Why reading is the ‘secret’ writing skill

Editors, reviewers, and other readers of your work have expectations for where they will find your information. If what they are looking for is not where it is supposed to be, they may stop reading. Hence, you need to know how journal articles are usually presented.

Reading other researchers’ articles allows you to see the way things should be done. Reading thoroughly and widely exposes you to English academic language and scientific writing style, which guides you as you begin writing. You will see how manuscripts are typically structured and worded, and you will learn how to build and support your own argument.

If you read an article that was very easy to read, try to understand why:

  • Did the author use active voice (“X showed Y”) instead of passive voice (“Y was shown by X”)
  • Did the author use short and clear sentences?
  • Did the author define special words and abbreviations?
  • Did the author provide concrete examples to help explain abstract ideas?
  • Did the author separate different ideas into different paragraphs that were presented in a logical order?
  • Did the author organize the article sections in a conventional order?

 

The above are techniques that you can use in your own writing style. Conversely, when you read a badly written article, try to understand what made it so difficult to read. The author probably used long sentences and complex words, or did not logically organize his or her ideas. You should avoid these faults in your own writing to ensure that your paper is clearly communicated to readers worldwide.

You do not have to write in a revolutionary new way when preparing a manuscript for submission. Allow the existing work to guide you. Learning and following the common vocabulary and manuscript structures used in your field allows others to quickly find what they are looking for.

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Strategies for reading

Deciding which academic articles to read can feel like an intimidating task, particularly if your research interests are in a well-established field. A keyword search in online databases such as EconLit, PsycInfo, PubMed, SCOPUS, and Web of Science may yield hundreds or even thousands of results.