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My friend just used the following sentence in her lab report:

Aseptic technique is used in this step:

I immediately felt something was wrong. She used the term as if it were a specific technique. Is her usage correct, and if so is "aseptic technique" indeed a specific technique with a specific procedure?

Rather, I thought "aseptic technique" referred to any technique that involves complete sterilization of a certain environment or apparatus/instrument. If this were right, then perhaps "an aseptic technique" should be used instead?

Further still, if "aseptic technique" refers to the collection of all techniques that involve sterilization as described above, the perhaps it should have been "the aseptic technique" instead?

Which one(s) is/are correct, grammatically and semantically (hence conveying the concept accurately)?

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    $\begingroup$ I bet it means she just used a new pippete $\endgroup$ – jwillis0720 Feb 18 '17 at 11:10
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    $\begingroup$ This is more a question about English language and usage than about biology. I vote it be moved to that SE. PS. For what it's worth I think you are wrong, but I'm not going to argue it here. $\endgroup$ – David Feb 18 '17 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on SE English Language & Usage. $\endgroup$ – David Feb 18 '17 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ Aren't you mistaking antisepsis for asepsis? $\endgroup$ – Flo Feb 18 '17 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ I have answered your question. Take note, not only of the answer, but of the way I have supported my conclusions with the results of internet searches for the professional usage of the term. Another time you should undertake research of that type yourself. Although certain scientific terms (mass, current, atom) have precise and unvarying meanings, the meaning of many others — especially when they are in common usage — may vary depending on context. Often the language changes. In English there is no Academy that passes judgement. $\endgroup$ – David Feb 18 '17 at 17:59
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This is primarily a linguistic question and I am answering it on the basis that it will be migrated to Stack Exchange, English Language and Usage.

The question is whether, in the context of a report describing (otherwise unspecified) student work, the phrase “aseptic technique” can be used without an article, or whether it requires the definite or indefinite article. This is a question of meaning and usage, and, without using any technical grammatical terms, can be answered by anlysis of scientific publications and by analogy.

“The aseptic technique” (definite article)?

The definite article would normally be used in this type of situation if reference was to one specific clearly defined technique. As an anlogy I would take ‘The Heimlich manoeuvre’ (where ‘manoeuvre’ occupies an analagous position to ‘technique’. Clearly the phrase does not refer to a standard defined procedure like the Heimlich manoeuvre, but merely that the work was performed asceptically (i.e. under sterile conditions). So in this context the definite article is certainly not necesary. In some circumstances employing sterile conditions requires satisfying certain enumerated criteria (example below), in which case the definite article may be used.

“An aseptic technique” (indefinite article)?

I think that this is possible but not obligatory. The use of the indefinite article indicates that the asceptic technique used was one of several possible. Although sometimes this would be used in the context of a limited number of items, this is not a necessary requirement. Analogies with a different adjective would be “she executed the dive with a graceful technique”. Here, the article is (almost) obligatory, but less so in the case of “she showed superb technique in executing the dive”.

“Aseptic technique” (no article)?

As the last example shows (“she showed superb technique in executing the dive”), omitting the article is perfectly acceptable in analagous phrases. I would say it is perfectly acceptable in this case.

The arguments above are only useful to the extent that they reflect actual practice. A quick internet search brought up an interesting example in which both no article and the indefinite article were used in the same text. This is the entry for Asceptic Technique on a website called Healthline.

The second paragraph omits the article:

Aseptic technique is a method designed to prevent contamination from microorganisms.

But when it gets down to specifics:

According to The Joint Commission, there are four chief aspects of the aseptic technique

So unless your friend was referring to ‘The Joint Commission’ (which I doubt) there is nothing wrong with that sentence of her lab report.

Other Professional Examples

ThermoFisher Scientific — no article

Aseptic technique, designed to provide a barrier between the microrganisms in the environment and the sterile cell culture, depends upon a set of procedures to reduce the probability of contamination from these sources

Nuffield Foundation — indefinite article (implied by use of ‘any’)

There are some general rules to follow for any aseptic technique.

ANTT — definite article used in reference to a specific named technique

Aseptic technique is the most commonly performed infection prevention procedure in healthcare; it is also probably the most critical. This article looks at the Aseptic Non Touch Technique (ANTT) model for reducing healthcare-associated infections

(You could argue that the definite article refers to the model, rather than the technique, although I think if you omitted ‘model’ you would be left with an example like the Haemlich manoeuvre. In any case the English in this article is appalling — “infection prevention procedure” gives a foretaste of the stylistic horrors that follow.)

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