In this chapter, we start to explore the language for construing scientific knowledge by looking at the resources construing taxonomies. It examines specifically how things, people, places and activities in biology are named through a discourse semantic resource known as entities. We begin with a glimpse of two short excerpts, one from the introduction to a first-year laboratory report and the other from the introduction to a third-year research report. We can see that the entities used in the texts are rather different. In these and the following examples in this chapter, entities are annotated with underlines.

Calibration of a pipette allows the relationship between theoretical volumes and those actually obtained to be determined. (…) In this experiment, a Finnpipette ranged 200–1000uL and a Bio-Rad P200 pipette were calibrated by using three methods—weight-of-water, spectrophotometry and radioactivity. (…)

A complex interaction exists between insects and the health and diversity of fungal communities. These interactions may be beneficial to both insects and fungi, for example, symbiotic relationships between termites and cellulase-producing gut fungi (Slater, 1992). (…) We propose a model (…) This model was tested, using dung fungal spores and examining their passage through the gut of the Australian plague locust, Chortichocetes terminifera. (…)

Text 1 contains a number of entities referring to utilitarian tools, such as pipette and Finnpipette, as well as methods, such as weight-of-water and spectrophotometry. If we follow the entity categorisation in Martin and Rose (2007), a nominalisation experiment and a ‘generic’ term volume may be taken as instances of ‘abstraction’. We can get a sense from Text 1 that the reported experiment employs more than one method and involves certain tangible tools for measurement. In Text 4, there are few entities of experimental tools, but many biological phenomena are mentioned, such as insects and fungi. Certain biological phenomena have scientific names, 56such as Chortichocetes terminifera. We also find some nominalisations, which are likely to be technical terms, such as symbiotic relationships. Based on the brief glimpse, it is not difficult to suggest that Text 1 is more ‘concrete’, with some ‘abstractions’, and Text 4 is more ‘technical’ or involving more ‘theoretical/technical abstraction’ (Halliday, 1998). However, the questions concerning us are: what do we mean by ‘concrete’, ‘technical’ and ‘abstract’? What are the language features of entities in Text 1 or Text 2 that make them ‘concrete’, ‘technical’ or ‘abstract’? With respect to their grammatical realisation, should entities be identified by syntagm—i.e. their realisation as nominal groups or by functional structure—e.g. Thing within nominal groups? As far as field is concerned, are we able to conclude that Text 4 construes a ‘technical field’ just because the entities are mostly ‘technical’?