What's more important: Demonstrating your language skills or demonstrating your research skills?
When posed in such a manner, that question implies a clear separation between language and content. However, that is not accurate; although conceptually the two may be regarded as distinct notions, in practice they cannot be separated. After all, apart from numerical data, ideas and findings are expressed – or given a concrete form – only through language. Of course, disciplines like mathematics or physics have a language of their own that isn’t always reliant on words. However, most scientific endeavours are articulated through words, and effective communication requires the skilful use of words. Let’s see why it is important to express your research clearly.
Errors can distract
Poor language can prejudice
More practically, poor language can prejudice your reviewers even before they have had the chance to take in the significance and originality of your research. They might conclude that someone who is not attentive to their language is likely to be equally careless in their research — an illogical but natural conclusion.
Better language is linked to increased citations
Researchers want to do more than merely publish their findings in the form of research papers — you hope that other academics will cite, or refer to, your research. Here again, language plays a vital role: writing with good language can increase your citations and academic profile.
Although it is the substantive content of a research paper that makes it more likely that the paper will be cited, it is also true that well-written papers are more easily remembered and therefore more likely to be cited. In other words, skilful use of language – that communicates the value and complexities of your research clearly and easily – will help you rise in your profession by making your work more widely known, remembered and appreciated.
Writing better to express your research better
So, how do you ensure that the language you have used doesn’t stand in the way of presenting your findings? Better still, how do you use language in such a way that it aids the presentation? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Aim to reduce errors
Eliminating errors is only the first step but it is an important one because it ensures that readers are not distracted and can focus on your message. For most researchers, this level of competency is sufficient.
Incidentally, this is the B2 level in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and is described thus:
“Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.”
2. Become adept at conventions of academic writing
The B2 level of proficiency, together with the mastery of other conventions of academic writing – such as the correct use of SI units and familiarity with different forms of citations and references – will free you up to focus on the research itself without having to worry about language.
3. Practise writing frequently
Writing well is a skill that can be acquired with practice – just as one learns to swim, drive a car or operate a scientific instrument – and that practice needs investment of time and effort. Therefore, practise writing as frequently as possible.
To sum up, while content is of primary importance, its value is enhanced by good language: an uncut diamond is valuable; cut and polished, it becomes priceless.
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