Journal articles tend to be constrained by strict word limits. This means they can be written in a very dense style, sometimes at the expense of clarity.
An example is the use of awkward noun chunks. Here’s why you should avoid them in your writing, and how.

What are noun chunks?

Noun chunks are strings of multiple nouns placed consecutively (e.g. food growth rate, bond strength degradation, forest composition characteristics). They can connect objects or ideas in ambiguous ways, as it is not always clear how each noun relates to others within the chunk.

Here’s an example: Is distance education practice referring to education practice done by distance, or the practice of distance education? Even with a broader context, it might be difficult to tell.

Why should you avoid them?

Clarity is one of the most important aspects of good writing. It is even more important in science, where data and findings ought to be interpreted in the right way. Not only that, but clarity could help you maximize citations of your paper.

A study found that less influential journal articles (defined by authors as having fewer than 100 cites) tend to contain a greater proportion of negative writing components such as noun chunks. Conversely, writing more with the reader in mind (i.e. avoiding ambiguity) was found to produce more citations, irrespective of career stage or avenue of publication.

How to replace them?

Think of the meaning you want to convey, then take the chunk apart by rephrasing. In the above example, either education practice done by distance or the practice of distance education (depending on meaning) works better.

As always, there are ways Writefull can help. Full Edit, our language feedback offering suggestions at the sentence level, will do the rephrasing work for you. So will the Paraphraser, now available in Writefull for Word and Writefull for Overleaf. See for yourself!

Writefull webinars

Looking for more academic writing tips? Join our free webinars hosted by Writefull's linguists!