Logo for Dr Anna Clemens PhD who teaches scientific writing courses for researchers
Logo for Dr Anna Clemens PhD who teaches scientific writing courses for researchers

My 4 Top Tips to Improve Your Scientific Writing

My 4 Top Tips to Improve Your Scientific Writing

You want my top tips for writing a clear and concise paper? You’re in the right place!

Would you like to write better papers in less time but don’t know where to start? I’m sharing four strategies today that will help you to improve your scientific writing. Here we go:

1. Know what your Story is

In my experience, most scientific authors agree that telling a story in their paper is essential. But what I find is that most of the stories told in papers could be more concise – for example, with a more clearly defined central message and key conclusions.

Apart from improving a paper’s quality, writing a paper without knowing what the story is also wastes time: An author will likely cut whole sentences and even paragraphs once they realise those aren’t necessary to tell the story. I read introduction sections of papers that are too broad all the time – resembling descriptions you may find in a textbook rather than contextualising the problem the authors are solving.

I do understand why some academics are hesitant to invest time in planning the story of their paper beforehand, for example through storyboarding. It can seem like procrastination to spend hours identifying essential story elements instead of actually writing. What makes matters worse is that some professionals claim that outlining isn’t paper writing – implying that engaging in activities like planning your paper isn’t as valuable as putting strings of words onto a page.

I argue that storyboarding and outlining are writing tasks very much worth investing time in. You’ll win back far more time in the long run than you spend in outlining, and your papers will be clearer and more streamlined.

This is why my online course, The Researchers’ Writing Academy, includes a whole module on developing the story of a paper. If you are interested to join the Academy, register for the free webinar first (click the pic just below). This way you’ll know immediately whether the course would be the ideal next step for you!

Graphic inviting scientist to register for our free interactive writing training

2. Guide your reader through your paper

It doesn’t suffice to know what the story of your paper is – you need to make sure your reader gets it too. When working several hours every day on a research project, it becomes difficult to imagine how little an outsider knows about it. And how little effort they are ready to invest trying to understand it.

This means: If you want your paper to be peer-reviewed, read and cited, you have to make it easy for your reader. I don’t mean “dumbing down the science” but taking your reader by the hand and guiding them through your story and paper. There are a few strategies that are helpful here:

One is a clear structure. To achieve this, I recommend storyboarding (see point #1) and defining all essential story elements before you sit down to write the text. I also believe it’s a good idea to roughly outline all paragraphs of a section before writing it. This ensures that you aren’t taking your reader on sidetracks that are irrelevant to your story.

Another strategy to ensure you aren’t letting go of your reader’s metaphorical hand is making your writing flow. Flow means to link sentences and paragraphs together so that the information provided builds up logically step-by-step. This technique prevents you from leaving gaps in your writing, which your readers may not be able to easily overcome because they’re lacking knowledge about the topic that you only have in your head.

3. Keep it Simple

I don’t know exactly at what point during our education we pick up this habit. So many scientists write and sometimes even speak about their research using unnecessarily over-complicated language. It may seem like a paradox, but you can hide a lot of uncertainties about your data and story in convoluted, expert-sounding language.

Using language that is hard to understand doesn’t serve you well. It doesn’t impress editors, peer-reviewers or readers. On the contrary, they may be more likely to dismiss your paper because they don’t get why they need to care about your work or get annoyed about the extra work they have to put in to assess it.

Most of us have to unlearn the complicated language we default to in writing. One “trick” I teach in the Researchers’ Writing Academy (an online course) and my workshops is to simplify the writing in the editing stage by replacing as many nouns with verbs as possible. Our brains find it easier to comprehend sentences when the central meaning is conveyed through a verb and not a noun. For example, try replacing wording such as “we report the observation of X” with the simpler “we observed X”.

4. Keep it Concise

Many of my course students and workshop participants tell me that their writing is too verbose and that they struggle to keep to word limits. Sound familiar? Verbosity is related to complexity and is another factor that makes our writing hard to read. It also wastes space, and thus, your reader’s time.

If you want to make your writing more concise, question each paragraph, sentence, and even word in your paper: Do you really need it for your paper to make sense? For example, avoid words such as “certainly”, “obviously” and “simply”. They just bulk up your text.

This doesn’t mean, however, that shorter is always better. You may need to spend a few lines explaining a certain topic or observation – depending on the readership of your target journal. Knowing your audience is key!

There you have it: The top 4 ways to improve your scientific writing. Are you using these strategies in your writing already or did you get inspired to try out a new one?

If you would like to learn a repeatable process to write a paper for high-ranking STEMM journal once and for all, I’d recommend taking the free interactive training — you just need to register below. Happy writing!

Promo graphic for our free scientific writing course

Does writing for a high-impact journal feel intimidating? Partly because you’ve never received proper academic writing training?

In this free online training, Dr Anna Clemens introduces you to her template to write papers in a systematic fashion — demystifying the process of writing for journals with wide audiences.

Share article

My 4 Top Tips to Improve Your Scientific Writing

You want my top tips for writing a clear and concise paper? You’re in the right place!

Would you like to write better papers in less time but don’t know where to start? I’m sharing four strategies today that will help you to improve your scientific writing. Here we go:

1. Know what your Story is

In my experience, most scientific authors agree that telling a story in their paper is essential. But what I find is that most of the stories told in papers could be more concise – for example, with a more clearly defined central message and key conclusions.

Apart from improving a paper’s quality, writing a paper without knowing what the story is also wastes time: An author will likely cut whole sentences and even paragraphs once they realise those aren’t necessary to tell the story. I read introduction sections of papers that are too broad all the time – resembling descriptions you may find in a textbook rather than contextualising the problem the authors are solving.

I do understand why some academics are hesitant to invest time in planning the story of their paper beforehand, for example through storyboarding. It can seem like procrastination to spend hours identifying essential story elements instead of actually writing. What makes matters worse is that some professionals claim that outlining isn’t paper writing – implying that engaging in activities like planning your paper isn’t as valuable as putting strings of words onto a page.

I argue that storyboarding and outlining are writing tasks very much worth investing time in. You’ll win back far more time in the long run than you spend in outlining, and your papers will be clearer and more streamlined.

This is why my online course, The Researchers’ Writing Academy, includes a whole module on developing the story of a paper. If you are interested to join the Academy, register for the free webinar first (click the pic just below). This way you’ll know immediately whether the course would be the ideal next step for you!

Graphic inviting scientist to register for our free interactive writing training

2. Guide your reader through your paper

It doesn’t suffice to know what the story of your paper is – you need to make sure your reader gets it too. When working several hours every day on a research project, it becomes difficult to imagine how little an outsider knows about it. And how little effort they are ready to invest trying to understand it.

This means: If you want your paper to be peer-reviewed, read and cited, you have to make it easy for your reader. I don’t mean “dumbing down the science” but taking your reader by the hand and guiding them through your story and paper. There are a few strategies that are helpful here:

One is a clear structure. To achieve this, I recommend storyboarding (see point #1) and defining all essential story elements before you sit down to write the text. I also believe it’s a good idea to roughly outline all paragraphs of a section before writing it. This ensures that you aren’t taking your reader on sidetracks that are irrelevant to your story.

Another strategy to ensure you aren’t letting go of your reader’s metaphorical hand is making your writing flow. Flow means to link sentences and paragraphs together so that the information provided builds up logically step-by-step. This technique prevents you from leaving gaps in your writing, which your readers may not be able to easily overcome because they’re lacking knowledge about the topic that you only have in your head.

3. Keep it Simple

I don’t know exactly at what point during our education we pick up this habit. So many scientists write and sometimes even speak about their research using unnecessarily over-complicated language. It may seem like a paradox, but you can hide a lot of uncertainties about your data and story in convoluted, expert-sounding language.

Using language that is hard to understand doesn’t serve you well. It doesn’t impress editors, peer-reviewers or readers. On the contrary, they may be more likely to dismiss your paper because they don’t get why they need to care about your work or get annoyed about the extra work they have to put in to assess it.

Most of us have to unlearn the complicated language we default to in writing. One “trick” I teach in the Researchers’ Writing Academy (an online course) and my workshops is to simplify the writing in the editing stage by replacing as many nouns with verbs as possible. Our brains find it easier to comprehend sentences when the central meaning is conveyed through a verb and not a noun. For example, try replacing wording such as “we report the observation of X” with the simpler “we observed X”.

4. Keep it Concise

Many of my course students and workshop participants tell me that their writing is too verbose and that they struggle to keep to word limits. Sound familiar? Verbosity is related to complexity and is another factor that makes our writing hard to read. It also wastes space, and thus, your reader’s time.

If you want to make your writing more concise, question each paragraph, sentence, and even word in your paper: Do you really need it for your paper to make sense? For example, avoid words such as “certainly”, “obviously” and “simply”. They just bulk up your text.

This doesn’t mean, however, that shorter is always better. You may need to spend a few lines explaining a certain topic or observation – depending on the readership of your target journal. Knowing your audience is key!

There you have it: The top 4 ways to improve your scientific writing. Are you using these strategies in your writing already or did you get inspired to try out a new one?

If you would like to learn a repeatable process to write a paper for high-ranking STEMM journal once and for all, I’d recommend taking the free interactive training — you just need to register below. Happy writing!

Promo graphic for our free scientific writing course

Does writing for a high-impact journal feel intimidating? Partly because you’ve never received proper academic writing training?

In this free online training, Dr Anna Clemens introduces you to her template to write papers in a systematic fashion — demystifying the process of writing for journals with wide audiences.

Share article

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Photography by Alice Dix