6. Structural concerns

The LE is not concerned with the overall structure of the article, except as mentioned in Sect. 1.2. If there are obvious anomalies, however, the LE will mention it to the author or contact the scientific editor for advice.

6.1 Paragraphs

Each paragraph should have its own focus that is introduced in the first sentence. Ideally, this first sentence should also include a brief transition phrase or reference from the preceding paragraph or else a clear connection to the topic of the whole section.

6.1.1 Length

Avoid writing paragraphs that are too long or too short. Paragraphs that are too long can be difficult to read. Similarly, having too many short (two or three sentences) paragraphs in a row leads to monotony and a lack of transition within a section. The best approach for paragraphs is to aim for variety in length following the shifts in topics.

A research paper is expository writing, so each topic needs some development, which means that one-sentence paragraphs are not appropriate, even if split into two short sentences, so the LE will very likely suggest combining it with an adjacent paragraph.

6.1.2 Transition between sentences and sections

The transition between ideas helps the reader follow the discussion without stopping to guess where it is going. This occurs in many different ways: pronoun reference (this, they, etc.), repetition of a key word or phrase (“This repetition confirms the reference to an earlier idea.”), use of logical connectors (however, finally, again, all in all, etc.), or parallel structure (Sect. 6.3). (http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/transitions.htm)

If one of these tools is overused (e.g., one per sentence or every two sentences), the reader will notice the devices rather than follow the discussion itself. These include “actually”, “in fact”, “moreover”, “indeed”. One example of overuse is when several sentences in a row use indicators of contrast (and argument), which leads to the impression of the author arguing with her/himself. Another is a string of phrases for addition, such that a reader might wonder if a list might not be a better idea.

Likewise, “hence” is often overused in the papers we see. It is useful in the right context, usually before a fragment following what it refers to, not as the first word of a sentence or instead of “therefore” to connect to a new sentence: “He knew he could not win the election, hence his decision to withdraw”. When overused, it loses its strong rhetorical power, so limit its use to once or twice over several pages rather than once or twice a paragraph.

6.2 Sentences

A sentence should contain one idea with closely related information. Long, run-on sentences can be unclear and difficult to read, so split them into two or three shorter sentences, where possible, although (as mentioned above) only if the original is unwieldy

6.2.1 Beginnings

Avoid beginning a sentence with an abbreviation, and do not begin with a number (unless written out), a formula, or a symbol.

Sect. 3 shows... Section 3 shows that..., while Sect. 4 presents...
96 stars... Ninety-six stars...
α Tauri was detected... The star α Tauri was detected...
E = mc2 is Einstein's... Einstein's famous equation is E = mc2

Avoid overusing indirect introductory phrases that are intended to emphasize the idea in the sentence:

  • Phrases stating your emphasis (e.g., “It is worth stating that” or “We want to stress that”) are wordy thus taking away from the strength of your assertion when used more than once a page. They are, however, better than addressing the reader with “Note that”, which is best left off entirely. (At most use “We note that” or one of the choices just above.)

  • Phrases stating purpose (“concerning” or “with regard to”) because they are usually unnecessary and wordy:
    • “Concerning the value of the frequency, we investigated whether stars release...”
    • “We investigated the value of the frequency at which stars release...”

If you begin a sentence with a dependent clause, then make certain that its understood subject is the same as the subject of the sentence that follows (called a dangling modifier, which can be amusing at times).

  • “Having studied the spectra, the two galaxies were approaching each other.”
  • “Our study of the spectra showed that the two galaxies were approaching each other.”

6.2.2 English default structure

The English declarative sentence is based on a structure of subject, predicate (central verb phrase), and objects of the action. The sentence structure can be varied, but should be followed as often as possible. The two problems we see most often follow:

In general, avoid separating the subject from its verb (the main action of the sentence) or inverting the standard word order of subject-verb-object.

  • The author, after revising the English, submitted his article.
  • After revising the English, the author submitted his article.
  • Especially appealing is the study of its stellar winds.
  • The study of its winds is especially appealing.

Likewise, avoid separating a transitive verb from its direct object. While some adverbs go before the verb1 (often, rarely, etc.), an adverb generally follows either the object of the verb (transitive verb) or the verb when it is intransitive:

  • The star’s image shows clearly the alignment.
  • The star’s image clearly shows the alignment.
  • The star’s image shows the alignment clearly.
  • The star’s image frequently shows the alignment clearly.
  • We take into account the new data. (This is a separable verbal phrase.)
  • We take the new data into account.

The verbs allow, enable, and permit require an object:

  • This program allows (enables, permits) to analyze the data.
  • This program allows us to analyze the data.
  • This program allows the data to be analyzed.
  • This program allows analysis of the data.

6.3 Parallel structure

Parallel structures, which are those that have the same grammatical structure, make for greater readability and clear reference in a sentence. It is required in lists and can also be used to create transition in paragraphs or full sections (6.1.2 above).

  • UCAC3 provided a data set that has coverage in proper motion and with reasonable errors. (Using “that has” and then “with” makes the sentence difficult to follow as two possible corrections show.)
  • UCAC3 provided a data set that offers both coverage in proper motion and sufficient accuracy.
  • UCAC3 provided a data set that offers coverage in proper motion with reasonable errors.

Place the first word of a compounding structure before the first element of the list, rather than earlier in the sentence.

  • “using both data from the literature and the archives” (Ambiguous: the archives or its data?)
  • “using data from both the literature and the archives”
  • “LBVs show not only photometric variability, but also reveal different spectra.”
  • “LBVs not only show..., but also reveal...”
  • “...minimizes the scatter between observed and synthetic spectra, both in terms of line equivalent width and overall spectral synthesis around the lines of interest...”
  • “...scatter between observed and synthetic spectra, in terms of both line...” (otherwise, it can be referring back to “both observed and synthetic spectra”.

1 Adverbs can move in their sentences, but there are still rules depending on the type of adverb: before the subject, before the verb, or after the verb and its object. [link for more: grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/.../adverbs.htm or https://www.englishclub.com/grammar/adverb-position.htm]. “Only” and “also” and adverbs of time and frequency (sometimes, recently, never, rarely) tend to go before the verb when used as adverbs (“We also studied low-mass disks.”) or between the verb and its auxiliary (“The satellite has only been in service for a decade.”). “Hardly” and “only” tend to precede the word it qualifies, when used as adjectives (“Hardly anyone asked questions.”)