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College & Research Libraries Guide for Authors & Reviewers

Clarity, Grammar and Style

The finest research will not impress the reader nor advance our profession if the article is poorly written. Although academic writing has a reputation for being boring, the editors of C&RL prefer lively, engaging prose that does not get in the way of the article’s message.

Tips for self-editing

Resources

Tips for Self-Editing

Before submitting your manuscript, review and revise the draft:

  1. Read it aloud to yourself.

  2. Ask friends or colleagues to read it.

Many common first-draft problems can be identified and fixed at this pre-submission stage.

Ask yourself these questions about your draft’s content:

  • Is the topic too big or too small?

    • Avoid belaboring or “padding” minor findings or insights in order to produce several “least publishable units” from a single study. Conversely, do not cram all the findings and insights from a large, complex study (e.g. a wide-ranging user survey) into a single article, because this might obscure information of interest to particular audiences.

  • Are key concepts adequately explained?

    • Define any terms that are critical to the reader’s understanding, especially if they originate outside LIS.

  • If the study uses a theoretical framework, it is sufficiently described?

    • Attribute theories to their originators or proponents.

    • Cite earlier applications of the theory, if appropriate.

  • Is information presented in the right section?

    • State your research questions or hypotheses early in the article.

    • Present facts and findings first, followed by interpretations.

    • Spotlight practical applications of research in the Discussion or Conclusion.

  • Does professional jargon obscure the meaning or deaden the prose?

  • Does every in-text citation have a corresponding item in the reference list?

  • Are references complete and correctly formatted?

Ask yourself these questions about your draft’s style:

  • Do the sentences and paragraphs flow?

    • Provide strong transition sentences that lead from one idea to the next.

    • Break up long, complex sentences.

    • Re-word awkward phrases or constructions.

    • If adapting a presentation for publication, watch for places where written words must take the place of spoken transitions.

    • Use topical sub-headings within major sections.

  • Does the writing maintain a steady tone and an “academic voice?”

    • Avoid conversational clichés.

    • Avoid contractions such as “aren’t” or “didn’t.”

    • Avoid the second person (“you”).

    • Avoid the passive voice.

    • If the article is co-authored, strive to blend the writers’ styles into a single authorial voice.

  • Are tables and/or graphs appropriately used and easy to read?

    • Complex, symbol-laden statistical explanations can be difficult to follow in the text; tables and graphs will lighten the load on the reader.

    • On the other hand, do not over-use data graphics for simple information.

Most writers have personal writing “tics” that may weaken their prose. Successful writers learn to recognize these and correct them. For example, some authors are prone to over-using parenthetical phrases or semi-colons. Other writers use certain words over and over; employing synonyms would enliven their prose.

Many otherwise accomplished writers have bad comma habits—either omitting them where they are needed or inserting them where they are not necessary. Consult a grammar guide if you are unsure about comma placement. Other errors often noted by peer reviewers include subject-verb agreement and antecedent-pronoun agreement. These aspects of grammar may be especially challenging if English is not your first language.

DO NOT RELY SOLELY ON SPELL-CHECKING OR GRAMMAR-CHECKING SOFTWARE! Always proofread your drafts and ask colleagues to read them.