Writing a research paper (1) – keeping it simple

Today, I will give some advice about how to write research papers.  This will be the first post of a series of posts on this topic. In this post, I will focus on one aspect, which is to use simple structures and expressions to present the content of a paper. This is a very simple idea. But it very important.

writing research paper

Generally, the goal of writing a paper is to communicate some idea (the research contributions) to the reader. To do that, it is important to write in a clear way by using simple structures. Otherwise, the reader may not understand well your paper.  This is different from other types of texts such as poetry or novels, where writing using complex structures, rare words and expressions can be considered better.

Let me give you some examples. Below is a table with some unnecessarily complex structures (left) which can be replaced by more simple structures (right) to express the same idea:

Complex structure Simple structure
the great majority most
an example of this is the fact that for example
based on the fact that because
for the purpose of for
in a number of cases sometimes
in order to to
with the exception of except

As shown above, it is often possible to replace four or five words by fewer words to express the same idea.

Why is it important to do that?

  • It saves space.
  • Readers better understand the content of the paper. In particular, the paper is easier to read for non native English speakers.

If you want to know more about this, there is a good list of complex structures that can be replaced by more simple structures in the book “How to write an publish a Scientific paper” by R. A. Day et al.) . You can click here for the list (PDF). I  have used this list to prepare the above examples.

Besides, what I discussed today, I also recommend to avoid writing very long sentences. A sentence should not contain more than a single idea.  Also, the structure of a paper is very important. I will discuss this in another blog post.

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Philippe Fournier-Viger is a professor of Computer Science and also the founder of the open-source data mining software SPMF, offering more than 145 data mining algorithms.

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