How to make (scientific) texts sound professional?

Whether we like it or not, science mainly exists in English. Sadly, scientists whose mother tongue it happens to be, have a distinct advantage to get their work published. There are many reasons why this may be, but thats not the topic of this post. One thing for sure, the better you’re able to express yourself in English, the more likely is your manuscript read through when you submit it, regardless if it’s to be published or to be evaluated by your prof. How to beat the language barrier and write outstanding professional texts? Here are some tips and sites to help you.

Use synonyms
…but use them carefully. You don’t want to use a different wording for your main concept. For example, if you study shyness, then only talk about shyness and do not use ‘social inhibition’, ‘social awkwardness’, ‘timidness’, and ‘modesty’ interchangeably as they mean slightly different things. And when measuring something in psychology, ‘slightly different’ can already be p < 0.0001 significant. However, generally, when writing your text, you should try to avoid repetitions simply because by varying your vocabulary, you make the text more interesting to read. Furthermore, the text sounds more professional if you demonstrate a good command of English; it makes it sound that the author certainly knows what they’re talking about.

Example of Visuwords

This is how Visuwords visualises

Useful sources. Any thesaurus is of great help. Personally, I like Visuwords. It’s a fun tool to use, as it visualises the synonyms, antonyms and all kinds of derivations from the original word into a mind-map that you can drag around, zoom in and out as you feel like. Alternatively, I’d suggest something more traditional, like Thesaurus.com for example.
However, once having picked out a synonym, make sure it means what you want to express. For example, when you discuss results of your study and have used the words ‘correlation’ and ‘correlated’ and ask a thesaurus for an alternative, it’d offer you ‘correspondence’, which might not fit well into every context. So make sure you check the meaning of the word before you type it in. Dictionary.com helps you out.

Use transitional words and phases
You want the text to flow, not jump from one idea to another, to yet another and so on. Use connectors such as ‘also’, ‘similarly’, ‘unlike’, ‘moreover’. These simple additions put sentences into a relationship with one another and help the reader track your ideas.

Useful sources. There are certainly lots of  good pages, but I like the following:
Study Guides and Strategies: transitional words with examples
Visual Salt: transitional words well categorised

Use punctuation
English is rather liberal with commas and semicolons unlike some other languages. Still, there are some rules to follow and other principles to follow. For example, a comma often signifies a pause to stress something or separate one thought from another in the same sentence. In principle, you can go a long way without using any comma and still be grammatically on the right track but you can be sure to have your reader returned to the beginning of the sentence at least three times before they reach the period. Now, as your aim is to deliver your message as unambiguously as possible, you might want to think of how would a sentence sound when you’re saying it out loud; Imagine explaining it to your grandma. Where would you make a pause to check if she’s still with you?

Useful sources. University of Ottawa helps you out: http://www.writingcentre.uottawa.ca/hypergrammar/punct.html Still, be sure to differentiate between British and American grammar rules!

 

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Maris Vainre

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