Many say that

A good paper is a paper which is easily understandable by a reader.

Actually when I am reading lots of papers in good journals, however, they are written with a sort of pedantic vocabularies, even though I can find simple and easy words which can replace the former.

Should I use a pedantic vocabulary but clear sentences in order for other people (reviewers, readers) not to underestimate me? I think the previous statement (clear sentences with pedantic vocabulary) sounds like contradiction, or irony.

What do you think about it?

FYI, I am EE/CS graduate student and good journals can be IEEE TMC, TWC and so on.

  • 6
    My first thought is what do you meant by "pedantic vocabularies"?
    – virmaior
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 8:02
  • 2
    My second thought is that the advice is to aim to minimize the use of jargon because academic authors' tendencies are to overuse it. I.e., the products you're reading are to some extent the jargon-reduced versions.
    – virmaior
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 8:03
  • 1
    In Physics, "speed", "velocity" and "rapidity" have three different meanings. An outsider reader it may find the overuse of the second two pedantic, but it is actually accurate and clear, once you know it.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 12:00
  • 3
    Often what sounds "pedantic" is really just unambiguous.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 13:02
  • 1
    As a native English speaker I am often amazed how often I encounter rarely used words in papers where a much simpler and commonly used term would be sufficient. It must be frustrating for non-native speakers trying to understand the work. For example, I have seen 'concomitant' used instead of 'associated' or 'related'. I have never heard someone use 'concomitant' in a conversation. If they did I would think it very odd indeed!
    – atom44
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 14:25

4 Answers 4


There is a third way:
Be pedantic about your vocabulary in the right way to make your paper more readable.

Using established, clear, and consistent vocabulary and defining it when necessary is the best way to ensure that you are not misunderstood. The main advantage of “simple and easy words” is that they do not need to be explained to the reader, but this also entails that you rely on the reader interpreting these words the same way as you do, which may be not given surprisingly often. Defined vocabulary does not have this disadvantage.

Moreover, you need to at least need to mention the established, “pedantic” vocabulary for context and to avoid the impression of reinventing the wheel. By consistently sticking to it, you avoid switching between different terms for the same thing, which usually impedes intelligibility.

However, you should also bear in mind that readers unfamiliar with this vocabulary may want to read your paper. For these readers, define the more uncommon words and cite papers explaining the basic underlying concepts. Papers are not difficult to read because they contain new words, but because these words are not properly explained or because the reader does not understand the concepts represented by them. For example if you write a paper on theoretical particle physics, readers will have to understand some elementary aspects of quantum theory to follow your thoughts. Using vocabulary that can only appeal to readers without this basic understanding of quantum theory is pointless and only raises false expectations.

Finally, if you get to introduce new concepts, you can try to choose words for them appeal to intuition, but this does not mean that you are relieved from the burden of explaining these words.


There is a paper about that. It draws some surprising conclusions. According to Fig. 1 R3A, using unusual words (jargon) is correlated with getting more citations.


However, I would recommend you ignore these correlations and write to be clearly readable. Most likely after you have put a lot of effort into explaining things simply, reviewers will still say it is confusing, because things that were just figured out tend to be difficult things to understand.


Most journals these days focus on readability.You should definitely not use pedantic vocabulary just to sound more knowledgeable. However, that said, you should use technical terms wherever applicable, and explain them, rather than use an oversimplified vocabulary that caters to a lay audience. At the end of the day, you are writing a paper for the scientific community who have a basic understanding of the subject matter. One heuristic would be to think that you are writing for an audience who are not from your specific field but belong to a related field. This will help you understand which technical terms you would need to explain. However, I do think that sentences should be kept simple as far as possible and unnecessary use of jargon should be avoided.


There are lost of "simple, everyday" words which have a precise technical meaning in some areas (velocity, force in physics) which often has little relationship to the common term's meaning, and there are many otherwise obscure and not at all used words that describe specific, common concepts in an area. A paper, say, in theoretical physics will be next to unintelligible to someone who isn't familiar with the subject, while being crystal clear to a colleague of the writer. Or a paper might be full of common words, but with meanings far removed from the everyday use. And the second one might be clear to one familiar with the area, or completely opaque.

What does matter is if the author uses the right words to express the intended meaning to the intended audience, and strings together the concepts and explanations in logical, natural way without either over- or underexplaining. In my experience, writers who command a more rich (and thus complex) vocabulary tend to do a better job. But there are outliers either way...

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .