Investing a little time in ensuring your manuscript or case study is easy to follow can really help readers absorb your key messages. If you are writing a research article, you want the reader to quickly grasp how your work has added to the knowledge in your field and highlight any potential applications – particularly helpful with the rise in multi-discipline collaborations. With a teaching case study, you want to make it easy for students to understand the practical applications.
Tip 1: Use headings
Not only do these break up your content and make it easier for the reader to digest, they are also a very effective way of signposting the content each section contains.
Tip 2: Paragraph structure
A good paragraph contains only one major point of discussion. All the sentences in the paragraph should relate to this one idea and should flow from one another.
Tip 3: Write clear sentences
One golden rule for clarity is that a sentence should be easy to understand the first time you read it. If it isn’t, then think about restructuring it or splitting it in two.
- Use the active voice rather than the passive voice. For example, ‘the plan was implemented successfully’ rather than ‘the implementation of the plan was successful’.
- If you read the sentence aloud and you need to pause for breath, insert a comma
- Use commas to separate out clauses
- Use phrases and clauses carefully and accurately
The topic of grammar is extremely broad. If you’d like some help in this area, our publishing tips for non-native English speaker's guide contains a list of print and online grammar resources.
Tip 4: Avoid wordiness
There are many ways of avoiding wordiness. Here are a few basic guidelines:
- Cut the clutter - a good tip for editing a draft is to delete any words which don't add to the meaning. You can also look for more concise ways of saying the same thing.
- Reduce text - in other words, don’t use lots of words when just a few would do. For example, ‘it is possible that’ could also be written as ‘may’, ‘might’ or ‘could’. And instead of ‘notwithstanding the fact that’ try ‘although’.
- Skip ‘padding’ words - some words may be correct grammatically. but they don’t really add anything to the sentence.
- Avoid repetition or putting in too much detail
- Check your tenses - not only ensure that you use the right tense, but that you use it consistently.
Tip 5: Spelling
- Writing for an American-based journal? Consider buying Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of the English Language, or access the free online Merriam-Webster site
- Writing for an Australian or UK-based journal? Consider buying the Oxford English Dictionary or access the free online Oxford Dictionaries
- When a word has more than one correct spelling, make sure you use it consistently throughout the article
- Do not change spelling in quotations and references
It should be used in the following circumstances:
- The initial letter of the first word only in article titles and unpublished works
- Proper names
- German nouns
- Titles and office holders when used specifically, e.g. Prime Minister Tony Blair, but a British prime minister
- Registered trade marks
- Proper names of buildings and institutions, e.g. Library of Congress
- Geographical names, including specific regions and areas used in a political context, e.g. the Midlands, Eastern Europe
- Titles of jobs when used in affiliations
Traditionally, numbers from one to ten are written as words, while 11 and above are written as figures. However, use figures when:
- Dealing with unmanageable fractions, e.g. 3/14 cm
- Joining to an abbreviated form of measurement, e.g. 2 cm
- For percentages, except when starting a sentence, in which case the sentence should be revised (Of the respondents, 93 per cent stated...)
- For pages and chapters, e.g. pp.6-8, Chapter 3
- For values in a Likert scale
- Words and figures would have to be mixed, e.g. nine to 11-year-olds should be written as 9-11 year olds
Other tips when using numbers:
- Use words when making generalisations, e.g. 'hundreds of people', or with manageable fractions, e.g. one-and-a-half
- With decimals of below zero, use 0., etc., i.e. a 0 before the full point
- Use 1,000,780,000, except when referring to computer memory, in which case use 640K RAM
- Millions should be written as a figure, e.g. 7 million
Use either UK style: 22 December 1997 or US style: December 22, 1997. Whichever style you choose, use it consistently throughout your text.
1980s (note, there is no apostrophe before the ‘s’)
The twentieth century (not the 20th century)
Full stops or periods (also known as full points) should be used:
- At the end of a sentence
- In etc., i.e., e.g.
Do not use in abbreviations, i.e. USA and UK, or in common acronyms, e.g. AIDS, HIV, ANOVA, MANOVA
1. In compound sentences:
- Before the conjunctions but, or, nor, for, so, yet
- 'Edward likes blue, but Jack likes red'
2. After introductory phrases:
- 'Similarly, several employees pointed to the high level of decentralisation'
- 'In 1914, war broke out'
3. In a list:
- 'France is famous for fine wine, fine food, beautiful countryside, and great literature'
4. Restrictive and non-restrictive elements – use commas for the latter but not for the former:
- A restrictive element is an element that is essential to the meaning of the sentence, for example, 'The painting of the painter's mother is a forgery'. The words 'of the painter's mother' define the painting.
- A non-restrictive element is when the element is not integral to the sentence, for example 'Riccardo Muti, one of the world's greatest conductors, resigned from La Scala, Milan'.
1. Used as a weak full point, to separate, but not to conclude, two independent clauses, which may be connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases:
- 'I like to take my holidays in Europe; my husband prefers to go to the USA'
- 'The managing director announced his resignation; as a result, the other directors have also resigned'
2. To separate elements in a list which contains commas:
- '(see for example Bartlett and Ghoshal, 1993; Romme, 1997; Miles and Snow, 1997)'
1. To introduce a list:
- 'Students are required to bring the following into the exam: working pens, compasses, calculators'
2. To introduce a clause which relates directly to the previous clause:
- 'I have an excellent driving record: I have no speeding fines or claims on my insurance'
View our guide on proof reading your manuscript.
Tips for non-native English speakers
This guide provides general advice on writing articles and lists some useful resources, including editing services for non-native English speakers.
Collaborative writing is now a common part of the research and professional publishing landscape.