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Questions tagged [writing-style]

Questions about the tones, turns of phrase and other writing patterns that are appropriate for writing in an academic context.

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111
votes
7answers
20k views

Choice of personal pronoun in single-author papers

Which personal pronoun is appropriate in single-author papers - 'I' or 'we'? Could the use of 'I' be considered egotistical? Or will the use of 'we' be considered to be grammatically incorrect?
110
votes
14answers
27k views

Why do researchers sometimes use extremely complicated English sentences to convey their meaning?

I will begin with a disclaimer, I am not an English native speaker, but I can speak fluent English and understand English in almost all research papers I read. However, occasionally I come across ...
84
votes
7answers
38k views

Use of first person in a PhD Thesis

Is there a non written rule to which person to use in the PhD thesis, 5 years of using "We" in the papers have brought me to the innate necessity to do it every time I describe something. Recently, ...
78
votes
10answers
10k views

Do Asian authors have a different style of academic writing from European authors?

I'm an Asian student working with a European prof. My adviser told me several times that when he read my writings (our papers), he just wanted to rewrite it. He told me that my English was rather OK, ...
70
votes
12answers
11k views

Is there any good reason to write “it is easy to see”? [closed]

Many academic papers, particularly in mathematics and similar fields, use the phrase "it is easy to see that..." (e.g. in a mathematical proof). I never understood why this sentence is used. Such a ...
68
votes
11answers
13k views

How can I obfuscate my writing style when I review papers?

Does anyone have any good advice for obfuscating one's writing style when reviewing papers? I have a fear that I would inadvertently use the same turn of phrase in a referee report as in some ...
67
votes
11answers
23k views

Can one or two emoticons be used in a PhD Thesis?

I have a very dumb :-) question: Are emoticons (if rarely placed - one or two times) in a PhD thesis considered unorthodox? I have an introduction where I give an apt example and appended some small ...
61
votes
2answers
17k views

In what tense (present/past) should papers be written?

That is, should it be present tense or past tense? Should there be a difference between the abstract, main body and the conclusion? Does the field of publication have any impact?
58
votes
11answers
10k views

What can professors do to encourage properly written email messages from students?

(Motivated by https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/55082/hey-i-was-wondering-of-your-students-write-like-this) The writing style probably [stems] from the electronic age of text messaging....
55
votes
8answers
4k views

Can cited works hold grammatical positions in sentences?

Though I read this style quite often, I was recently told unambiguously by a reviewer that I was NOT supposed to use citations "as if they are objects in a sentence." The following sentence is an ...
54
votes
5answers
13k views

Co-authors request that others do not use “he” as a pronoun - is this reasonable?

We are a bunch of people writing a collection of papers. Two of the writers are from Iran (where the common language does not have gendered pronouns), and they have expressed to me some concern with ...
53
votes
7answers
7k views

Is it standard for a math research paper to include less detail in proofs than a typical textbook would?

I am a fourth-year undergraduate student in Mathematics. Recently, I read a mathematics paper. It seems that the proof in the paper is not as convincing as what one might find in a textbook. For ...
49
votes
5answers
7k views

What's the purpose of writing one's academic biography in the third person?

I see some academics – both professors and grad students – write their biography on their university webpages in the third person, and it sounds really weird. What's the purpose of writing about ...
48
votes
7answers
13k views

Is using the phrase “… is left as an exercise for the reader” considered good style in academic papers/theses?

Possible arguments: Pro For brevity for trivial deductions Contra Looks like the writer could not be bothered to write an extensive explanation Definition of what is trivial to which reader and ...
46
votes
5answers
7k views

Contractions (“can't”, “don't”) in a mathematical paper

I am refereeing a paper (a good one) for a mathematical journal. The author repeatedly writes like this: "we can't do", "we don't know" etc. He is not a native English speaker, and this paper is his ...
40
votes
4answers
49k views

How to handle swear words in quote / transcription?

In my research, I interview practitioners/real users. One of them, a native english speaker, used a lot a swear words (basically the f-word). Question: how to deal with curse words in content you ...
39
votes
7answers
11k views

Is it wrong to start your abstract with a question?

My abstracts starts with three specific questions that my proposed research will answer. But when my friend saw this, he said: "I will never start an abstract with questions, and I will never read ...
37
votes
14answers
7k views

How do you enforce handwriting standards for homework assignments as a TA?

I am a TA who is helping to grade student homework assignments for an undergrad engineering course which involves a lot of mathematics. The homeworks all together count for miserly 5% and is only ...
36
votes
6answers
153k views

How can I cite the same reference in successive sentences?

I've just read a paper that cited the same reference in two successive sentences: This is the first sentence (xxxx 2013). This is the second sentence (xxxx 2013). Up until now, I would have ...
35
votes
11answers
9k views

Reviewer of PhD thesis doesn't allow me to write in the first person singular

In my PhD thesis, I often used the first person singular during the description of the problem and the discussion of the results. One comment from the reviewer states that because I did not use the ...
35
votes
8answers
7k views

When do I use a footnote in a thesis and when do I use parenthesis for extra information?

I have one question for my masters thesis. If I have A, which is also known as B or C, can I write: A (also known as B or C) (or similar) or can I use a foonote like this: A¹ ¹ Also ...
34
votes
7answers
8k views

Is it accepted to refer to your own published result by your own name?

Assume that Jane Doe has published a paper in 2010 where she has developed a model or a theorem or a similar result, let’s say, that it relates to growth. Now assume that Jane Doe is writing another ...
33
votes
4answers
6k views

What is too obvious to explain in a scientific paper?

Recently I had my paper reviewed for potential publishing. With no big surprise I need to make some adjustments to my paper. One of the criticisms was that my work lacks "textbook explanations" (e.g. ...
31
votes
3answers
5k views

On the possible obsolescence of research paper titles starting with “On the …”

I have observed that most papers with titles starting with "On the ..." are theoretical ones, like pure mathematics, physics, computer science, etc. Most of these papers are relatively old, though I ...
31
votes
3answers
5k views

Citing two authors with the same surname – is it worth noting that they are distinct people?

In the paper I am currently writing I cite works by Bill Smith and Fred Smith. I refer to them both several times, as several of Bill Smith’s papers provide the basis for some of the techniques I am ...
30
votes
7answers
8k views

Should I simplify my writing in a foreign country?

As a native English speaker studying in the Netherlands, I often find myself writing (not published) English papers for a Dutch audience, and I worry I'm alienating my superiors with my writing. I ...
30
votes
6answers
14k views

Using first person or third person in papers?

Are there written or unwritten rules for avoiding the use of first-person while writing research papers? I was advised at the beginning of my grad school to avoid use of first person - but I still don'...
29
votes
5answers
73k views

Where in a thesis should a glossary be positioned?

I want to include a glossary in my master’s thesis explaining some technical terms. My university doesn't make any specifications about the usage or position of glossaries. So I'm asking myself: Is ...
29
votes
3answers
4k views

Refereeing a lazy, but correct paper [duplicate]

When refereeing a paper, I often have objections to the work that do not rise to the level of using the coercive powers of a referee to delay or reject the work. For instance, I find myself wanting to ...
28
votes
4answers
20k views

150%, 1.5 times, 1.5× or 1.5-fold

If some measure of quality improves to 150 % of its original value in a study from condition A to condition B, would it be most appropriate, in terms of scientific writing (computer science ...
28
votes
4answers
4k views

Is it poor grammar to replace normal phrases with mathematical symbols in sentences in a mathematical paper?

English is not my native language and when I read mathematical papers, sometimes I saw sentences such as The matrix A has rank ≥ n. I am wondering if this sentence should be considered as ...
27
votes
5answers
6k views

Why do papers not have a table of contents?

Most papers (at least in maths, but I believe this applies to other subjects as well) don't have a table of contents (TOC), but dedicate the last paragraph of the introduction to essentially the same ...
27
votes
6answers
24k views

When and why should you write numbers less than 10 in words?

My current strategy in my thesis and in papers is to write numbers less than 10 in words. For example, if I need to write the number 6, I write 'six'. Recently though, I've been thinking this strategy ...
26
votes
6answers
7k views

First sentence of a research proposal

I am writing a research proposal and I can not choose the right very first sentence to start the introduction. My research is purely theoretical. Let's assume I want to study a mathematical model of ...
26
votes
4answers
5k views

Is it a good practice to end a mathematical equation with a comma or a period in a scientific article?

I have noticed from different published articles that mathematical equations may or may not be ended by a comma or a period (depending on their position in the text). Which is the best practice?
26
votes
8answers
4k views

How to improve scientific writing skills?

What do you do to write better proposals, grants, and papers? Do you think reading books about how to write scientific content is a good way to improve it?
23
votes
7answers
7k views

How should I cite something learned second-hand (eg, from Wikipedia) when I haven't seen the primary source?

I want to cite something that I have learned from a Wikipedia page. However, I'm loathe to cite Wikipedia because of the perception of it by my tutors, so I try to cite the original source. What ...
23
votes
1answer
958 views

Does anyone actually publish “structured proofs”?

In 1995, Leslie Lamport published an essay in the American Mathematical Monthly titled "How to write a proof". In the essay, Lamport introduced the concept of a structured proof, in which the ...
22
votes
3answers
4k views

Math paper with no “Conclusions”

Is it acceptable for a math paper to have no concluding section? The structure is currently as follows: Introduction (known results + the paper's main results as 3 theorems) Preliminaries (proper ...
22
votes
5answers
6k views

How to properly address an unsolved problem that is very hard to solve in mathematical thesis?

I'm preparing my thesis presentation and I'm trying to address a situation in which the general case has no known solution and is an open, very hard to solve, problem. It involves non-isolated ...
22
votes
4answers
2k views

Choosing a title for a research paper

What are the best practices for writing a research paper title? I am looking for some general guidelines. Does one go with short and sweet? Or a bit longer and informative? Should one phrase it as ...
21
votes
7answers
4k views

Using slang in a Scientific Paper

We are writing a paper about an algorithm that takes a group of solutions and sorts them by their likelihood of being equal to the one and only 'good solution'. Internally, we refer to this 'good ...
21
votes
6answers
5k views

How can I make the introduction of a paper more “scientific” and less “popular”?

I am a master's student about to start writing my thesis. After I wrote my research proposal, my advisor said that when I write my thesis, I should make it less "popular" (I believe he referred mainly ...
21
votes
9answers
7k views

How to shorten an article before submitting to a journal

Does anyone know a good online source for guidelines for shortening journal articles? I've just finished a paper that I'm going to submit soon, but I think it is far too long. Its current length is ...
21
votes
6answers
4k views

Adjective order in academia: “Italian young adults”

It's always been my understanding that age precedes nationality in standard adjective order (see, for example, The Royal Order of Adjectives); thus, it should be "young Italian adults" rather than "...
21
votes
1answer
3k views

Should I write “we” or “I” in my research statement?

I am currently in the process of applying for tenure-track assistant professor jobs. I was wondering whether I should write "we" or "I" in my research statement. While it is true that I did not do all ...
20
votes
2answers
3k views

How to write tedious algebraic manipulations

In some of my papers, some of the results require tedious but straightforward algebraic manipulations. I am not sure what is the best way to present these manipulations: I can write them at the paper ...
20
votes
3answers
1k views

How to decide the appropriate level of explanation for math in academic papers?

In any academic paper dealing at least in part with math, the authors have to make a choice how much explanation to actually give the math. It can range from pretty much no explanation: Given a ...
20
votes
3answers
4k views

Can I use contractions in my thesis?

I am writing my thesis (in Computer Science, if that's relevant) and I am thinking about the style, especially about using contractions. I realize that thesis is a formal text and contractions like “...
19
votes
6answers
6k views

Dullness vs. going overboard: Should I be calling people 'enfants terribles' in an academic paper?

I'm just about to finish my master's in law with only my dissertation left to handle. I'm being extremely cautious with the language that I'm using when writing as I've previously been told that my ...