Writing is key to science. We communicate most of our research through publications like articles. But it’s hard to get work published that is not written well. So what are the do’s and don’ts? We here give you seven language tips for your next paper.

1.  Use adjectives carefully

It may feel like adjectives strengthen your writing, but they can have the opposite effect. Compare the two sentences below. Sentence 2 contains three adjectives. In sentence 2 these are removed, making the sentence more to-the-point and easier to read.

1) In his recent work, Bell (2019) discusses several solutions to the serious problem of climate change.
2) In his work, Bell (2019) discusses solutions to the problem of climate change.

2.  Vary in the words you use

When writing, we tend to only use the words that we know well; the ones we’re comfortable with. But in doing so, we run the risk of repeating the same words too often. Compare the two snippets below. While Snippet 1 contains the word ‘portrait’ repeatedly, Snippet 2 refers to this object differently each time. That reads better, doesn’t it?

1) This portrait was painted by Rembrandt. The portrait, made around 1660, depicts a young man. It is a well-known portrait.
2) This portrait was painted by Rembrandt. The painting, made around 1660, depicts a young man. It is a well-known work.

Remember that Writefull can give you synonyms for any word, within your context. See the image below, where Writefull gives synonyms for ‘big’ within the phrase ‘this is a big issue’.

Synonyms in context given by Writefull

3.  Vary in sentence structure and length

If you use a few sentences in a row with the same structure or length, it hardly flows. Compare the two snippets below, and see how no. 2 is less repetitive and therefore flows better.

1) To ensure any differences were due to the treatments, a control group was used. To ensure accuracy of the data, a double blind data entry technique was used. To measure the difference between the two treatments, a t-test was carried out.
2) A control group was used to ensure that any differences were results of the treatment. Data were manually entered. To avoid inaccuracies, double blind data entry was used. Treatment effects were measured through a t-test.

4.  Avoid colloquial words

While not all publication types are equally formal (an editorial, for example, may be less formal than a research article), informal words are generally avoided. Think of ‘stuff’, ‘lots of’, ‘kind of’, and ‘amazing’.

5.  Avoid contractions

Just as you shouldn’t use colloquial words, it is best to avoid contractions like ‘it’s’, ‘they’re’, and ‘it’ll’. Contractions are fine for informal contexts, but not suitable for most academic texts.

6.  Be creative in how you cite

When discussing literature, you’ll want to use constructions besides the very simple ‘Smith thinks ...’ and ‘Smith found …’. An author can also claim, believe, propose, suggest, conclude, report, and more. Not sure what verb to use? Writefull’s Sentence Palette gives you plenty to choose from.

7.  Link sentences with connectors

Connectors are words or phrases that link sentences or phrases. Examples are ‘however’, ‘nonetheless’, ‘therefore’, ‘on the contrary’ and ‘similarly’. Using connectors is important for the coherency of your text. In Writefull’s Sentence Palette, you can select connectors based on your goal.

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About the author

Hilde is Chief Applied Linguist at Writefull.