Scientists often underestimate the importance of good research writing. Preparing a manuscript for publication may seem insignificant compared with the months (or even years) of experiments and data analysis. But if you don’t communicate your findings effectively to the research community, your efforts in the lab will be wasted.
In this blog post, I explain how to avoid five common mistakes in research writing so that everyone can appreciate the value of your work.
1. Not answering the research question
A good research paper asks and answers a specific question. This question provides focus and helps to structure a paper so that it is easy to follow. But scientists often fail to take advantage of this useful tool. Either they don’t ask a specific question or they forget to answer it. And sometimes, they answer a different question to the one they asked.
To help you structure your paper around an enticing research question, try the following tips:
2. Putting information in the wrong section
Original research reports are usually organized into Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion sections. This structure allows the reader to find the information they are interested in quickly and easily. Unfortunately, scientists often put information into the wrong section, creating unnecessary work for their reader. Here are some common mistakes to watch out for:
3. Not using paragraphs properly
Paragraphs are important because they give your writing structure and flow, making it easier to read. But many scientists fail to use paragraphs properly in their research papers. Their paragraphs are too short or too long, or they don’t use them at all. These mistakes often stem from a lack of understanding about paragraphs. Here’s how to use them properly in your next research paper:
Raf kinases have been implicated in tumour metastasis
tells the reader that this paragraph will explain how Raf kinases influence metastasis.
Expand on the topic in the next few sentences. For example, you may talk about how Raf kinases promote tumour cell proliferation and migration. Once your topic is fully developed, finish the paragraph by drawing your conclusion:
Mutations in Raf kinase genes promote metastasis by increasing tumour cell proliferation and migration.
These findings suggest that Raf kinases are promising targets for cancer therapy
is a good transition to a paragraph about anticancer drugs that target Raf kinases. Use transition words to link your ideas (you can find a list of useful transition words here), but take care not to overuse your favourites as repetition can annoy your reader.
4. Using complicated language
Your results may be complicated, but your writing shouldn’t be. You may think that obscure words or complicated sentences make you sound clever but it is far more effective to use simple language that your reader will understand and enjoy reading. Here are some tips for clear, simple writing:
Plagiarism is using the words or ideas of somebody else without proper acknowledgement. Even if accidental, plagiarism is a serious offence. It can get your paper retracted and ruin your professional reputation. Plagiarism is avoided in academic writing by referring to citations in the text and providing a list of the cited references at the end of the article.
Unfortunately, plagiarism is still very common in academic circles, particularly among non-native English-speaking scientists who look to other publications for writing templates. Here are some tips on avoiding plagiarism:
Worth the effort
Writing a research paper that is easy to read does justice to all your hard work in the lab. Following the tips outlined in this article will help you to avoid some common mistakes and write a good research paper that your reader will enjoy reading.
Fixing these common mistakes will help you get the result you want
Claire Bacon is a former research scientist with professional qualifications in copy editing and medical editing. She edits manuscripts for non-native English-speaking scientists and works as a copy editor for a medical journal.
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