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.
A lot of our tendency to be overly wordy when we write simply arises from force of habit: writing in the same way that we might speak. However, in scientific writing it’s imperative that extra words not confuse or distract from the point you are making, or be a detriment to the overall readability of your paper. Furthermore, journal word limits for abstracts and sections of the paper make it even more crucial to express your research concisely.
Here are a few examples of common wordy expressions and more concise alternatives:
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 a case of 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 overcomplicate 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.
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.
For more ideas on how and why to write simply, visit Springer’s Author Academy.
by Scott Wysong, Quality Control Editing Team