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Features of language important for science writing

Features of language important for science writing

When writing your science articles, we’re very much bound to the rules of communication and the tools our language provides us to convey that message as clearly as possible. Clarity is the main indicator for effective science writing, specifically because we are writing about topics which can contain immense complexity. The aim is to convey that complex topic as clearly as possible. Thus, making it even more complex will only deter the reader, but more importantly, challenge the reviewer of your paper.

The reviewing process and how this relates to language

As part of the final process of getting your paper published, the main obstacle is the journal reviewing process which in most cases consists of 3 steps.

Step 1: you submit your manuscript to the journal and it will end up in the hands of the editor of the journal who will usually conduct the first assessment. The first assessment usually consists of checking whether the topic of the manuscript matches that of the journal’s scope, whether the text meets the journal guidelines (technical aspects such as length, reference formatting, etc.).

Step 2: the editor of the journal will either a) send back the journal to you with a “reject”. In this case, your manuscript will most likely not have received a review from a reviewer and therefore not receive any suggestions how the article can be improved. Reasons for a reject are listed in step 1. Therefore, selecting a journal is essential and should be done early on. The editor might also b) forward the manuscript to 2 blind reviewers for review. In

Step 3: If you received a reject, find another journal and make sure it meets the journal requirements and submit and go through the steps again. If the manuscript has been forwarded to reviewers, you can expect a reply from the editor within a month (if lucky) or 3 months or half a year (this very much depends on the journal, and we suggest you check regularly what the turnaround period is of journals. You do not want to be stuck waiting for half a year to receive any review (positive or negative) — of course positive is way better than negative. A reply usually will result in 4 decisions: publish without major changes; accept with ¬†minor changes, accept with major changes, or reject, but suggest to resubmit to the same journal if re-written. The later means that they like the topic but see major changes are needed (which might not be realistic) to make it publishable in their journal. An accept and resubmit with changes (minor or major) is great news! Few submissions receive a publish without major changes (ask your supervisor).

Achieving clarity through language

To achieve clarity of our writing, we need to be aware that our text requires organisation (rhetorical structures) and our language needs organising (the language rules that work in our favour).

We also need to be aware that the English language we use for publishing our manuscripts are in competition for meaning. This competition takes place at the level of:

  1. The whole text
  2. Paragraphs
  3. Sentences
  4. Words

The next sections give an overview of these 4 levels and the last section (punctuation) gives a good overview how we can use punctuation markings to favour the outcome of certain players in the competition.