Easy Paper Writing Tips

Below are a few paper writing tips that improve the clarity of research papers, while also being fairly easy to implement:

  1. Minimize the use of pronouns (“this,” “it,” “these,” etc.) – pronouns add cognitive load to the reader. If you must use a pronoun like “this,” “those,” “that,” etc., only use it as an adjective (e.g., “this result”) to give the reader more cues about what the pronoun refers to.

  2. Put the verb as early in the sentence as possible. Early verbs make sentences easier to parse.

  3. Unfold apostrophes (X’s Y -> The Y of X)

  4. Use simple (minimal syllable) words

  5. Lead and end paragraphs with strong and clear sentences. Middle sentences are for elaboration.

  6. Minimize visual white space on the page, in figures, captions, section headers, etc. Minimizing white space lets you include more content in the conference paper page limit.

  7. Make sure there are no lines that contain just a single word (e.g., at the end of a paragraph). It looks ugly and takes up space, so shorten some sentences in the paragraph if you see this.

  8. Make the thing you care about the subject of the main clause.

  9. Don’t use comparatives (without explicitly specifying what two things are being compared). Also includes implicit comparatives (“improves”).

  10. If a sentence is long, split it into two: one sentence, one idea.

  11. Make sure every sentence adds information.

  12. Don’t be afraid of long sentences if they have simple/easy-to-understand words.

  13. Don’t use long sentences with a lot of actual content/information; just split the sentence into two.

  14. Ask about every word/sentence: “Is this necessary?” and “Can I phrase this more simply?”

  15. Don’t repeat (similar sounding) words in the same sentence.

  16. Remove the following words:

    a. Actually

    b. a bit

    c. Fortunately

    d. Most connectives (i.e. “However”)

    e. To our knowledge

    f. Note that

    g. Observe that

    h. Try to

    i. very, really, extremely, etc.

  17. Replace the following words:

    a. Want

    b. Hope

    c. Contractions (“it’s” –> “it is” for formailty)

    d. Any words in quotations marks (a way to sneak information, imprecise, or “dodgy” words in)

  18. Ask about every sentence: Is what you’re saying correct?

  19. Never use passive tense; always specify the actor (“We find…”)

  20. Explain all unusual/uncommon terminology on the first usage in the paper.

  21. Don’t start every sesntence with “We’- it’s good to add just a bit of variation

  22. Plots:

    a. Use the font size for axis ticks/labels at least as large as the normal paper text

    b. Colorblind friendly colormaps (e.g. “perceptually uniform ones” like matplotlib viridis)

  23. Put an eye-catching figure on the first page if possible because most readers will just see the first page and decide whether to read the paper based on that.

  24. “There are four parts to the paper: The title, abstract, intro, and rest of the paper. You should spend equal time on each” – Jitendra Malik. This is good advice because it advises you to spend writing time on sections in proportion to the amount of reading time a section will get. “These days, I’d add another, equally important part of the paper: the tweet thread” 🙂

  25. Check for typos before final submission, e.g., with some auto-checking software. Overleaf misses things that e.g. Grammarly does not.

  26. Limit hedging (“may” or “can”). Hedge words should almost always be dropped.

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