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Academics, Follow this Tip to Improve Your Writing Right Away

There are a number of reasons why academic writing is hard to understand, from use of jargon to a lack of clarity about who the audience is. It takes some time to fix these common issues. But there is one simple tip academics and other experts can follow to change their writing right away. That tip is: write shorter sentences, and avoid run-ons.  

As children, we learned that sentences at their most basic should have a subject and a verb.

I am running.

Gertrude fell.

We also learned that it is not grammatically correct to write in sentence fragments or in sentence run-ons. As you can see, sentence fragments lack the basic subject verb construction:

I am running. Toward the windmill.

Most adults have a pretty easy time avoiding writing in fragments. Unfortunately, the same is not true for run-on sentences. For example:

I am running toward the windmill because I can use it to harness wind power for my farm that I have recently retrofitted so it runs on renewable energy.

How Experts Can Avoid Writing Run-On Sentences

I wonder whether academics and other experts use run-on sentences because they think it implies complexity. After all, they get credit for developing ideas that are challenging, even to their peers. But if you want to popularize your idea, you need to try to communicate it as simply as possible.

One way to avoid run-ons is to remember that a sentence should usually convey one idea. When people write run-ons, they are often trying to fit too many ideas into a sentence. This is easily fixed by breaking up the sentence. 

3 Run-On Mistakes We Can Easily Fix

Here are a few examples of run-on sentences or sentences that are unnecessarily long, all taken from real websites. Each has a glaring mistake:

Organizations must focus on these six areas, as well as develop productive interactions between patients who take an active part in their care and providers who have the necessary resources and expertise. Source

Wagner's revision aimed to support patients in self-management of their condition by enhancing their own skills; this required engaging a broader team that includes links with community care agencies, tracking systems to monitor patient progress, and delegation of the central organizational role from physician to a case manager. Source

Established in 2015, the Task Force on Ensuring Access in Vulnerable Communities examined the challenges faced by vulnerable rural and urban communities to ensure access to health services for individuals living in those communities. Source

If we fix each sentence's glaring mistake, we can help the writer improve the clarity of his/her idea. Here's how:

Mistake #1 In the first sentence, the comma should be a period. It is as simple as that. So it would be:

Organizations must focus on these six areas. They also must develop productive interactions between patients who take an active part in their care and providers who have the necessary resources and expertise.

Mistake #2 The second sentence is also easy to fix. Simply replace the semi-colon with a period. A teacher of an editing class I just took went off on semi-colons for several minutes. Writers almost always use semi-colons to sound smart, and they always fail, he basically said. This is easy to fix:

Wagner's revision aimed to support patients in self-management of their condition by enhancing their own skills. This required engaging a broader team that includes links with community care agencies, tracking systems to monitor patient progress, and delegation of the central organizational role from physician to a case manager.

The paragraph is still not great, but simply by replacing the semi-colon with a period, we at least made it better.

Mistake #3 Finally, the last sentence includes another glaring mistake that is easily fixed: word repetition. The writer did not need to use the noun communities so many times in this sentence. You can almost always avoid using the same noun more than once. Here's my fix:

Established in 2015, the Task Force on Ensuring Access in Vulnerable Communities examined the challenges faced by vulnerable rural and urban communities to ensure their populations have access to health services.

I try to avoid using the same object noun more than once in a sentence, but I think it is okay for this writer to use "community" twice here, since the first mention is in the name of an organization (same with "the word "vulnerable"). S/he could however use a synonym for the second mention, as long as it retained the intended meaning.

Editing is few people's favorite activity. But hopefully you have learned from this brief on run-on sentences that sometimes all you need to do is to make a few tweaks to improve your writing!

 

WritingElaine MeyerComment