values (but: ‘By 1997 the value had reached ...’) 3. Describing upward or downward movements a) The safest method of describing such changes is to use basic verbs meaning ‘to go up or down’ (or the equivalent nouns), combined where necessary with an appropriate adverb (or adjective) to indicate the nature of the movement Examples: Between 1991 and 1994 the price rose/increased steeply/sharply/dramatically After 1985 there was a gradual/steady decline/drop/fall in margins By 1997 the proportion had fallen/dropped/decreased to 12 per cent The three years from 1992 on saw a marginal/slight rise/increase b) Alternatively, there is a wide range of verbs and nouns describing particular types of movement, some common examples being: soar, (sky)rocket, plunge & plummet. Use these only use ONLY if you’re SURE WHAT they mean & HOW they are used.
Copyright: C J Ross
Notes: i) The verbs used in this context are ‘fall’ (not ‘fall down’) and ‘rise’ (not ‘rise up’). ii) Again, in spoken language, more informal usages are possible: ‘After 1985 the curve falls steeply iii) The use of ‘by’ - as opposed to ‘between ... and’ - places the reader in the year mentioned, looking backwards. Hence the use of the past perfect tense. 4. Summarising the nature of change in a given period Examples: In the mid-1990s the price was (fairly/almost) constant/stable Since 1997 the proportion has varied only slightly/remained fairly stable From 1982 the price remained (virtually) unchanged/showed little change Up to 1991 margins fluctuated dramatically/wildly Since 1990 the price has been highly volatile 5. Describing high and low points Examples: In 1991 the price reached a peak/(record) high of/at $56 In 1976 the proportion peaked at 45 per cent, before falling away again In 1981 margins sank to a new low/trough of 3...
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