A group of words makes a sentence. But how we arrange those words, makes all the difference. Poetry and songs, given to artistic liberty, often defy the rules of sentence construction and structure. However, academic writing is different. When writing your manuscript, it is important to convey research concepts and complex scientific ideas clearly; there should be no ambiguity in the reader’s understanding. For authors looking to publish their research in reputed international journals, it is crucial to adhere to English grammar rules, sentence construction and the use of different types of sentence structures to improve readability and give your manuscript the best chances of acceptance.
Sentence construction: Writing good sentences
While the grammar rules are clear, sentence construction can trip up even researchers who speak English fluently. This can be especially challenging for researchers who have English as a second language (ESL), creating roadblocks in their journey to publication. Researchers looking to articulate their scientific knowledge accurately must first understand the basics of sentence construction and what sentence structure is when writing in English.
Here are some basic rules to keep in mind to write good sentences:
- A sentence must have a subject (person or thing) and a predicate (what the subject is doing). To put it simply, ensure your sentences have a proper noun-verb combination.
- A sentence should convey a complete thought, which can stand by itself; this is also known as an independent clause. Avoid incomplete sentences to make your writing look more polished.
- A sentence should be properly punctuated; how you use commas, semi-colons, hyphens, periods and other punctuation can make or break the structure and flow of your writing.
What is sentence structure?
Sentence structure is the order in which words are arranged to create a sentence that makes complete sense and is also easy to read and understand. But it’s not just word order, punctuation can also drastically change the meaning of a sentence. For instance, an incomplete sentence that is punctuated like a complete sentence is called a sentence fragment. This can happen if there is a missing subject or verb, ideas added as afterthoughts, or disconnected words and phrases that support another idea or sentence.
Other common problems with sentence structure are:
- Comma splices – two complete sentences joined with only a comma
- Fused sentences – two complete sentences joined without any punctuation
- Faulty modifiers – modifiers placed next to the wrong word or phrase, so it’s unclear what is being described
- Faulty Parallelism – different types of words or patterns used to describe similar ideas in a list or sentence
- Faulty comparison – things being compared incorrectly or where the comparison doesn’t make sense
- Shifts in tenses, active and passive voice, and numbers can also be confusing to the reader
- Repetition, redundancy, wordiness are all issues that could affect sentence length and clarity
Keeping these points in mind can help you improve your sentence construction. Another great tip for research authors is using different types of sentence structures, with variations in length, to make your academic papers more engaging for your readers.
What are the types of sentence structure?
There are four types of sentence structure in the English language, and it’s recommended to use a good mix of these in your manuscript.
- Simple sentences have one independent clause, which means that it can stand alone as a complete sentence.
For example, The surgeon removed a cancer-affected tumor.
- Compound sentences have at least two independent clauses, joined together using a coordinating conjunction such as for, and, or nor, or by using a semicolon between the two.
For example, The surgeon removed a cancer-affected tumor; it weighed 1,750 grams.
- Complex sentences are a type of sentence structure that comprises one independent and at least one dependent clause.
For example, The surgeon removed a cancer-affected tumor, weighing 1,750 grams, from the liver of a 70-year-old man.
- Compound-complex sentences have at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.
For example, The surgeon removed a cancer-affected tumor, weighing 1,750 grams, from the liver of a 70-year-old man; the surgery was the surgeon’s first.
Now that we know what sentence structure is and the types of sentence structure, we need to know how to identify and correct sentence construction errors that can affect academic writing, something that’s built on research, facts, and experiments.
Common sentence construction errors in academic writing
Even tiny changes in sentence construction can make or break your chances of keeping your readers – journal editors, peer reviewers, funders and sponsors, and your target audience – engaged with your paper. Be sure to read your writing carefully to ensure it flows well before you submit.
To give you an idea of what to look for, we’ve put together some of the common sentence-construction errors researchers make while writing and how to correct them:
- Sentence fragments that are incomplete can. For example, a sentence that is missing a verb.
INCORRECT: The patient suffering from dementia.
CORRECTED: The patient is suffering from dementia.
- Long sentences that do not use punctuations correctly, also called run-on sentences, are hard to read and understand, especially for ESL readers.
INCORRECT: The survey shows that 80% of the patients agreed that smoking cigarettes leads to lung cancer however only 30% called themselves active smokers.
CORRECT: The survey shows that 80% of the patients agreed that smoking cigarettes leads to lung cancer. However, only 30% called themselves active smokers.
- Fused sentences can be exhausting to read; they can be corrected by using a full stop, a semicolon, or a comma and a coordinating conjunction between them.
INCORRECT: People with acute diverticulitis can be treated with medications, the recurrence rates may be high.
CORRECT: People with acute diverticulitis can be treated with medications; the recurrence rates may be high.
- Incorrectly placed modifiers or adjectives in a sentence can be confusing. For example, in the sentence below “with severe bipolar disorder” incorrectly modifies “specialist”, which is misleading.
INCORRECT: The patient was referred to a specialist with severe bipolar disorder.
CORRECT: The patient with severe bipolar disorder was referred to a specialist.
- Faulty parallelism, especially when listing things, makes your writing look unpolished.
INCORRECT: The patients were asked to remove the cap, shaking the inhaler, and then inhaling the drug.
CORRECT: The patients were asked to remove the cap, shake the inhaler, and then inhale the drug.
It always helps to have someone iron out sentence construction and other language issues to improve the overall readability of your manuscript. Even if you’re very careful, you may make errors with different types of sentence structure, especially if English is not your first language. Ambitious researchers seeking to maximize their chances of acceptance may benefit from professional editing services like Editage, which brings together senior experts to help ensure the language in your paper meets the highest publication standards. With Editage’s Advanced Editing service, you get to work with two highly experienced editors, native English speakers with at least a PhD in your subject area, who edit your paper to improve sentence structure, eliminate grammatical errors, ensure consistency and flow, and ensure the proper use of subject-specific terms. So, if you’re ready with your paper, Editage’s expert could help you move closer to your publication goals!