As an academician or a scientist, whether you love it or not, writing is an inherent and essential part of your career. Some graduate students and professionals find out the hard way that how you write is sometimes as or even more important than what you are writing.
There are certain tricks and secrets to writing like a pro (and it’s not just using big words and complex sentences). Actually, to sound smart when writing requires simplicity. Simple writing is accurate and brilliant writing. Writing accurately means delivering relevant ideas clearly and concisely.
Academic writing should be clear and contain accurate information. Your content needs to be carefully thought-out and well-constructed. Remember, the purpose of your writing is to communicate complex ideas as simple as possible. Unquestionably, a paper that is very readable has more impact than those that are difficult to understand. As an academic or scientist, it is unfortunately true that if you cannot effectively communicate written information, your work may even be perceived as being less important.
But improving your writing skills can be easy. With this post, I’m going to start with the fundamentals: perfecting the sentence.
Writing Tips: Optimizing Your Sentences
Use ideal sentence length
Standard formulas use the number of words in a sentence as a measure of its readability. Therefore, it is usually advisable to keep the average length of your sentences to about 20-25 words. Of course, these numbers vary depending on the field, audience, or the nature of writing. For example, the average sentence length in scientific abstracts have been found to be generally shorter than that found in social science and humanities abstracts.
Vary your sentence length
With that in mind, make sure you don’t follow a certain word count for all of your sentences. Rather, your paragraphs should be a mixture of short, medium, and long sentences. Dynamic sentence length helps to incorporate emphasis where you need it the most. It also helps your readers understand the flow of your thoughts.
One sentence = one message
Don’t be tempted to cram two or three ideas into one sentence. Try to break down your main points into smaller sentences, with each sentence focusing on a point that supports your overall argument.
Combine short sentences
If you find that you have two short sentences that follow the same thought, consider using conjunctions (or, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) to combine the two into a longer sentence. This will avoid a series of short sentences that may not only sound choppy and redundant but may even impede the argument of your paper.
Break long sentences into separate statements
In scientific writing, where ideas are typically complex, it is often tempting to compose similarly complex sentences that contain excessive coordinating conjunctions and commas. If you find many like this, consider breaking one into two completely separate sentences. Try it; you’ll be surprised at how it enhances your overall paper.
And a few more sentence tips
- Limit sentences that start with qualifiers such as “although,” “because,” or “since.”
- Avoid beginning sentences with “there is” or “it is.”
- Use more active voice.
- Reduce wordy phrases and nonessential prepositional phrases.
For more in-depth writing tips, see Perfecting Your Scientific Writing: Tips & Tricks. Additionally, Harvard’s Writing Center has some great articles on almost every writing topic.