01 Feb 5 academic writing mistakes made by non-native English speakers
At Your English Lab we are asked to edit numerous manuscripts on a weekly basis. And regardless of the subject or nationality of the author, we seem to see the same mistakes time after time. So we thought it worthwhile to highlight some of these. Here´s our current top 5:
1Long sentences. In many languages, the use of long, elaborate sentences is regarded as good academic style. Not In English. In general, short, simple sentences sound better than long complicated ones; and they are easier to comprehend in any language. There is also less that can go wrong in a short sentence than a long one. Reducing sentence length, however, is easier said than done. One trick is to refrain from using redundant bulky phrases. These include – but are not restricted to – as can be seen from the obtained results, this paper provides an examination of, with respect to studies of X. Cut them out. You simply don´t need them. Instead use the results show, this paper examines, in studies of X.
2Verb position. Just as a long sentence is difficult to read, so is one in which the subject and verb are not positioned correctly. As a general rule, try to keep the verb as close to the subject as possible, rather than at the end of the sentence. To illustrate, compare the following two sentences:
The planning application, although organized ineffectively and not including a legally sound basis for some of its major proposals, was nevertheless submitted by the company.
The company submitted its planning application despite the document's ineffective organization and an unsound legal basis for some of its major proposals.
The second sentence reads better. Not only is it shorter, there is now a clear and strong connection between the subject (company), verb (submit) and object (planning application)
3The greengrocer´s apostrophe. This is a common mistake made by native English speakers, and given its increasing prevalence in social media and “text-speak”, it is no surprise that its use has filtered through to non-native authors. Defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “ An apostrophe placed incorrectly before the final s of a plural noun (e.g., a kilo of potato´s), this looks awful – even in text messages – so you should certainly avoid using it in formal writing.
4Vague intensifiers. Ask yourself if you really need to use words such as quite, very, extremely, or This is especially relevant for manuscripts reporting experimental data or trends. If, for instance, you need to say that a difference between two groups is extremely large, it is most likely because you have failed to make this clear by using appropriate diagrams and descriptive statistics in your results section. As with the bulky phrases described previously, try removing these from your writing and see how much better it reads.
5Informal phrasing. There is now a general trend towards encouraging us to write like a human, and whilst there is much to be said for letting the writer´s voice come through, do not interpret this as a license to litter your manuscript with informal or slang phrases. Avoid using words such as maybe, anyway, like (when making a comparison or providing an example), lots of, and things. Contracted forms such as doesn´t and it´s are also strictly forbidden.