Concise Language

When writing your manuscript, be as brief as possible without omitting essential details. A common mistake that authors make is trying to include too much information in their sentences. When sentences are long, most readers will have to read the sentence at least twice to understand the presented ideas.

Your readers, like you, are busy and want to find the relevant information quickly and efficiently. To improve the readability of your writing, use short sentences. This can be achieved by presenting only one idea per sentence and limiting the sentence length to a maximum of 20–25 words.

Keep it simple! Simple language is usually clearer; it is more precise and concise than complex language. Many authors incorrectly assume that they should use complicated language as they are often describing something that is sophisticated, when in fact it can confuse the reader and weaken your message.

You can keep your manuscript concise and precise by adhering to the following guidelines:

  • Only one idea per sentence
  • Use the active voice, not the passive voice, when possible
  • Delete unnecessary or vague words and replace them with more specific words

Examples:

Good: Economists considered Shravers Publishing to be a model of modern employee conditions. Dr. John Mitchems established this company as a subsidiary of the Shravers Education Group in 1923.

Bad: The company that economists considered to be a model of modern employee conditions was Shravers Publishing, which was established as a subsidiary of the Shravers Educational Group by Dr. John Mitchems in 1923.

By presenting one idea per sentence, you can reduce the first long sentence (33 words) to two shorter and clearer sentences (12 and 16 words, respectively)

Subject and verb placement

Readers expect the verb, a word that describes an action, in a sentence to be near the subject of that sentence. However, some authors tend to insert a lot of text that describes the subject between the subject and verb.

In these cases, when the reader reaches the verb, they can forget what the subject was. They will then have to go back to the beginning of the sentence for clarification. Your reader should only have to read your writing once to understand your ideas. To improve the readability of your manuscript, keep subjects and verbs close together in your sentences.

Examples:

Good: The patient’s liver readings [s] had increased [v] by 50% at 48 hours after exposure to the virus

Bad: The patient’s liver readings [s] at 48 hours after exposure to the virus had increased [v] by 50%.

Topic position

The topic position refers to the information provided at the beginning of a sentence. This information serves two functions for a reader. First, it should introduce to the reader what information will be presented in the sentence.

We mentioned previously that each sentence should discuss one idea—the topic position should introduce this idea. To make this new idea familiar to the reader, it needs to link back to previously discussed information. That is the second function of the topic position—to serve as a topic link.

Example:

Avian influenza infection rates have been increasing worldwide. Transmission has been rapid owing to high levels of international travel. H5N1 is one type of avian influenza currently being studied. Epidemiology studies have shown this virus to be especially pathogenic.

Comparisons

Comparisons are frequently made in the Results section of papers. These often involve the words “between,” “among,” “like,” “with,” and “than.”

When making a comparison, the following points should be adhered to:

  • Only compare similar things that can be compared fairly

Examples:

Good: The brain activity in Patient A was compared with that of Patient B.

Bad: The brain activity in Patient A was compared with Patient B.

It doesn’t make sense to compare brain activity with a person. Instead, we need to compare like with like—that is, brain activity in Patient A with brain activity in Patient B.

Good: Expression levels of p53 in smokers were compared with p53 levels in non-smokers.

BetterExpression levels of p53 in smokers were compared with those in non-smokers.

Here “those” means “expression levels of p53.” It’s best not to repeat the same words in a sentence, since it can bore readers.

  • Avoid being vague—be as specific as possible

Examples:

Good: Reactions with the new machine were faster than those with the old machine.

Bad: Reactions with the new machine were faster.

The second sentence makes the reader wonder “Faster than what?”

  • Words such as “reduced,” “increased,” and “decreased” can only be used to compare something to the way it was before, not to compare two different things. To compare two different things (e.g., groups of patients), use words such as “higher,” “shorter,” or “more”.

Examples:

Good: In our study, time until hibernation was shorter in the Experimental Group than in the Control Group.

Bad: In our study, time until hibernation was reduced in the Experimental Group compared with the Control Group.

“Reduced” cannot be used to compare two different things; the Experimental Group and the Control Group

Proper nouns

A noun is a word that refers to a person, thing, or idea. A proper noun is the specific name of a person, organization, or location. Proper nouns always have their first letter capitalized.

Examples of when to capitalize

The first and last names of a person (examples: Gillian Welch, Steve Jobs, Francis Crick, Michael Jackson)

Names of companies and organizations (examples: World Wildlife Fund, United Nations, Volkswagen, Springer Nature)

Countries and cities (examples: Australia, India, Germany, New York, London, Beijing)

Months of the year, days of the week (examples: January, August, Monday, Saturday)

Examples of when not to capitalize

Names of chemicals or generic drugs. (examples: benzene, acetaminophen)

Articles

There are three articles in English: a, an, and the. These are classified as indefinite (a and an) or definite (the).

Indefinite articles refer to something not specifically known to the person you are communicating with. In other words, a and an are used before nouns that introduce something or someone you have not mentioned before.

Examples:

“I witnessed an eclipse this morning.”

“I wrote a laboratory report before lunch.”

  • A” and “an” are also used when talking about your profession.

Examples:

“I am an ethicist.”

“I am a researcher.”

  • Use a when the noun you are referring to starts with a consonant sound when pronounced.

Examples:

“a city”

“a hotel”

“a factory”

“a university”

  • If the word begins with a vowel sound when pronounced, then use an.

Examples:

“an hour”

“an owl”

“an umbrella”

“an igloo”

  • Use the when you know that the reader or listener knows or can identify what particular person or thing you are discussing.

Examples:

“The results were confirmed.”

“Did you unlock the door?”

  • You should also use the when the thing you are discussing has been mentioned previously.

Example:

“Each vector encoded a protein with a different reporter molecule. The size of the protein was...”

  • We also use the when talking about geographical features.

Examples:

“the Tropic of Capricorn”

“the English channel”

“the Himalayas”

  • We also use the preceding certain nouns when it is known that there is only one of something.

Examples:

“the sun”

“the Imperial Palace”

“the world”

“the Pacific Ocean”


Next: Idioms and Spelling

  

For Further Support

We hope that with this tutorial you have a clearer idea of the best ways to write in international English and how to write in a way that will help you publish your manuscript in the journal of your choice. Good luck with publishing your work!

If you feel that you would like some further support with writing your paper and writing in English, Springer Nature offer some services which may be of help.

  • Nature Research Editing Service offers high quality  English language and scientific editing. During language editing, Editors will improve the English in your manuscript to ensure the meaning is clear and identify problems that require your review. With Scientific Editing experienced development editors will improve the scientific presentation of your research in your manuscript and cover letter, if supplied. They will also provide you with a report containing feedback on the most important issues identified during the edit, as well as journal recommendations.
  • Our affiliates American Journal Experts also provide English language editing* as well as other author services that may support you in preparing your manuscript.
  • We provide both online and face-to-face training for researchers on all aspects of the manuscript writing process.

* Please note, using an editing service is neither a requirement nor a guarantee of acceptance for publication. 

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