Sentence Length: How to Improve Your Research Paper Readability

by Arushi Gupta
sentence length

Academic writing is vastly different from other forms of writing. It is more formal, complex, and nuanced. Unfortunately, many early career researchers lack formal training in academic writing, which often results in difficulties when it comes to writing research papers or dissertations. In an attempt to convey complex concepts, early career researchers often find themselves using lengthy, complicated sentences as starting sentences for research papers. Longwinded sentences lack clarity, are prone to ambiguity, and reduces readability. That is why experts recommend limiting the sentence length to approximately 12-15 words to ensure better clarity.

This article presents some expert tips to help you optimize sentence length and starting sentences for research papers and ensure that your research is both readable and easily understood.

Tips to optimize sentence length for better clarity and impact

Break down complex ideas: The best way to avoid lengthy sentences is to simplify complex ideas. Experts’ advice breaking difficult to communicate concepts into smaller sections and using shorter simpler sentences when writing. By doing so, each sentence can address a specific aspect of the concept, making it easier for readers to understand gradually. While it may be important to present in-depth explanations for complex ideas, there is no need to do so using long-winded sentences.

Use a mix of short and long sentences: Using only short sentences can affect the flow of the narrative and make it seem more abrupt. That is why it is important to ensure a balance between short and long sentences. While short sentences can convey clear and concise points, longer sentences can be used to communicate complex concepts in greater detail. Experts suggest using a combination of sentence lengths to make the paper more readable and keep readers engaged.

Choose to use active voice: Experts suggest using active voice when writing academic or scientific papers. While passive voice is sometimes necessary, the use of active voice gives your writing a certain sense of authority and also results in shorter and more direct sentences.

Eliminate unnecessary words: It is common to find writers inadvertently using connecting words, phrases, and unnecessary qualifiers in an effort to convey their thoughts and ideas lucidly. This leads to longwinded sentences which readers often find difficult to follow. Eliminating unnecessary, redundant words not only reduces sentence length but also enhances clarity.

Employ appropriate punctuation: Instead of stringing together phrases into one long sentence, use appropriate punctuation where relevant. For example, use semicolons to connect related but independent clauses, or dashes to emphasize specific points within a sentence. This allows readers to take a pause and follow your line of thought in an easier way.

Ensure coherence: This is critical when writing an academic or scientific paper. Ensure that your writing flows in a coherent and structured manner. Use conjunctions judiciously to provide necessary connections between ideas. This will help you avoid unwieldy sentences and ensure that your paper is more readable and engaging.

Address your audiences: It is important to know who you will be addressing through your paper. Ensure that the language that is used is appropriate for the kind of audience you are seeking to communicate with. Experts in a particular discipline, for example will not find it difficult or tedious to read and comprehend technical language but general audiences may be unable to understand jargon or technical terms and may need simpler language to be able to understand your thoughts and ideas.

Read out aloud: Experts suggest reading your paper out loud. This will help you identify possible errors and will also immediately highlight sentences that are too long and convoluted. If a sentence sounds too complicated when spoken, it may need to be revised and edited.

Invite feedback from mentors: Often authors are too close to their work to be able to see errors or identify writing that might need improvement. Requesting feedback on your paper from peers and supervisors will help ensure that you eliminate inadvertent errors.

Academic writing while tough, need not always be challenging. Following a structured approach, ensuring a coherent narrative, and being aware of sentence length will go a long way in making your paper or article easier to understand and consequently more impactful.

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