So far, you have collated a set of sentences you might be able to use in your work later. You will now learn the most common flaws in sentences and then address these flaws. This section will also clarify the key features of exemplary writing: precision, brevity, and simplicity.
Write more precisely
One of the most important skills you will acquire during this program is how to write more precisely. That is, many writers use words that may be ambiguous. Their sentences thus seem hazy, and their arguments thus seem unconvincing. This section will illustrate how a few simple changes to your sentences can prevent this problem. For example, consider the following sentence
It was shown that, when leaders manifested humility, the participants had more confidence in their capacity to complete the thesis on time.
In this example, the word it is ambiguous. To whom or what does this word refer? Instead.
- the sentence could start with the phrase the results showed that or
- perhaps even better, the phrase it was shown that could be removed; the rest of this sentence implies this phrase
2.1 If you want to write precisely and professionally, you should initially avoid the word it. Although a legitimate word, most sentences that include it are ambiguous, verbose, or hazy. To illustrate
- it has been shown that should be researchers have shown that
- it is noteworthy that is usually a redundant phrase that can be omitted
- locate the word it in the sentences you have collected; you can merely read these sentences or use the Find function in Microsoft Word
- to remove the word it from these sentences, replace this word with a specific noun, omit the phrase that entails this word, or introduce some other change to the sentence
2.2 Furthermore, to enhance the precision of your writing, you should always insert a noun or noun phrase after the words this or these. To illustrate, consider the following sentence
In terms of the conclusion, this is consistent with the notion that humility appreciably diminishes personal doubts.
One of several problems in this sentence is the ambiguity. To who or what does this refer? Does the sentence refer to a finding, conclusion, participant, or what? Instead
- writers should insert a noun after the word this or these, such as this finding
- or sometimes writers can insert a noun phrase—a noun that is preceded by one or more adjectives—such as this interesting finding.
- locate the words this or these in the sentences you have collected; you can merely read these sentences or use the Find function in Microsoft Word
- in general, insert a noun or noun phrase after this or these
2.3 Furthermore, to enhance the precision of your writing, replace hazy verbs with more precise alternatives. That is, many verbs—such as came, done, get, give, make, put, ran, and take—correspond to diverse meanings Sentences that entail these words, therefore, are often vague and unconvincing. To illustrate, which word in the following sentence could be ambiguous?
When leaders manifested humility, the participants had more confidence in their capacity to complete the thesis on time
In this example, the word had could mean felt, reported, exhibited, or many other verbs. This word, therefore, could be replaced with a more specific verb. Therefore,
- in the sentences you have collected, identify the words that appear in the left column of the following table—perhaps using the Find function in Microsoft Word
- attempt to replace the majority of these verbs with precise alternatives, perhaps using the suggestions in the right column
- the words have, had, and has are often vague unless followed by a verb, such as have left; sometimes, these words indicate the sentence could be shortened
Arrive, visit, approach, derive, discovered
Complete, conduct, undertake, commit, wash, perform
To boost, to enhance, to improve, that enable, that facilitate,
Bought, received, fetched, persuaded, boarded, left, asked, encouraged
Donate, pay, lend, offer, administer, grant
Carry, embrace, retain, convene, met, receive, complete, store
Look, view, seen, find
Seem, examines, regarded, understand, determine, perceive
Reach, propose, suggest, implement, introduce, evoke, induce, cook, appoint, earn, pledge, form
Happen, unfold, exist, materialise, experience, discover
Often, this word implies the sentence could be shorter
Insert, position, place, replace, intersperse
Manage, operate, stretch, extend, flow, work, conduct, guide
Adopt, pinch, accompany, bring, purchase, endure, award, record
Has, Have, Had
Owns, exhibits, possesses, provides, entertains, engages, experiences, feels, receives
Often, this word implies the sentence could be shorter
Write more concisely
In most scientific reports, you should write as concisely as possible. You need to write concisely because of two reasons. First, when writing abstracts, journal articles, grant applications, and many other documents, the word limits are often tight. You want to be able to write as many arguments as possible within these limits. Second, concise writing seems sharper and thus more persuasive.
2.4 To write more concisely, you need to remove unnecessary words, phrases, sentences, or even paragraphs. To illustrate, consider these sentences. How would you condense these sentences
For example, Smith (2000) conducted a study that aimed to explore this association between the humility of supervisors and the confidence of candidates…
In terms of the conclusion, this finding is consistent with the notion that humility appreciably diminishes personal doubts.
- You could reduce aimed to explore to merely explored
- You could omit the phrase in terms of
- in the sentences you have collected, identify the words or phrases that appear in the left column of the following table—words or phrases that often indicate the sentence could be shortened
- attempt to remove some or most of these words—perhaps using the suggestions that appear in the right column of this table
Concerning words or phrase
in terms of
in regard to
in respect to
in relation to
in order to
in an effort to
in an attempt to
2.5 Some phrases are both imprecise and verbose. To illustrate, consider how you might improve these sentences.
A number of independent judges then evaluated the extent to which these descriptions of leaders manifest humility
This finding is consistent with the notion that humility appreciably diminishes personal doubts.
In this example, a more precise word could replace a number of, such as several, many, or even ten, depending on the circumstances. In addition, words that specify extent, such as appreciably, should be omitted unless essential and verifiable. These words are often redundant and unsubstantiated. Therefore
- in the sentences you have collected, search the phrase a number of
- if you locate these phrase, replace these words with a more specific quantity
- search words that represent extent, such as very, extremely, appreciably, considerably, and moderately
- if these words are unnecessary or unverifiable, remove these terms
You also need to write sentences that readers can readily understand. According to research on a notion called fluency biases, when readers cannot readily understand the sentences, they are often not as convinced. They doubt the veracity of your arguments.
2.6 For various reasons—such as to write simple sentences and to utilise commas correctly—you need to understand the concept of conditional clauses. A conditional clause is a phrase that explains when, where, or why something else is true. These clauses often begins with words like when, during, while, after, before, at, by, if and to. The following table illustrates some conditional clauses
When, where, or why this sentence is true—called a conditional clause
Before they left, participants completed a survey
Before they left
After they read a set of instructions, participants completed a survey
After they read a set of instructions
While immersed in water, participants completed a survey
While immersed in water
During the night, participants completed a survey
During the night
If they were willing to assist, participants completed a survey
If they were willing to assist
When they were ready, participants completed a survey
When they were ready
In the laboratory, participants completed a survey
In the laboratory
While surrounded by trees, participants completed a survey
While surrounded by trees
To evaluate their opinions, participants completed a survey
To evaluate their opinions
In the sentences you have collected, attempt to underline the conditional clauses. Then, attempt to shift the clauses so they appear earlier, rather than later, in the sentence. For example, the phrase the girl found a dead giraffewhile cleaning the room is slightly harder to understand than is the girl, while cleaning her room, found a dead giraffe or while cleaning her room, the girl found a dead giraffe.