96 Some Tips for Good Writing Revisited

Writing for an academic publication can be daunting. Here are some writing tips to help you:

  • Be clear: While you want to use the jargon of the discipline, there is no need to try to make your sentence more complex than it ought. Say what you mean. Offer definitions of key concepts when they first appear
  • Do not over-cite or rely on quotations: You must project a confident tone so there is no need to provide a citation after every sentence. Likewise, feel free to paraphrase and analyze statements. Do not use too many quotes and always explain quotes in your own words.
  • Organization is paramount: According to Carr et al (2018), it is imperative to determine how each section of the paper will be organized ahead of writing. For example, they suggest determining the main points of each major section and create sub-headings that correspond to each point (Carr et al, 2018, p.609).
  • Do not make false or blanket statements e.g. “There are no previous research on this topic.” Instead of making such a blanket statement, you might qualify it by stating “there is little research on this topic” or “a literature review search reveals no pre-existing work”.
  • Avoid dead words and phrases (Swales & Feak, 2004): Dead words are extraneous, make sentences unnecessarily lengthy, superfluous and sometimes, confusing e.g. “indeed”, “basically”, “really”
  • Use the active voice: There is a perception that the passive voice is more objective but it can make the sentence clunky. The active voice is a more direct, precise, and clear way to communicate your ideas (Carr et al, 2018).
  • Be professional: do not use contractions (e.g. don’t, won’t) or casual language.
  • Know your genre: Read the other articles from the journal you want to publish in and pay attention to their writing style. Carefully emulate their organization to improve the familiarity of your own work.
  • Read Chapter 5 on academic writing for more tips specific to your genre!

Common mistakes

The following are a list of common mistakes made in academic submissions:

  • Not providing evidence for claims e.g., not providing (relevant) supporting quotes to substantiate a point or stating that a relationship is statistically significant without stating the degree of significance and the direction (direction and magnitude).
  • Not interpreting the meaning of the results: it is important to state what the findings mean in real life. Explain potential implications.
  • The submission does not follow the journal’s guidelines. You must ensure that your work adheres to the limit, formatting suggestions, spelling, referencing style and other guidelines set.
  • Failing to introduce the importance of the topic. The introduction should highlight the relevance of the topic, not just highlight previous studies. You should justify why the knowledge is worth pursuing. You must ensure that you justify why the answers to the research question are worth knowing.
  • Weak literature reviews: It is important that you spend time to develop your literature review so that it captures a full breath of the literature. Leaving out key debates or authors in the field suggests unfamiliarity with the literature. In the highly competitive peer-reviewed world, such mistakes might be grounds for a rejection. It is also important to synthesize rather than merely providing an annotated bibliography. Your literature review must be analytical.
  • Repackaging a thesis without making major revision: Your thesis is unlikely to meet the specific criteria of a journal article in its original form (unless it was intentionally written for the specific journal). This means that major revisions will be needed before it is ready for submission to a journal or other peer review format. Substantive re-analysis of the data might be required, the literature review might need updating and to be brought into more focus in accordance with the research question. In addition, your thesis statement might have several research questions but you might need to limit them to only one or two for your journal article. Overall, it is important that you approach your manuscript for peer review as a separate work from your dissertation. Substantive changes in style, form and content might be required.
  • Incomplete methodology: You must provide context, exact procedure, ethics review process, theoretical and analytical framing and justification for methods, sample selection and analysis. You must assume that your readers know nothing about your study and provide complete information.
  • Shallow discussions: Your discussion must link your literature review with your findings and must demonstrate how the study answers the research question. In short, your discussion must explain why you got the results you got and how it fits within the literature. It should also demonstrate the significance.
  • Vague conclusions: It is important to remember that your conclusion is reiterating answers to your research questions. You might also reflect on the limitations in the current study and offer recommendations for future studies, policy or other social action. However, it is important to not introduce new literature in your conclusion. As a general rule, there should be few citations in your conclusion, but you must ensure that any citation referred to in the conclusion has been mentioned previously in the manuscript.

Box 13.4 – Checklist for Submission

  1. The paper is not under consideration for publication elsewhere
  2. I have received feedback from a professor, mentor or someone with peer-review publication
  3. The paper aligns with the aims, scope, audience and general description of the publisher
  4. The paper adheres to style and guidelines “guidelines for authors”, set by the publication
  5. I have included a cover letter (always a good idea)
  6. The paper has original results or methods
  7. The literature review is up-to-date with current works
  8. There is a clear message that has been put in context of previous work (i.e., the gap I am filling is clear)
  9. I have reviewed similar publications (e.g., other works published in the journal)
  10. I have proof-read the submission
  11. I have obtained copyright permission for materials obtained elsewhere (if required)
  12. Referencing are complete, accurate and adhere to the style
  13. I understand that my paper may be rejected. I will take feedback to improve my work going forward.


Carr, D., Heger Boyle, E., Cornwell, B., Correll, S., Crosnoe, R., Freese, J., and Waters, M.C.  (2018). The Art and Science of Social Research. W.W. Norton & Company Inc.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Practicing and Presenting Social Research Copyright © 2022 by Oral Robinson and Alexander Wilson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book