37.13 Style

Different disciplines have their own styles. You may need to read articles from your discipline or target journal to see how to write in that style. Here are some general style recommendations:

  • Use short sentences.
  • Many disciplines prefer the passive voice (‘The blood pressure was measured using…’) rather than active voice (‘We measured the blood pressure using…’), although this is not universal.
  • Most disciplines prefer the past tense (‘When the concrete cylinder was…’) rather than the present tense (‘When the concrete cylinder is…’).
  • Use inclusive language (‘firefighter’ rather than ‘fireman’).
  • Use, but do not rely upon, the spell checker.
  • Don’t talk down to the reader.
  • Omit any words, phrases, sentences that add nothing to the paper.
  • Ensure correct content, grammar, spelling, punctuation, format.
  • Check for commonly misused words: there/their; your/you’re; affect/effect; chose/choose; etc.
  • Ensure capitalisation is correct.
  • Use apostrophes (not apostrophe’s!) correctly.
  • Crucially, be unambiguous: Sentences should say what they mean, and should mean what they say:

Don’t write so that you can be understood; write so that you can’t be misunderstood.

— Attributed to William Howard Taft

Example 37.4 (Short sentences) The first sentence should be accessible and engaging. Here is a very poor first sentence:

Until recently, atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS), conventionally defined in the pediatric literature as a syndrome of the triad of renal failure, microangiopathic hemolytic anemia, and thrombocytopenia without a prodrome of hemorrhagic diarrhea, has received little attention in adult practice because the patients are commonly given the diagnosis of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) or TTP/HUS and treated as TTP with plasma exchange, augmented in refractory cases with rituximab and sometimes even splenectomy.

Tsai (2014), p. 187

This sentence appeared in a published article (Salimirad and Srimathi 2016):

600 teachers, from both Government and Private Schools, have been drowned by random sampling.

Salimirad and Srimathi (2016), p. 14; emphasis added

This sentence is poor: No-one has ever been drowned by random sampling. Possibly, the authors mean that teachers were ‘overwhelmed by participation in many research studies’…

However, later the article states:

Using random sampling a total number of 600 teachers were selected from…

Salimirad and Srimathi (2016), p. 17

So the initial wording is wrong, and I suspect the sample probably wasn’t random either!


Salimirad F, Srimathi NL. The relationship between, psychological well-being and occupation self-efficacy among teachers in the city of Msore, India. International Journal of Indian Psychology. 2016;3:14–21.
Tsai H-M. A mechanistic approach to the diagnosis and management of atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome. Transfusion Medicine Reviews. Elsevier; 2014;28(4):187–97.