Contorted sentence structure and dense text torture reviewers.

1) Give me a break.

Try to break up sentence longer than two full lines of text or 30 words. If you already have a semicolon, you know it is two sentences!

2) Don’t bury the idea.

Unfortunately, to our detriment, often in scientific writing, in order to sound more formal, we lead with empty phrases. Avoid starting sentences with qualifying clauses. Most often the modifiers will evaporate and clarity ensues.

3) Stamp out most use of the verb “to be.”

“There are” conveys nothing. Sentences get shorter and more direct with this fix. The sentence “Each year in the United States there are more than 50,000 deaths from use of prescription opioids,” becomes “Over 50,000 deaths result from prescription opioid use each year in the U.S.”

Why? Reader fatigue. If my brain slogs through wet cement to understand your ideas, my subconscious assumes they are dull or difficult ideas. Don’t torture me. If your ideas stream clearly, my subconscious communicates that I grasp and enjoy your ideas.

Write better because even if I am only subconsciously peeved it can hurt your grant score…and only nearly perfect scores clear the payline. 

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1 Comment

Great post. As a grant writer, I always tell clients to imagine reviewer is reading their grant on an airplane, or while extremely tired, a bit drunk, or watching TV. Or cranky. Your suggestions are spot on. I also tell them:
1. Don’t put the reviewer to sleep, as in:
“…but mechanisms underlying this activity remain unknown.”
“Overall, our findings suggest that xyz could serve as a therapeutic target for (whatever ails you).”
2. Avoid hyperbole, as in “drastic change” or “dramatic decrease”, and never start a sentence in the Preliminary Data section with, “Surprisingly,…”.
3. Never use the word “likely” and say “novel” only once.

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