Has your article for Nature been sent back because it needs minor revisions? Or have you missed out on funding because of a shoddy application? This article tells you about the pitfalls of writing academic texts and gives you tips to improve your writing style.
Many articles submitted to academic journals are initially sent back or even rejected because of the way they are written. Grant applications often need to be rewritten before they can be submitted. And let’s be honest: many of the people writing these texts – scientists, doctors and lawyers – aren’t necessarily great writers. What’s more, they are often writing in a language which, despite being the language of their profession, is not their mother tongue.
It is therefore not surprising that the texts they write aren’t always accepted the first time round but are sent back for minor or major revisions, or are rejected altogether.
Common mistakes when writing academic texts:
1. Lack of clarity
Woolly language or an article peppered with jargon or abbreviations can be a reason for rejection.
2. Poor Dutch or English
If an author doesn’t have a good command of the language in which he or she writes, the article will be flatly rejected. This is often because of an odd choice of words, expressions that are used wrongly and an illogical word order.
3. The instructions for authors haven’t been followed
Every academic journal has its own rules that authors must follow. If you exceed the maximum number of words, if your references are incomplete or the tables aren’t correctly formatted, you can be certain that your article will be sent back.
4. The text contains inconsistencies
If a text doesn’t satisfy all the set criteria, it’s good to be able to fall back on the expertise of academic editors. They make changes to the text – in their own mother tongue – at word, sentence and text level, bearing in mind the specific guidelines. This can involve anything from a final round of corrections – dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s – to a thorough edit, whatever is needed. The end result is a text that is ready for submission.
Would you like to improve your writing style? Here are five tips to get you started:
1. Incorrect abbreviations, a mix of British and American English, inconsistent numbering – these are all reasons for rejecting your article or refusing your application.
2. Make a checklist of the journal’s guidelines or the criteria for the grant application. When rereading your text, check to see that you have satisfied all the criteria.
3. Make sure you have a clear argument with a clear structure. It helps to read the first sentence of each new paragraph to check whether your text has a logical structure.
4. Avoid long sentences: on average, your sentences should be 15 to 20 words.
5. Do a spell check.
6. Show your article or application to a colleague (in your discipline) and a friend (a layperson) and ask them for suggestions.