In Academic Writing, the Simplest Sentence is Often the Best One


Posted by Magnum Proofreading Staff | September 18, 2018 | Quick Fixes


A lot of academic writers get fancy and place the main clause of a sentence at the end. This technique has its advantages in fictional writing but is rarely the best choice in academic writing. I have seen this mistake committed at least once in the majority of papers I have edited over the years.

Here is an example of this type of sentence from a research paper I edited recently:

For composite samples with more than 0.5% nano-Al2O3 sintered at 450°C, ductility was reduced.

There is nothing grammatically or technically wrong with this sentence. However, one of the goals of academic writing is to present one’s findings as straightforwardly as possible.

Giving details (nano-Al2O3 content and temperature) first and the main idea (the finding that ductility was reduced) last, as this author has done, is not especially straightforward.

Readers can follow sentences most naturally when the main idea is presented at the beginning. (A useful discussion of this idea is presented in Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools, for those who are interested.) The author of the example above would have done better to put the main point he was making at the very beginning of this sentence.

I rephrased this sentence during editing. In the document we returned to this author, the revised sentence read as follows:

Ductility was reduced in composite samples with more than 0.5% nano-Al2O3 sintered at 450°C.

This sentence is noticeably better for the intended audience, who will prefer sentences that are straight to the point.

I hope this quick tip helps you with your own academic writing!