Authors spend a significant amount of their time researching for and writing articles to get published in esteemed journals. However, the paper rejection rates of some of the top-tier journals are estimated between 80-85%, which may increase to 90-95% for some high-impact journals.1 According to the American Psychological Association’s summary report of journal operations, the total research paper rejection rate in 2020 was approximately 75%.2 Even if a research paper describes a pathbreaking study, faulty grammar can significantly influence journal editors’ decisions.
Ensuring that the research paper language is grammatically error free is an essential step in the journey of a research paper from conception to publication. Good grammar and sentence structure enhance the readability of research papers, thus helping in effectively communicating with the target audience. Undertaking extensive research paper grammar checks prior to submission can ensure that the most common grammar mistakes are avoided. Few types of minor grammar mistakes and those that occur less frequently may be ignored by journal editors because these do not affect the readability of the paper to a significant extent, for example, article usage and placement, minor spelling errors, etc. In addition, such grammar mistakes may be fixed in the final post-acceptance proofreading stage by the journal. However, some kinds of errors are very important because they may alter the meaning of a sentence and convey a meaning opposite to that originally intended by the author. Thus, ensuring appropriate research paper language is of utmost importance in creating a publication-ready manuscript.
Common Grammar Mistakes in Research Papers and How to Avoid Them
The following are some of the common grammar mistakes usually observed in research papers:3,4,5
- Subject-verb disagreement: The subject and verb should always agree in number. Singular nouns should take singular verbs and plural nouns, plural verbs. If intervening prepositional phrases are present between the subject and the corresponding verb, ignoring these phrases is a good way of determining verb agreement. Alternatively, in case of complex sentences, rephrasing may also provide clarity and conciseness.
Incorrect: The patients who responded to the survey was mostly women.
Correct: The patients who responded to the survey were mostly women. (Subject: The patients; Verb: were, because it must agree with the plural subject)
Incorrect: One of the patients were diagnosed with diabetes.
Correct: One of the patients was diagnosed with diabetes.
- Incorrect pronoun placement: Pronouns are used to replace nouns, and accordingly the antecedent must be clear. Rephrasing usually helps resolve this issue.
Incorrect: The researchers describe the process of gathering information about acetaminophen and discussing it (Here, the pronoun “it” appears to refer to acetaminophen, which is incorrect and alters the intended meaning)
Better: The authors describe the process of gathering and discussing information about acetaminophen.
- Pronoun-verb disagreement
Some indefinite pronouns, which refer to nonspecific persons or things (e.g., any, each, either, neither, everyone, someone, anybody, nobody, somebody) always take singular verbs; some pronouns (several, many, both, few) always take plural verbs; and some pronouns (some, most, all, none) may take either. This quick tip would help ensure that the pronoun and verb agree in number.
- Some of the experiments are easy to conduct.At least some of their effort has paid off.Several research papers were discussed at the conference.Neither of them was consulted regarding the plagiarism issue.
- Use of contractions
Contractions are shortened words made by joining two words, for example, did + not = didn’t. The use of such contractions should be avoided in academic writing to ensure formality.
- Avoid: The authors didn’t conduct the experiment.
- Correct: The authors did not conduct the experiment.
- Dangling participles
Participles are verb forms that may also act as adjectives. In some sentences, when these participles modify the wrong noun, they are said to be “dangling.” To fix this, the sentence should be rephrased, and the correct or intended subject should be placed as close to the participle as possible.
- Incorrect: Focusing on the deadline, the study was completed quickly by the researchers.
- Better: Focusing on the deadline, the researchers completed the study quickly.
- Faulty parallelism
Parallel construction refers to using a similar pattern of words while describing a series or list of items. This error is observed mostly after the conjunctions “and” and “or.” While doing a final check, lists and series that have these conjunctions could be checked carefully to ensure that each item is using the correct combination of gerunds.
- Incorrect: Gerald likes to play chess, eating salads, and reading.
- Correct: Gerald likes playing chess, eating salads, and reading.
- Incorrect: The nurse examined the patient by checking the temperature and measured blood pressure.
- Correct: The nurse examined the patient by checking the temperature and measuring blood pressure.
Top 5 Research Paper Grammar Checks in Academic Writing
To summarize, the following are some important overall checks that could be conducted prior to submission to ensure a well-written, error-free research paper.
- Formal language: Avoid contractions and colloquialism
- Correct sentence structure: Correctly placed subject, verb, object, and other elements
- Subject-verb and pronoun-verb agreement in number, gender, and antecedent
- Word choice: Ensure correct usage of commonly confused words such as: if vs whether; between vs among; especially vs specially; affect vs effect; who vs whom
- Avoid sentence fragments (incomplete sentences that lack a subject or verb); these are more appropriate and effective when writing fiction
In almost all cases, when in doubt, consult dictionaries, style manuals, and journal guidelines for appropriate guidance.
- Khadilkar, S.S. Rejection blues: Why do research papers get rejected? J Obstet Gynecol India 68, 239–241 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13224-018-1153-1
- American Psychological Association. Summary report of journal operations, 2020. American Psychologist 76(5), 827-828 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000884; https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/statistics. [Accessed August 16, 2022]
- American Medical Association. AMA Manual of Style. Section 7: Grammar
- Onwuegbuzie, A.J. Most Common formal grammatical errors committed by authors. J Educational Issues 3(1) (2017). https://doi.org/10.5296/jei.v3i1.10839
- Fogarty, M. Dangling participles. https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/articles/dangling-participles/ (2019).
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