Think about the reader
The reader prefers sentences that they:
• only need to read once;
• do not have to read slowly because the sentence does not require intense concentration;
• can process word by word and thus understand the build-up of the author’s logic immediately, rather than only being able to reach their interpretation of the whole meaning at the end of the sentence.
These goals are much easier to achieve if you write short sentences. Today’s experts recommend between 15 and 18 words. In the world of academic writing, you should aim for an upper limit of around 25 words.
To increase readability:
• do not separate the subject from its verb using more than 6–8 words;
• avoid adding extra information to the end of the main clause, if the main clause is already long;
• check to make sure that a sentence has a maximum of 25 words, and don’t use more than three or four 25-word sentences in the whole paper;
• consider beginning a new sentence if the original sentence is long and contains one or more of the following (or equivalents): and, which, a link word, the –ing form, in order to;
• do not worry about repeating key words. If dividing up a long sentence into shorter sentences means that you have to repeat key words, this repetition will increase the clarity of your writing.
Where possible use the -ing form of verbs rather than abstract nouns. This will make your title more readable and 2–3 words shorter.
The Specification and the Evaluation of Educational Software in Primary Schools (original version).
Specifying and Evaluating Educational Software in Primary Schools (revised version).
Methods for the Comparison of Indian and British Governmental Systems in the 19th century (original version).
Methods for Comparing Indian and British Governmental Systems in the 19th century (revised version).
Silicon Wafer Mechanical Strength Measurement for Surface Damage Quantification (original version). Quantifyin Surface Damage by Measuring the Mechanical Strength of Silicon Wafers (revised version).
Put the subject before the verb
Say what something is before you begin to describe it. In the OVs below, the authors delayed the subject (in italics) until the end of the clause. They used an introductory subsidiary clause to stress the importance or evidence of the subject before telling the reader what the subject is. This is not what is normally done in English research writing.
Among the factors that influence the choice of parameters are time and cost (original version).
Time and cost are among the factors that influence the choice of parameters (revised version).
Of particular interest was the sugar transporter, because ... (original version).
The sugar transporter was of particular interest, because ... (revised version).
Break up long paragraphs
The maximum length of a paragraph in a well-written research paper is about 15 lines. But most paragraphs should be shorter. If you have already written more than 8–12 lines or 4–6 sentences, then you may need to re-read what you have written and think about where you could start a new paragraph.
Don’t make the impersonal it the subject of the sentence
Putting it first often delays the subject. You can replace impersonal expressions by using modal verbs (might, need, should, etc.), adverbs (surprisingly, likely, etc.) or rearranging the sentence.
It is probable that this is due to poor performance (original version).
This may / might / could be due to poor performance (revised version).
It is regretted that no funds will be available for the next academic year (original version).
Unfortunately, no funds will be available for the next academic year (revised version).
It is believed that there will be a rise in stock prices (original version).
We believe there will be a rise in stock prices (revised version).
However, impersonal phrases may be useful when you do not want to assume complete responsibility for what you are saying. In other words, you do not explicitly state who is doing the assuming, speculating, hypothesizing etc.
Prefer verbs to nouns
English tends to use more verbs than nouns. This reduces the number of words needed, makes sentences flow better, and provides variety. Too many nouns make a sentence heavy to read.
X was used in the calculation of Y (original version).
X was used to calculate Y (revised version).
Lipid identification in paint samples is based on the evaluation of characteristic ratio values of fatty acid amounts and comparison with reference samples (original version).
Lipids are generally identified in paint samples by evaluating the characteristic ratio values of fatty acid amounts and comparing them with reference samples (revised version).
When to use the passive
The passive is particularly useful when you describe a process, for example in the Methods. This is because it puts the equipment, chemicals, procedures, etc. that you used in the first position in the phrase. In review papers, and in other sections of research papers, for example the Introduction and the Discussion, you may want to use the passive to describe what other authors have done, or what is already established knowledge in your domain. In such cases you can say:
It has been demonstrated that bilingual children adapt better to new situations than monolingual children.
Note that in formal English writing you cannot use someone, one or people to refer either to a particular person or a generic person.
Use we to distinguish yourself from other authorse
You can use a mixture of active (we found) and passive (it was found). Only use the passive to describe your work if you have clearly established that now you are talking about your work. You can do this by using we or in our study at the beginning of a paragraph - this alerts the reader that you are going to discuss your work, so even if you then use the passive, the reader still knows that it is your work.
If you then introduce someone else’s work, make sure that the next time you talk about your work you begin the sentence with we or in our study.
Avoid using we when it is not really necessary, i.e. to explain your train of thought.
Convince the reader to believe your interpretation of your data
Authors often use however and moreover.
However is often used to diminish the importance or to question the implications of what has been said before, and is thus perfect in this situation. There is a difference between moreover and in addition. Both are used to add additional information in support of what has been previously said, but moreover is used to add a further negative factor, whereas in addition tends to be used to add a further positive factor..
Here is another example to highlight the difference between moreover and in addition:
This paper is written badly, moreover much of the data is inaccurate.
This paper is well written. In addition, the method is very innovative.
The general convention of tense usage in RESULTS AND DISCUSSION is that you only use the Past Simple to describe YOUR work, the Present Simple to state a generally known fact, and the Past Simple (preferably) or Present Perfect to refer to other authors.