Conciseness – Helping the Most Important Parts of Your Research Stand Out

Shakespeare wrote that brevity is the soul of wit. When writing a manuscript, the complexity of your research may not always make it easy to keep your text brief, but it is still important to express ideas clearly and succinctly, with a minimum of unnecessary words.

Much of our tendency to be wordy when we write simply arises from habit: writing in the same way that we might speak. In scientific writing, however, it’s vital that extra words not confuse or distract from the point you’re making, or take away from your paper’s overall readability.

Journal word limits for abstracts and sections of the paper also make it even more crucial to express your research concisely.

Here are a few examples of common wordy expressions and more concise alternatives:

Wordy Concise
In order to To
As a consequence Consequently
For the reason that Because
Due to the fact that Because
In the first place First
In the not too distant future Soon
Four in number Four
Green color Green
Subsequent to After
Prior to Before
Except in a very few instances Usually
A considerable number of Many
Whether or not Whether
Past history History

Many of these examples are just redundant wording. For example, “four in number,” “green color,” “past history”; everyone knows that four is a number and that green is a color, and history is by definition in the past, so there is no need to include the extra words to help define the terms. In cases like these where this is no possible alternative definition that could cause ambiguity, the extra words only serve to complicate your writing.

Similarly, sometimes we find expressions in papers that usually can be deleted altogether without affecting the meaning at all. Here are a few examples:

♦ On the other hand

♦ Needless to say

♦ It goes without saying that

Finally, although we may sometimes use advanced vocabulary to express very sophisticated ideas, it’s important to remember that simply using long words for their own sake usually adds nothing to the readability of your paper and can be an unnecessary distraction.

Given the choice between a simple word and one your non-native English speaker readers might even need to look up, it’s always best to choose the simpler word.

Long Simple
Utilize Use
Employ Use
Facilitate Enable
Elucidate Show
Methodology Method
Optimum Best
Endeavor Try

Writing concisely and with simple language doesn’t detract from the sophistication of your work, it actually shows that you have a thorough enough understanding of your work that you can explain it clearly to a broad audience.

Language quality is among the top reasons for being rejected by a journal. To ensure the language in your manuscript is publication-ready you should have a native-English-speaking expert in your field edit for grammar, clarity, and accuracy of scientific expression.

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