5 Tips for Improving the Style of Your Paper
Writing a paper in another language is tremendous challenge and I continue to be impressed how well our authors succeed at this difficult task. My experience after more than ten years of editing NAI papers is that authors need help in two areas. The first is in correcting grammar, and it is important to get this right. The second is in rewording sentences to make the text flow in a logical and easy-to-read way. The better style a paper has, the more likely reviewers and editors will be impressed. Here are five tips on improving style based on my experience.
1. Try not to overuse key phrases, especially in the same sentence. If your paper is about “gel permeation chromatography of polymers from oak tree bark”, don’t keep repeating this phrase as it is tiring for the reader. Use shorter forms or simple substitutes like “it”, “this” etc.
2. Avoid very long sentences – two shorter sentences are better than one very long one.
3. When referring to figures and tables use the present tense – “the fit is shown in Fig 1”, not “the fit was shown in Fig 1” – as the reader is in the process of reading in the present.
4. Avoid a “hanging phrase” at the end of sentences by moving it to the front. For instance “The results were ……… , as shown by FTIR”, is much better written as “FTIR showed that …….”. Also, “… , respectively” is easily overused and is usually not needed.
5. Resist the temptation to write separate sentences like “The above results show that we succeeded in achieving our goal.”. If the statement is true, the reader will have already realized it. If you really want to make this sort of statement, include it in a sentence explaining the result – “the presence of a signal at xxx confirmed that we had isolated yyy”.
The topic of this month’s column is typical errors in texts written by Japanese authors.
Rather than simply point these out, however, it might be useful to explore one of the most common errors by far – namely, the use of articles (‘a’, ‘an’ or ‘the’).
It may help to know that articles are actually a type of adjective; in other words, they describe a noun. Even more useful is knowing that they belong to a group of adjectives called ‘determiners’, which also include the words ‘my’, ‘his’, ‘your’, ‘their’, etc.
Each of these words ‘determines’ the importance of the noun that they describe. Regarding the articles ‘a’ and ‘the’, ‘a’ is applied to nonspecific nouns or nouns that are one of many (e.g. “I picked a colony from the plate”), while ‘the’ is applied to specific nouns (e.g. “I picked the biggest colony from the plate”).
In other words, ‘the’ singles out a specific noun in a sentence, giving that noun more emphasis and importance. A further error often arises in the use (or rather overuse) of ‘the’. In a paper about the BRCA1 gene, for example, it is correct to use ‘the’ whenever the word ‘gene’ is used. It is equally correct to use the gene name alone, BRCA1, as a proper noun. Frequently, however, Japanese authors will incorrectly write ‘the BRCA1’. This is analogous to placing ‘the’ in front of a person’s name or city. In short, you wouldn’t say “I’m going to the Tokyo” or write an e-mail to “Dear the Dr L.E.”! Hopefully this short piece has shed some light on the use of articles in English; of course, NAI is always there is help out if you are stuck!
2016/09/1 NAI Coordinator
2016/08/1 Editor KH
Science writing has a long and proud tradition, but is arguably more important now than ever before due to the exponential increase in both information and misinformation. Science enables a distinction to be made between truths and untruths. Good science writing underpins the very basis of science itself by allowing the creation of a structured and stable archive of man’s endeavours whilst also providing the central plank of the scientific method, peer review. Published papers must be written in such a way that a fellow scientist could repeat your experiment. Colleagues from within your field may also wish to take advantage of your techniques and will also appreciate clarity.
Thus high quality, clear, accurate and engaging science writing is vital. Personally I find that writing my paper’s findings in one sentence and then expanding that into key bullet points enables me to construct a focussed, clear, crisp first draft that I can then flesh out with relevant detail where necessary.
Here are a few tips for Japanese authors assimilated over ten years of editing your excellent manuscripts.
1. The most common mistake made by Japanese authors is the use of the word ‘the’. My understanding is that there is no clear translation of this word. What is clear is that its use in English and Japanese is very different. I have no obvious answers to this problem other than practise and experience.
2. Another common trait is the listing of numerical results and the parameters to which they correspond followed by the word ‘respectively’. For example; the results were 40.5 ml, 56.7ml and 89.4ml for Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3 respectively. It would be easier for a reader to understand if it was written; the result for Stage 1 was 40.5ml, for Stage 2 was 56.7ml and for Stage 3 was 89.4ml.
3. There is also a tendency for Japanese authors to use long sentences. Attention spans are reducing and thus shorter, simpler sentences are preferred by readers.
4. Another common error is the confusion between ‘r’ and ‘l’. This is intriguing for a Westerner since this error also often occurs when using the spoken word.
Despite these common errors, science papers written by Japanese authors are some of the best I have read. They invariably contain large amounts of well-presented data and well-reasoned and valid conclusions.
I hope these tips are of use to you as an author and look forward to the opportunity of editing your valuable research in the future.
2016/07/01 EDITOR J.F
There are several goals common to both writing and editing that need be addressed to create an effective manuscript.
An important goal of both the author and editor is clarity. All parts of a manuscript require effort to present a clear voice as to the aims of the study, the methods employed to achieve those aims, the results obtained, the interpretation of those results, and the impact of the findings in the field.
The author should be diligent of lapses in clarity, while the editor should identify instances of unclear text or logic.
A good editor is able to offer suggestions to improve clarity, while maintaining consistency with the author’s intentions. A second goal of both the author and editor is to establish text that provides a consistent flow between the aims of a study and the conclusions presented.
Authors may be tempted to over-reach in conclusions based of insufficient data. This over-reach may be hidden in terms such as “data not shown” or “as described previously”. These terms are valid additions to a manuscript, but must be justified in their usage.
An editor should insist that these terms are used appropriately, and that the data referred to is applied correctly. Of course, this can be an impossible task for editors not intimate with the particular field, and may require discussion with the author. A third goal of both the author and the editor is to generate a manuscript that is suitable for publication and acceptable by journal reviewers. While the two goals discussed above are consistent with this final goal, creating an acceptable manuscript requires due diligence to comply with the journal instructions. This task may seem trivial, however, non-compliance with simple journal instructions can delay publication or even cause manuscript rejection. All of these goals can be met using good communication between the editor and the author that is mediated by the competent staff of NAI.
2016/05/06 EDITOR G.P
Writing a good abstract First ?
read the instructions to authors!
This may sound obvious, but…..Abstracts for both papers and conferences may differ quite markedly in style and length and must be constructed according to the instructions.
Having said that, all Abstracts should include four parts: introduction, methods, results and conclusions.
These must be labelled as such if the instructions require a structured Abstract, as is sometimes the case, but it is a good idea to present the Abstract in this manner even if this is not formally required.
The introduction, or background, should provide a brief description of the context for the work to be presented, followed by the research question posed and investigated, or the rationale for the study or trial.
The methods should describe how the work was done and the results should clearly state the outcome, the level of detail depending on the space available and the nature of the subject matter. Finally, there should be a concluding sentence which avoids repeating the results but provides an interpretation of the results and an indication of their importance.
Let us be clear ? a good abstract is never easy to write and requires very clearly describing what was done and why it was done, and why the reader should be interested in the full content of the paper or the presentation. Verbosity must be avoided at all costs, and language as clear and simple as possible should be used. Jargon should be avoided as far as possible and the use of unusual abbreviations minimized.
It goes without saying that the quality of the English language must be excellent, because if the Abstract is hard to understand for that reason, the paper will not be downloaded and read, or the conference presentation will be avoided. For this reason, NAI offers editing services which not only correct the English grammar, but also employs professional scientists to consider the content of the Abstract in the light of the content of the paper or presentation itself, and able to advise accordingly on how to improve the impact of the Abstract.
2016/05/02 NAI DESK
論文を書くのに慣れていない方が１度やっておきたいことの一つに、"One Synapsis." という練習があります。
それはA4 1ページにまず ① Claim/s ② Findings that support the claim/s ③ Conclusion ④ Any future prospects or visions ⑤ Any specific instructions (e.g. word count limit)をまとめられるか確認してみましょう。
2016/04/01 EDITOR J.F
As an editor and long-time colleague of scientists and physicians whose first language is not English, I understand the challenges of presenting the results of months or years of work in a second language. My responsibility is to make sure that those research activities are accurately reported in clear and easy to read English. I regard the authors of those reports as my partners. As editor it is my job to learn from the text exactly what is the research question, what are the results, and, finally, what those results mean in answering the research question. This often involves asking questions regarding certain sections or even just words. My partners, the authors, are encouraged to explain the meaning in as many words as it takes. With this information I can accurately and concisely edit those previously unclear sections. Finally, the knowledge that an author’s hard work has been presented in a way that will advance knowledge in a particular field is my reward.