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Researching & Writing a Scholarly Paper: Basic Rules of Manuscript Language

This guide is there to assist you with the basics of researching and writing in the academic world


Manuscript language should be

  • Accurate
  • Concise
  • Clear
  • Objective

Prevent spelling errors by using a spellchecker in English (SA). Common language errors include incorrect tenses, grammar, sentences, and paragraphs. Check the journal's Guide for Authors for additional language specifications.


  • Have one paragraph for each distinct topic
  • Begin a paragraph with a topic sentence, and end in conformity with the beginning.
  • Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
  • Parallel structures are simpler to parse as a reader. Retain consistent tenses within each paragraph.
  • Provide a logical transition from one paragraph to another to render a clear flow, thus guiding the reader from one topic to another.
  • Paragraphs are similarly constructed to sentences, bringing the reader from the "familiar" at the start to new ideas towards the end.
  • Fill logical holes empathising with a smart reader who genuinely wants to understand the flow of ideas.


Take care to use the proper tenses.

Present tense: Use the present tense for known facts and hypotheses

Past tense: Use the past tense for describing experiments that have been conducted and the results of these experiments

Remember: avoid shifting tenses within a unit of text: a paragraph, sub-section or section.


Use the active voice to shorten sentences.

The passive voice can be used in the Methods section, but otherwise using the active voice will shorten sentences and make them more dynamic and interesting for the reader. The phrase "we found that" signals to the reader that you are describing results. It is more concise than "it has been found that there had been", and more to the point.

Avoid abbreviations and acronyms

  • avoid contractions (it's, isn't or weren't) as these are not often used in professional writing
  • avoid abbreviations / acronyms except for very well-known ones
  • avoid acronyms as replacement for citations
  • avoid acronyms in the abstract and conclusion

Eliminate redundant words or phrase

  • due to the fact = because or since
  • immediately apparent = apparent
  • in the case that = in case
  • and also = and
  • in order to determine = to determine
  • to try and determine = to determine

Double check unfamiliar words or phrases


Write direct and short sentences.

The average length of sentences in scientific writing is only about 12-17 words.

Include only one piece of information per sentence

Sentences should be in short, factual bursts.

Avoid making multiple statements in one sentence

Convey a single idea per sentence. Link sentences together within a paragraph to provide a clear storyline.

Keep related words together

Closely place the subject and verb to allow the reader to understand what the subject is doing.

Pay attention to the order in which you write a sentence

The "stress position" within a sentence contains new information to be emphasized. The "topical position" contains old information leading to the point to be emphasized. The topical position comes before the stress position.

Put statements in a positive form

  • positive: "He usually came late."
  • negative: "He is not very often on time."