From writing to submission: Simple strategies to Make Your Scientific Article (Read) Better
Progress and communication are central to scientific writing. Unfortunately, the majority of articles communicate in an awkward, dry, formulaic tone, which—rather than aiding in clarity of understanding—obfuscates it. Points of style should serve to make the presentation clearer and the article better. Below are pointers on writing style for scientific publishing, which will not only help you transfer knowledge more effectively but also make you stand out as an author people want to read.
Use the active voice
The subjects of your sentences should be the ones doing the acting, not vice versa.
Replace: ‘One hundred patients were operated upon.’
With: ‘We operated on 100 patients.’
Choose words for clarity, not to sound smart
You've successfully navigated your way through multiple degrees. Because you're an author of scientific articles, you have already demonstrated keen intelligence. There is no need to try further to impress readers by using complicated, smart-sounding terminology or jargon. Always try to find simpler, clearer ways of saying what you have to say.
Replace: ‘The biota experienced a 100% mortality rate.’
With: ‘All the fish died.’
Use simple words (that can often improve style)
Simplicity will not only enhance understanding but also help you stay under the word count limits imposed by most journals.
|...has the ability to...||...can...|
|...the vast majority of...||...most...|
|...could be deduced from these results that...||...our results suggest...|
|...in the case that...||...if...|
|...are in concurrence...||...concur...|
|...plays a critical part in...||...is necessary to...|
|...due to the fact that...||...because...|
Use fewer words
Less is more. Scientific journals have annual page limits written into their publishing contracts. Going over the stipulated limit, even by a few pages, incurs potentially stiff financial penalties. As a result, journals impose strict word counts on articles. Concision in communication is a premium, and the fewer the words, the better the article. From the reader’s point of view, too, it’s easier to read a tightly written article than a long, rambling one.
Self-editing is a simple yet rigorous process, and is the key to clarity. Follow these suggested steps for an article whose final output is better to read:
- Write the manuscript.
- Edit (especially for clarity and brevity).
- Have co-authors re-edit for clarity and refinement, and to shorten the paper.
- If possible, put the manuscript away for 4–6 weeks, then re-edit one final time before submission.
Writing and science are intertwined. Literature is the foundation for future research. What can change is the quality of writing. We encourage you to help transform the field of scientific writing and establish a new standard of literary quality.
Read next/fourth (final) in series: From writing to submission: Tips for Proofreading and Editing your paper
Read previous/second in series: From writing to submission: Preparing to Write your manuscript
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