Your professional help to improve your written English

Tag: journal

Structure your text

As a non-native writer of English you are naturally influenced by your own language and culture. When you write in English for an academic or scientific journal, you should bear in mind the Anglo-American style. It is especially important how you structure your text.

The text should have a clear structure with a linear presentation of the main idea and sub-ideas. Scientific journal articles are usually structured according to what is abbreviated as IMRAD, referring to Introduction, Material and Methods, Results and Discussion. To facilitate understanding, each paragraph deals with one issue, and a set of paragraphs form a logical unit.

Sentences, too, must be clearly structured. The subject comes before the verb, and adverbs and adverb phrases begin or end a sentence.

Writers from other cultures may be used to a different way of expanding on an idea; they may deviate from the topic, giving further examples and explanations, often in complicated sentences.

In some languages, adverb phrases can be inserted in the middle of a sentence, often breaking up verb forms or a verb and its object. This is not done in English, where the adverb phrase instead is put at the beginning or the end of the sentence.

Don’t write:
The company has in Sweden 600 employees.
Write instead:
In Sweden the company has 600 employees.
The company has 600 employees in Sweden.

Don’t write:
The technology is by some manufacturers expected to be dominant on the market within five years.
Write instead:
Some manufacturers expect the technology to be dominant on the market within five years.
This example also shows that it is better to change passive voice to active.

Which English should you use?

American English or British English? Or perhaps Oxford spelling? Does it matter which language you choose? Do your readers care?

Obviously, if you write for an American audience, you should write American English. And if you want to send a paper to a British journal, you should use UK English, which is another name for British English. Always check with the publisher or read the style guide of the journal. However, it is crucial that you are consistent and write your whole text in one and the same language.

When you write a doctoral thesis or a novel, the choice of language is yours. Only, as I said above, be consistent.

If you go for American English, use American spelling and write labor instead of labour, center instead of centre, catalog instead of catalogue, fulfill instead of fulfil, traveling instead of travelling, and so on. Use a z instead of an s in words like recognize and organization. (There are, however, some words that are always written with -ise or -yse – read more about them here.)

American English uses the serial comma, which is the comma that is placed before and or or in a series of words. An example: Horses, cows, and sheep are farm animals. British English does not use this comma.

There are also differences in vocabulary. The American apartment is a flat in Britain, Brits walk on the pavement, while Americans use the sidewalk. And when you are angry in Britain, you are mad in America – to a Brit mad means crazy. When something is quite good it is very good in America but only fairly good in Britain.

There are, of course, also differences in grammar. When a British speaker uses the perfect tense, I have already called him, an American would use the past tense, I already called him. The American a real good movie is in British a really good film.

Oxford spelling is a variant of British English. It prefers -ize in words like organize and recognize instead of the spelling -ise in British English. The spelling with -ize is actually the oldest; organize, for example, appeared in a text in England as early as around 1425. The Oxford spelling is used by publishers like Collins, Longman and Oxford University Press (but not Oxford University!) and some academic journals in Britain. The Oxford spelling uses the serial comma, which therefore is also called the Oxford comma.

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Why do you need a copyeditor?

Even if you feel that your English is good, your text can always be improved. You have worked on your manuscript for a long time and know what you want to say, but it is difficult to see mistakes in your own text. Your brain knows what you want to convey and that competes with what you see when you read your text. An objective reader will have a fresh perspective, and a professional copyeditor knows what to look for.

In an academic setting, accuracy is a must. In research, attention to detail is taken for granted. A flawed manuscript will not be published. A survey showed how easy or difficult it was to get a paper written in English accepted for publication in a scientific journal. Four out of ten writers with English as their mother tongue had their papers accepted. The acceptance rate for non-native writers was only fifty per cent.

In business, correct English is just as crucial – language errors in advertising, in manuals, in customer correspondence or on a website will be noticed and will affect the company’s reputation negatively. That is why you need a copyeditor!

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