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How to Improve our Writing and Grammar for Academic Publications

There are a variety of things we need to incorporate into our research papers to make them exceptional. Forming the idea and its research and planning takes up most of the process and our time in academic writing. We all know that the fundamentals of academic writing are that it should be clear, concise, focused and structured. Additionally, everything we write should be backed up by evidence.

This focus often leads to our grammar and writing clarity becoming more of an afterthought, which can have dire consequences, such as making us look unprofessional and careless. In this blog post, we briefly look at how we can improve our writing and grammar for academic publication.

A daunting process

It may be a little intimidating to think about how to elevate our research papers to an exceptional level, but perfect grammar and writing in academic publishing can only be achieved with consistent practise. There are, however, ways to ensure that we are using the best advice in the industry to achieve an outstanding piece of research.

Given the opportunity to enhance our writing, we should pay attention to the structure, avoid informal language and remove any semblance of over-personalisation or the use of personal pronouns. Writing shouldn’t be the biggest obstacle of our submission, and it doesn’t have to be if we follow the guidance set out in this post.

Getting started

The first hurdle in academic writing is usually the structure and arrangement of ideas that we will present in our research paper. As with any piece of writing, we should aim for coherence. Strategic signposting within the structure helps to ensure that readers can follow our argument easily. These main areas usually include:


Main body


● Reference

By including these four signposting steps, we indicate to the reader what is coming next and their position within the paper. Furthermore, these steps help quantify what the essay will accomplish. If we include a form of narrative numbering, we can signpost to the reader further on how the argument will unravel. For instance, we may write in our introduction, ‘this essay seeks to prove the three characteristics of ….’

To maintain the flow and structure of our argument, we can then utilise connecting words such as ‘first,’ ‘secondly,’ ‘thirdly’ throughout to highlight our well-structured and logical signposts at different points.

The Dos of Academic Writing

Write clearly and plainly

Avoid the use of flowery language and throw away the Thesaurus. Readers are generally more impressed by the quality of ideas than the use of multi-syllabic terms.

Exception: when appropriate, it’s okay to use the language/jargon in your field.

Write in active voice

We hear this a lot but is it always correct, and how do we know what is active and what is passive?

The difference between the two is the relationship of the subject of a sentence to the verb (action). That’s as technical as most of us want to get, so here is a simple and active example:

· The researcher wrote the paper.

The subject of the sentence (the researcher) carried out the action (wrote). The object of the sentence (the paper) is the thing being acted on, i.e. the paper was produced due to the researchers’ writing.

It makes a lot more sense when we look at the passive version of the sentence:

· The paper was written by the researcher.

The subject here is the paper that does not have an active relationship to the verb (was written) because the paper didn’t do the writing; the researcher did.

So how do we easily recognise the passive voice in our writing? We need to look out for word combinations like:

· by + someone, e.g. by the profession or by the patient

· to be, e.g. patients will be affected by or researchers are influenced by

· were, e.g. changes in the patients’ health were observed

Do we need to avoid the passive voice all the time?

Quite simply, no! Academic writing requires us to avoid writing in the first person, so we can’t write something like:

· I will discuss the theory of X.

Instead, we would write:

· The theory of X will be discussed.

So when should we avoid the passive voice?

We need to avoid it for clarity and to substantiate our evidence. Here is an example of when to avoid the passive voice:

· The studies conducted demonstrated the need for more B12 in certain patients.

The question here is, what studies? This leads to more questions like who conducted them and when.

We can set Microsoft Word to help find the passive sentences in our writing, but it won’t offer suggestions, so part of improving our writing is to be mindful of what an active and passive voice is and when either is best used or best avoided.

Varying our sentence structure

Have you ever read an article, paper or book where the sentence length tires you out? Most readers tire easily when they read a series of long sentences with multiple clauses. Yet, at the same time, they can feel rushed by a series of short, succinct sentences. To create a better reading experience for our readers, it’s good practice to vary the length and construction of our sentences as much as possible.

Using consistent tenses

The present tense is the most commonly used in academic papers, while the future tense is rarely used.

Exception: history papers and references to experiments done in the past can legitimately use past tense.

The Don’ts of Academic Writing

There is no I

Keeping personal pronouns “I, mine, me, my” out of our academic work is also essential. Most of our readers know who has written the paper. It is also wise to avoid using the word ‘you.’

Avoid personal views

Statements that put across our personal views over the factual observations we have made should be avoided. The research paper is meant to be based on objective findings rather than opinions so as not to put any doubt into the validity of our work.

Sidestep the archaic terms

It is important to remember that although we can use language and jargon relevant to our professions, using plain language makes the paper less about the author and more about the reader. Our aim is to write clearly so that our message, ideas and evidence flow within a simple structure.

Dodge informal language

Informal language can cause issues for academic writers, and sometimes the conversational tone of everyday language can protrude into our work. Such language distracts from the main arguments being made and lessens the academic style – it is reasonable in conversation but undermines the strength of our argument in its written form.

Knowing how to swap the informal with the formal may not be something we are consciously aware of – the way we speak often permeates the way we write, so here are a few examples to look out for:

· Major cities, like London and Paris = Major cities such as London and Paris

· A lot of people believe = A significant number of people believe

· Patients aren’t able to = Patients are unable to

Circumvent the colloquialisms

Something else we must consider greatly is colloquialisms – often synonymous with informal writing. Colloquialisms denote that we are writing specifically for an audience that understands the meaning of our words. However, the phrases we use might only be unique to our country. An example from the UK is the word ‘blinkered’ which many readers may not understand to mean a narrow point of view.

Therefore, it is essential to use standard and formal language to maintain a reader’s understanding regardless of their location.

Avoid the ‘qualifiers’

In addition, any other forms of personalisation such as emotive descriptors like ‘cheerfully’, ‘happily’, ‘sadly’ etc., can insert the author’s personal feelings into the findings and influence a reader’s opinion, which might not be correct.

The benefits of all our hard work

By following all of the simple rules outlined above, we build our scholarly character. We demonstrate that we understand the conventions of our profession and our peers and show that our work – our research and our writing – are tuned to the importance of what we do. Inevitably, an article or paper awash with spelling mistakes, an inconsistent or unclear structure, and little attention paid to the finessing of work that has taken us months to research and write would be considered weaker than one we had refined.

Useful resources

There are a variety of online resources that offer support for the improvement of grammar, such as the Academic Phrasebook, Grammar Resource and The Internet Grammar of English.

In addition, built-in software that is meant to detect errors, such as Grammarly, can be a great aid when writing, although such software should be used with caution as it’s not always accurate and doesn’t make us better writers. Quite often, such software can introduce errors we hadn’t even been aware existed.

The best resource any writer can have is the support of those who have a track record of success with writing published papers.

PA EDitorial offers services that exceed the standard overview of spelling, grammar and punctuation. Our staff of highly skilled copy editors will correct any mistakes pertaining to sentence structure, use of words and maintain consistency throughout the work to make it more impactful.

We are dedicated to cultivating a customer experience that puts professionalism at the forefront while using our knowledge of copy-editing procedures to elevate your work. We welcome enquiries from both businesses and individuals, so don’t hesitate to get in touch so PA EDitorial can start working with you.

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