4 Common Research Writing Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)
Research Writing

4 Common Research Writing Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

Monali Ghosh
Monali Ghosh

It is disappointing to see authors who, after putting in so much of time and effort into conducting their research, make peace with their work being judged based on styling or linguistic errors, rather than its scientific merit.

Common-Research-Writing-Mistakes_Typeset-Resources

Successful researchers understand that communicating your research effectively is as important as conducting solid scientific research. If you are about to start writing an academic paper soon, here are a few common research writing mistakes you must keep in mind to avoid unnecessary rejections:

1. Not emphasising on “why” the problem you are trying to solve is important

The introduction sets the tone of the entire paper. Authors often utilize this section to talk about the objectives of the study and explain the problem they are addressing. But a lot of authors leave it up to the reviewer to understand ‘why’ the problem is so important and challenging, which is a big mistake.

Authors must take the responsibility of convincing the reviewer about the gravity of the problem to give a compelling start to their paper. Use data to state why the problem is so important, how the current solutions are falling short to solve it, and why it is a difficult problem to solve. Similarly, just stating the solution to the problem is not enough. Give detailed arguments to explain what makes your solution so compelling. Explaining the limitations of the current solution and the challenges faced in solving the problem are also good ways to intrigue the reviewer. For example, if you are optimizing a current solution, showing the impact of those optimizations on the outcome can certainly help make a good case for your solution.

2. Weak structuring of the paper

The longer the research paper, the more challenging it becomes to keep readers engaged until the end. It is easy to drift from one thought to another.

A strong research question is at the center of a good research paper. You might want to present some good ideas, but if it doesn’t relate directly to the answer to your research question, it’s best to keep it for another day. If a project allows you to explore several research questions, it is best to address each question in a different paper.

Unnecessary information like why you used a particular software to create pie charts, or explaining fundamentals of a topic when the majority of your readers are already well-versed with it are easy ways to make people lose their interest in your work.

In some domains, projects are undertaken for operational purposes and not necessarily to add anything to scientific knowledge. Papers that are written based on such projects should thus define their primary research question as the basis of the paper.

A good research question is specific, original, and expresses a strong perspective on one focused topic. It should either extend the conversation about the topic in the scientific community or refute existing knowledge. For example, ‘we examined if giving a checklist of vaccinations for a newborn makes couples come back to the same hospital for vaccinations,’ might make a good hypothesis. Authors must note that their question should be intriguing enough for those in the same field of study.

All supporting statements should in effect answer this primary research question and pose a sustained inquiry and an inspiring discussion around your research question. This helps maintain unity throughout the paper and lends a logic flow to your ideas.

Although most journals recommend following IMRAD (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) to define the structure of a scientific paper, you must check specific requirements of the journal under the author’s guidelines section.

In the image below, you can see a great demarcation provided by OUP of the points to address under each section of IMRAD for a typical research paper:

Typical-Structure-of-Research-Paper_Typeset-Resources

Often when submitting manuscripts, authors do not mention the research question or the defined aim of the question is too vague. Mixing points between sections is another common issue that can make the paper lose its impact. The above image should work as a handy reference, in case you get confused.

Besides structure, it is also important for authors to rightfully acknowledge the limitations of their study and make sure that their discussion is providing a convincing answer to the research question.

Non-native speakers are highly recommended to get their papers proofread by a native speaker at least once before submission. The only time when it is probably okay to receive a paper rejection is when there is some grave loophole in your research you couldn’t have realized earlier and it warrants further deep dive into the subject. Getting your paper rejected due to linguistic errors, paper style errors, LaTeX errors or because you didn’t acknowledge the latest research, is a waste of your time as well as the reviewers and the journal where you submitted the paper.

3. Citing the sources incorrectly

There are several ways you can interpret this. Many scholars do not add relevant references that support their key arguments in the introduction and the discussion.

At other times, reviewers reject papers that cite references from a long time ago as it is unlikely that no scientific progress has been made in a particular field in a couple of years. Citing newer research thus is a great way to make sure that your manuscript is relevant and adds to the current conversation about the topic you are addressing. Add a few newer references from top journals to show how well aware you are about the recent developments to earn yourself some brownie points.

No one wants additional rounds of the stressful peer review process. It is common to spot authors conveniently skipping important research references (sometimes intentionally) or mentioning incorrect facts when citing previous references. For example, if you propose a revolutionary new algorithm to solve a problem but fail to recognize that it can be solved by an already existing solution, it might lead to rejection of your paper.

Each journal has specific guidelines on how to cite sources as well. Make sure you do not take these guidelines lightly and follow them correctly. Of course, if you are a Typeset user, you do not have to worry about any of this as you can select the pre-set template of your journal on our platform and follow all citation and author guidelines 100% in a single click.

To understand all about citations, refer to The Fundamentals of Journal Citation

4. Not enriching your paper with appropriate figures and tables

Using text to describe everything can be boring and might not help you put your results/data across as effectively as a table or a figure. Adding figures and tables also help you flesh out your results section and give it the emphasis it deserves. Otherwise, it will probably be the shortest section of your manuscript.

Authors often make a lot of mistakes in regards to basic formatting conventions in figures and tables. For example, figures and tables should be numbered in the same order in which they appear in your text and should be cited as (Figure 1) or (Fig. 1), and not (See Figure 1 attached). Same goes for tables as well. Also, your figures and tables should be self-explanatory.

If you are unable to decide what would be the best way to represent your data — tables or figures — the general rule is that tables present the experimental results, while figures offer a better visualization when comparing experimental results with theoretical/calculated values or previous works. Regardless of the choice you make, do not duplicate the information you’ve covered elsewhere in the manuscript.

Here are a few quick tips to present your figures and tables more clearly:

  • Don’t use crowded plots. Limit to 3–4 sets of data per figure and choose your scales carefully
  • Use the right size for axis labels
  • Make sure your symbols are clear and it is easy to distinguish data sets
  • Avoid including long boring tables and add them as supplementary material, if needed

Although the list of research writing mistakes can be pretty long-winding if you delve into the granularities of LaTeX errors or specific grammatical errors, those are probably appropriate subjects to take up in other posts. Are you a journal editor or perhaps a researcher yourself? What are the common errors you’ve observed in research papers? Share it with us.


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