Academic writing is often complex and involves the use of technical terminology, which can be challenging for the reader to comprehend. However, clear writing helps to bridge the gap between the researcher’s knowledge and the reader’s understanding by using concise and straightforward language. A well-written academic paper reflects the author’s proficiency in the subject matter and credibility as a scholar. Therefore, it is essential to prioritise clear and correct writing in academic papers to communicate ideas and research findings to the intended audience.

Common mistakes to avoid in your research paper

There are several pitfalls that researchers face when writing research papers. Broadly, these concerns might be classified as follows: 

Editorial (e.g. ignoring author guidelines while preparing and formatting the manuscript)

Content-related (e.g. ignoring the journal’s scope, using poor methodology, using poor-quality display items)

Ethical (e.g. falsification, fabrication, plagiarism)

Writing-related (organization, language and grammar).

Here, we will focus on the language errors that impair clear understanding and affect a manuscript’s chances of acceptance by a journal editor. 

Common language errors in academic writing

Language errors can make writing difficult to understand, less credible and less effective in communicating research findings. It is important for researchers to be aware of these errors and take steps to avoid them.

1. Poor organization and flow

Academic papers should be organized in a logical manner and have a clear structure and flow of ideas. Lack of coherence can make writing appear disjointed and difficult to understand.

2. Grammatical errors

Grammatical mistakes give a poor overall impression and can distract a reader from the great research you might have done. Here are the most common English grammar mistakes encountered in academic papers.

Incorrect tenses

A common confusion in scientific writing in the use of different tenses in different contexts or sections of a papers. To avoid incorrect tense usage, remember the following tips.

Use the past tense when describing something done to obtain results, e.g. conducting experiments, or when describing what was found in the results. Use the present tense when stating facts or describing general conclusions. Further, figures and tables must always be referred to in the present tense. Note the following examples:

Methods section

‘Fire ants were collected from mounds at three sites in the study area’.

Results section

‘DNA analysis revealed close associations among the ant species collected’. 

Introduction or Discussion section

‘Fire ants are known to have a painful and persistent sting’.

Incorrect punctuation

The following punctuation errors must be avoided.

(i) Comma splice: A comma splice occurs when two independent clauses are joined by a comma without a coordinating conjunction (‘and’, ‘but,’ ‘or’, etc.) or proper punctuation.

Incorrect: I want to go to the beach, I forgot my sunscreen.

Correct: I want to go to the beach. I forgot my sunscreen.

Correct: I want to go to the beach, but I forgot my sunscreen.

(ii) Run-on sentence: A run-on sentence occurs when two or more independent clauses are joined together without proper punctuation or conjunctions.

Incorrect: I want to go to the beach I forgot my sunscreen.

(iii) Sentence fragment: A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence that lacks a subject, verb or both.

Example: In the park, on a sunny day.

Subject–verb disagreement: This error occurs when the subject and verb do not agree in number.

Incorrect: ‘An image of the excavation sites are shown’.

Correct: ‘An image of the excavations sites is shown’.

3. Word choice errors

Wordiness: It is important to write concisely and use fewer words where possible, e.g. use ‘because’ instead of ‘due to the fact that’.

Wrong word: Similar sounding words or similarly spelt words get confused easily and can change the intended meaning entirely, e.g. ‘casual’ vs. ‘causal’, ‘continuous’ vs. ‘continual’, and ‘effect’ vs. ‘affect’.

Informal tone: While clear and simple language is preferred, do not use a very casual or informal tone in your academic writing. Avoid the use of contractions (don’t, wouldn’t, etc.) and casual terms like ‘kids’ for children.

4. Miscellaneous

• Inconsistent use of abbreviations and acronyms

• Spelling errors in scientific terms and scientist names

• Incorrect use of academic conventions and terminologies, e.g. incorrect symbols and units. 

Best practices researchers should follow to avoid language errors in their writing

Here are some best practices for researchers to follow to avoid language errors in research papers:

Be open to continued learning: Researchers must incorporate general reading (besides academic literature) in their daily routine to understand and learn correct grammar and punctuation. It is a good idea to attend workshops and webinars on academic writing and listen to relevant podcasts to pick up writing nuances. 

Use simple and direct language: Be clear and concise when trying to communicate your ideas. Further, use active voice instead of passive voice to make your writing clearer and more direct.

Read, edit and proofread your work: Read your paper multiple times to catch any errors, and have someone else read your paper and provide feedback. Remember that relying on in-built spellcheck functions may not be enough. Once you have made edits and revisions, proofread your work to spot any errors you may have missed.

By following these best practices, researchers can ensure that their writing effectively communicates their research findings.

Learn about the other mistakes that might lead to rejection of a manuscript here.

Visit the recording of our webinar on Avoiding Common Academic Writing Errors here.




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