In Publishing Services at Ochsner Health, we read hundreds of scholarly papers every year. We are proud to help bring new and insightful information to our readers, and we recognize the importance of the wide dissemination of knowledge for the advancement of medicine (see our open-access publishing model).
Because the information we deliver is so impactful and because the Ochsner Journal audience is comprised of a diverse range of readers with different personal and professional backgrounds, the readability of the papers we publish is imperative. Even medical professionals can become confused when writing is unclear and imprecise. The good news is that you don’t have to have a degree in English or take a writing course to improve the readability of your work. Here are some easy-to-use tips for improving the clarity and precision of your scholarly writing.
Avoid passive voice so that your readers understand who is performing the action in a sentence. Use active voice instead by placing your subject at the beginning of the sentence.
- Passive: Blood samples were collected.
- Active: Nurses in the intensive care unit collected blood samples.
Clearly define the subjects of your sentences. Never use a standalone pronoun (it, this) to begin a sentence. Instead, use nouns (the procedure, this incident). By beginning each sentence with a noun, even if the usage feels repetitive to you, your readers will understand immediately what you mean and will not have to reread the previous sentence to try to figure out what “it” or “this” is.
- Example: It showed no evidence of metastatic disease.
- Better: Computed tomography scan showed no evidence of metastatic disease.
Be specific with time. Words like recently and phrases like in the past decade quickly become meaningless with the passage of time.
- Example: A recent study by Smith et al suggests…
- Better: A 2016 study by Smith et al suggests…
- Example: We reviewed case reports from the past decade.
- Better: We reviewed case reports published between January 2009 and December 2019.
Remember to complete comparisons. If using words like better, worse, more, and less, make sure to specify what is better than, worse than, more than, or less than what.
- Example: Natural sugars are more suitable for a nutritious diet.
- Correction: Natural sugars are more suitable than artificial sugars for a nutritious diet.
- Example: Of the 265 children surveyed, 96% said they liked the nasal spray flu vaccine better.
- Correction: Of the 265 children surveyed, 96% said they liked the nasal spray flu vaccine better than the injection.
Imprecise writing weakens your work and can make the difference between acceptance and rejection. We will present more scholarly writing tips at the Ochsner Journal Blog in a subsequent post.