Make your writing clear
Say what you mean
For example, the sentence
An increase in pressure drop caused a decrease in the likelihood of ignition success.
suggests direct causation. However, if this was an observational study, the two outcomes were probably observed to occur together, but direct causation was not demonstrated. If so, the sentence should be phrased as
An increase in pressure drop was associated with a decrease in the likelihood of ignition success .
Pronouns are words that are used to refer to other nouns. Examples include it, which, this, that and they. The noun that a pronoun refers to should be made clear to readers.
For example, in the sentence
X binds Y, which enables Z.
it is unclear what the word which refers to: X, Y, or the binding of X and Y.
To clarify, the sentence could be rephrased as
X binds Y, and this binding enables Z.
or more directly
Binding of X to Y enables Z.
Make your writing specific
Use specific descriptions
For example, in the sentence
Fuel consumption slightly improved during operation.
Whether the improvement means an increase or a decrease is unclear. This sentence would be better rephrased as
Fuel consumption slightly decreased during operation .
Avoid vague descriptions when describing quantities. For example, change
Nearly half a dozen studies have been performed.
to the more specific
Five studies have been performed.
Also quantify vague descriptions when possible. For example,
Italy incinerates much of its waste at waste-to-energy plants.
could be changed to the more specific
In Italy, approximately 6 million tons of municipal solid waste are incinerated annually at waste-to-energy plants .
Use simple language
Remove unnecessary words
Rephrase wordy sentences to convey your meaning more directly. For example,
Our results showed that the design of the tulip shape bluff-body had a significant promotion effect on flame stabilization.
could be rephrased as
The design of the tulip shape bluff-body significantly promoted flame stabilization .
In another example,
Due to the fact that we observed that the titanium foil was not flat, it is tempting to speculate that the warpage might potentially have caused uneven glue thickness.
could be rephrased as
Because the titanium foil was not flat, the warpage might potentially have caused uneven glue thickness .
The same information should not be repeated in adjacent sentences. For example, in
The energy storage capacity increased as the current density decreased. Therefore, energy storage capacity and current density are directly related .
the second sentence could be deleted, because both sentences describe the same direct relationship.
Use sentence structure to guide readers
Place the topic near the beginning of a sentence, and consider making the topic the subject of the verb.
Structuring sentences in this way helps clarify the main topic of the sentence to readers.
The partial cooling of the heat exchanger decreased the gasket contact pressure.
suggests to readers that the sentence is about the partial cooling of the heat exchanger.
The gasket contact pressure was decreased by the partial cooling of the heat exchanger .
suggests to readers that the sentence is about the gasket contact pressure.
Refer to concepts that you have already introduced at the beginning of a sentence, and place new information at the end of a sentence.
Structuring sentences this way helps guide readers through the information presented across sentences. Referring to something that has already been mentioned at the beginning of a sentence helps readers understand how that sentence relates to the sentence before it. Placing the new information at the end of a sentence (which is sometimes called the “stress position”) emphasizes that information to readers.
For example, in the following sentence
Marine resources are generally collected for investigation using pipe-shaped samplers. The pipe penetration part limits the sampling range of pipe-shaped samplers, and therefore they are inefficient and expensive for investigating sediments.
the first sentence does not clearly specify that the topic is pipe-shaped samplers, because pipe-shaped samplers is not introduced until the very end of the sentence. In addition, it is not readily clear how the second sentence is connected to the first sentence. Therefore, readers may find the information difficult to follow.
The same information could be rephrased more clearly as
Pipe-shaped samplers are generally used to collect marine resources for investigation. However, they are inefficient and expensive for investigating sediments, because the sampling range is limited to the pipe penetration part .
Here, the first sentence establishes that the topic is pipe-shaped samplers. The second sentence uses however to signal a contrast to readers, connects to the first sentence using they, then provides new information describing the limitations of pipe-shaped samplers. The story is easier for readers to follow.
Phrase comparisons clearly
If you use comparative words (such as words ending in -er, more and less), be sure to specify what is being compared.
For example, the sentence
Stride frequency is higher on flat bends.
is unclear because the word higher suggests a comparison, but the sentence does not specify the comparison. The sentence should be rewritten to state both of the things being compared
Stride frequency is higher on flat bends than on cambered bends.
or the comparative word (higher) could be rephrased as
Stride frequency is high on flat bends .
Increases and decreases
Increase and decrease should be used to compare changes in values within the same group over time but not to compare differences in the values across different groups.
The baby’s height was decreased compared with the man’s height.
is phrased awkwardly and may incorrectly suggest that the baby and the man started out with the same height, and then the baby’s height decreased. Instead, what is actually meant is:
The baby’s height was less than the man’s height.
or, if phrased more directly,
The baby was shorter than the man.
This same principle applies to describing different groups in a scientific experiment. For example,
Life-long learning (LLL) scale scores were increased in the control group compared to the experimental group.
should be rephrased as
Life-long learning (LLL) scale scores were higher in the control group compared to the experimental group .
But increased can be used if a group is being compared to itself, e.g.,
Life-long learning (LLL) scale scores increased over time in the experimental group.
Times, fold or percentage changes
Descriptions of changes in terms of times, fold or percentage can often be unclear and should be phrased carefully.
Stating that a value changed to a certain value is different from saying that the value changed by a certain value. The word to should be used if the final value is being described, and the word by should be used if the degree of change is being described.
For example, if X increased from 100 to 300, the following descriptions could be used:
X increased to 300.
X increased by 200.
X increased to three times its initial amount.
X increased threefold.
X increased by 300%.
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