Writing scientific research papers is difficult. Science is challenging to begin with, but transforming the hard work you’ve done in exploring a unique and compelling topic into a clear and coherent discussion that is understandable by readers both within and outside your specialty can be extremely difficult.
In fact, scientific writing has come under fire in recent years because so much of it has become impenetrable to those who aren’t experts in the subject under discussion. To help you improve the quality of your scientific research paper writing, we’ve compiled a list of ten typical mistakes found in scientific research paper writing.
- Not keeping the reader in mind. It’s important to remember that papers are meant to be read, not filed away for history. Always write with the reader in mind and consider what the reader will need to know in order to understand your paper at each stage of the writing. If you imagine that you are writing to a specific person, you will likely have a clearer paper.
- Not identifying abbreviations. Building on our first point, it’s important to remember that not every reader will be familiar with abbreviations used in your field of study. On the first reference, give the full term and then use the abbreviation for subsequent references. That way, students and others who may not share the same knowledge level will be able to understand every word.
- Writing an obscure or confusing abstract. The abstract is your audience’s first contact with your paper, and it will serve as a guide to help readers determine whether they will read your paper. An abstract that is confusing, incomplete, or boring will drive readers away before they have even given your paper a once-over.
- Writing too much. No one wants to read overlong papers. Instead, write only as much as is needed to convey your findings. Your readers will thank you for not wasting their time with unnecessary discussions.
- Devoting too much space to the introduction. Similarly, papers that devote too much space to the introduction can lose readers’ attention quickly. As a rule of thumb, keep the introduction to less than 10% of the total length of the paper. If the introduction goes longer, you aren’t really introducing the topic but have almost certainly transitioned into analysis or discussion.
- Grammar errors. Many who write scientific research papers are writing in their second or third languages. English is the most common language for international research papers, but French, Spanish, and Russian are also widely used languages. Some journals require abstracts in multiple languages. Whatever language you use, be sure that you have mastered the grammar essentials so your writing will be smooth and readable. If you find that this is a special challenge for you, you might benefit from hiring a professional writer and asking that expert, “Can you write my research paper for me please?”
- Overuse of the passive voice. In the past, academics viewed the passive voice as important for conveying neutrality, but the passive voice is confusing, lacks clarity, and saps papers of energy. Use the active voice to give your paper a more robust tone and avoid the potential confusion that passive voice sentences can create.
- Repetition of words and phrases. In scientific writing, there is already a lot of repetition in describing each step of the process and referring repeatedly to the same variables and results. Don’t compound the exhaustion of repetition by using the same verbs over and over. Instead, vary your word choice as much as practicable to keep the writing engaging.
- Beginning sentences with the author’s name. In the past, the argument from authority prioritized the author as essential for credibility. But today the data and evidence are given priority. Therefore, where possible, deemphasize authors in your writing by discussing facts and evidence rather than who provided that information. The authors should, of course, be cited.
- Tiny texts on graphs and charts. This is perhaps more of a pet peeve of editors than a mistake per se, but your paper is less likely to be seen favorably if readers can’t figure out what’s in the charts or graphs because the text is too small. Make sure all text used in your paper is legible to the average reader.