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Does anyone intentionally make papers shorter in order to avoid grammar or reference errors?

I've pondered this, because it seems like it could be a good strategy. However it may come with pitfalls, such as not saying all that might be necessary.

But having fewer words and sentences would make proofreading easier and have a lower probability of errors happening in the first place.

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    If you understand error correction codes, you will know that redundancy is important. I can deal with minor grammar or presentation errors, but if there is insufficient information or vague terms, then a paper becomes unreadable. You are better off explaining the same message 2x or 3x using broken English. If the message is sound, a reviewer won't kill a paper, because presentation is easily fixable, but a wrong theory or flawed work is not. Oct 28, 2021 at 22:13
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    "The man saw the woman on the hill with the telescope." <- Nice and short. No grammar or reference errors. But plenty of ambiguity. Oct 29, 2021 at 13:09
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    Short papers can has grammar errors.
    – chepner
    Oct 29, 2021 at 15:43
  • On a similar note: Someone asked my professor the difference between "affect" and "effect" and he said, "Honestly I have no clue. I have a PhD and wrote my entire dissertation without using either word. Just try and avoid it at all cost" reddit.com/r/thatHappened/comments/7wd4ed/…
    – Daveo
    Oct 31, 2021 at 10:44

6 Answers 6

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If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.

What you are proposing is way more difficult than avoiding, detecting and correcting grammar and reference mistakes. Proof-reading is important but it is the easiest step of writing a paper.

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  • I'm not sure if I understand the linked text as a proof that the strategy of writing shorter could not work.
    – mavavilj
    Oct 28, 2021 at 7:29
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    @mavavilj What I'm saying here is that you are trying to solve a problem by creating a harder problem.
    – user9482
    Oct 28, 2021 at 7:30
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    On the contrary putting work into good language often yields more clear and shorter sentences, so these two approaches are not necessarily so different. Oct 28, 2021 at 15:26
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    @user1079505 I agree it is worthwhile. But OP's goal seems to be spending less effort. This approach results in more work.
    – user9482
    Oct 28, 2021 at 15:42
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    @user1079505 quite often shorter sentences but longer documents
    – Chris H
    Oct 29, 2021 at 8:03
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You should in general not be able to make your paper shorter. If you make it shorter without losing any of your contents, you should have made it shorter for that reason. When you write a paper, it is already your goal to clearly and concisely. When you try to remove contents to reduce grammar or other errors, you're removing value of your paper.

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  • Yes obviously, but the question is whether it's possible to retain information, while avoiding grammar mistakes by selecting short and easy expressions. I for example read several papers, which did not use page numbers to references, possibly in order to avoid making mistakes in page numbering, which can be tricky, if the publication has many incarnations in different sources.
    – mavavilj
    Oct 28, 2021 at 7:31
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    The first and second part seem unrelated. Avoiding grammar mistakes by selecting short and easy expressions is already a good idea, but is very hard to do without losing information (as mentioned in Rolands answer). The second part (references) doesn't make your paper shorter, right?
    – Jeroen
    Oct 28, 2021 at 7:36
  • "You should in general not be able to make your paper shorter." Sure, but sometimes you have to to avoid going over the page limit for the journal you're submitting it to.
    – nick012000
    Oct 29, 2021 at 9:24
  • @nick012000 sure, hence the 'in general'-part here.
    – Jeroen
    Oct 29, 2021 at 11:06
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    @mavavilj If your page numbers get messed up when your paper is published in a different source, then you need better authoring software. Those are the sorts of problems that computers are very good at taking care of, you shouldn't be trying to do stuff like that manually (page numbers, figure numbers, "above"/"below", etc).
    – bta
    Oct 29, 2021 at 22:53
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From my experience reviewing papers (and for example, reading posts here on Academia), the length of the paper doesn't really matter when it comes to making spelling or grammar errors. Some people are just more prone to make them (due to being non-native speakers or other reasons), and they will make them no matter the length of the text. Sure, the overall number of errors will probably be smaller, but the readability of a shorter text doesn’t improve.

Instead, trying to force the content into a shorter text might even lead to a decreased readability and understandability because some vital information might be omitted to fit the shorter text. That being said, trying to say what you want to say in as an easy and short expression as possible is always great, because it will make understanding easier. But as Roland suggested, this is often more difficult.

If you don't feel confident with the language quality of your paper, instead of forcibly shortening just to reduce the overall number of errors, I suggest to try to find a person with good English and/or written language skills to proofread your finished paper prior to submitting.

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There are good reasons to try to keep papers as short as possible while conveying all of the important intellectual content. The shorter your paper is, the more likely people are to read it; keeping your writing lean forces you to focus on the key ideas; etc.

Avoiding grammar or referencing errors, however, is not a good reason to write a short paper. For one thing, the length has no bearing on whether or not you have omitted relevant references. More to the point though, conveying the content clearly should be the main factor determining the length. (Along with length guidelines from the journal where you choose to submit the paper). If you aim for a different length for any other reason, you are necessarily sacrificing the clarity of you communication.

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Does someone intentionally make papers shorter in order to avoid grammar or reference errors?

AFAIK, most people make papers shorter because they need to meet submission length limits. Given that, it doesn't matter what other possible reasons you might have to shorten your papers.

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  • And, by the way, those submission length limits cover even references to previous literature, which are actually some very inflexible content to fit, because they can't be omitted ethically and their required formatting is specified by the journal as well; plus there's often a rule that every referenced item must actually be referenced at least once in the body of the article as well, so the room for reference errors is not reduced by a lower submission length limit. Oct 29, 2021 at 7:58
  • @JirkaHanika: In some/many venues, submission length limits don't cover the references section.
    – einpoklum
    Oct 29, 2021 at 20:44
  • Interesting and nice to hear. Oct 30, 2021 at 13:31
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"Brevity is the soul of wit."

― William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Sure: Being brief is a good thing. Shorter is generally better and easier to read. It should be a goal when writing, especially technical and scientific writing, to express the idea as quickly and crisply as possible.

I do find that when I edit my writing, it often gets a little bit shorter as some clunky phrases or repeated wording turn out to be unnecessary and get removed. And redundant references are in fact a pitfall that things might fall out-of-synch when edited. But I broadly doubt that's a top-level priority for anyone when structuring their writing. The top goal is to be clear and expressive, and not elaborate more than is necessary.

That said, there is a practice in software development called refactoring which pretty much boils down to exactly the OP's intuition here -- take existing, functional program code, and edit it for readability and maintainability. In most cases this leaves the code shorter than when it started, and indeed more robust in terms of attack-surface for bugs and broken references.

In computer programming and software design, code refactoring is the process of restructuring existing computer code—changing the factoring—without changing its external behavior. Refactoring is intended to improve the design, structure, and/or implementation of the software (its non-functional attributes), while preserving its functionality. Potential advantages of refactoring may include improved code readability and reduced complexity...

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  • "Shorter is generally ...easier to read." <--- I politely disagree! It may sometimes be true, but 'generally', no. A lot of so-called "fluff" is actually linguistic engine oil. Removing it gives you less words used and more words to spare, but increases the cognitive effort required on the part of the reader. It's not widely-recognised by academics themselves , but it's nonetheless true! (That does not mean it is not desirable in scientific writing. But the fact remains: it does not increase readability).
    – user96809
    Oct 29, 2021 at 21:05

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