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Writing guide
This page is still provisional

If you have not yet looked at the Author guide page, please do so before looking at this Writing guide.

The following notes are essential.  Following this guide will help you to make your article more accessible to evaluators during the review process and then to readers once your paper is published.  It may also speed up the review and publication presses.  Making a special effort to use recommendations such as these will help your work to be accepted, discovered, read, used and cited.

  • Good writing has the following characteristics (among others).

  • precision

  • clarity

  • simple sentences

  • grounded in concrete experience

  • appropriate pace

  • use of transitional devices (rhetorical signposts)

  • appeal to senses

  • correct grammar and punctuation

  • demonstrates clear thinking

  • appropriate use of analogies that provide meaningful context

  • paragraphs have short, clear (initial) topic sentences

  • The immature writer holds every word sacred;
    the good writer will jump at opportunities to improve,
    and this means revising, simplifying and shortening.

    • Be sure that the final manuscript that you send has been thoroughly checked for all points in this Guide.  Make sure that the final manuscript has been carefully proofread and spell checked.

      • You will find some professional editing services on the web, including some that specialize in the geosciences.  Do not be ashamed of using them, even if you are a native speaker.  If you are a non-native, it will be a major boost to your ms.  You will save time and hassle; the money is well spent.  It could also make the crucial difference between having your ms accepted and rejected.  


Language clarity

  • Keep sentences short and simple.  Keep paragraphs short.  Use plenty of headings and sub-headings.  Use a topic sentence for every paragraph.

    • You must take particular care with style.  A well-written paper conveys its message and communicates its ideas more clearly and with greater force than a poorly written one.  As a general rule, this means using simple language, short sentences and clearly-structured paragraphing, rather than such things as complex, difficult-to-fathom, overly-complicated, polysemic, noun/adjective phrase-structure lexico-semantic cluster sets.

  • A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.  Strunk & White

  • Simplicity and clarity of language are important in a journal that is read around the world.  Before submitting your paper, get a friend or colleague (preferably one who is not familiar with the topic) to look at a draft and invite them to provide you with some honest and detailed feedback about both form and content, about what is essential and what is not.  This will increase the chance of your paper being accepted for publication, and also make your paper more accessible to readers -- which must be your primary concern.

    • If you are a non-native writer of English, it is essential that you get your manuscript corrected early on by a good native writer, especially someone who has already written and published academic articles, especially in good journals.  (Just because a native speaker is native does not guarantee that they will be a good writer or corrector of writing.)

    • If you are a native speaker, it is still worth getting your ms checked by a colleague native speaker, in order to point out areas that need clarification.

      • Badly written manuscripts will be rejected outright, whether this is due to unacceptable non-native writing or to bad native writing.

  • Neither the editor nor the publisher can correct the writing of either native or non-native writers. 

  • Once you get to your final version, then seriously consider asking for professional help from an editing service.


Jargon, wording & avoiding verbosity

  • Keep in mind that the geoscience and communication communities comprise professionals from a wide variety of disciplines and practices.  What may be perfectly clear to everyone in role-play may seem obscure to those in environmental planning; what is perfectly familiar to volcanology teachers may be quite incomprehensible to curriculum specialists, especially those 'higher' up making important decisions.

  • Although you should not take up space with a comprehensive survey of your field (unless it is a review article), you should explain unfamiliar or potentially opaque terms in a succinct periphrases within parentheses.

For example, on the first use of a technical term, you might write "... simulation is useful for receptive language skills (these are listening and reading) ...".

In other words, avoid jargon if it is not necessary, and if technical words are necessary clarify them briefly (e.g., by a short explanation in parentheses, such as this one, or if greater explanation is needed, provide this in an endnote).  In addition, you might provide one or two basic references to your disciplinary area in addition to the more specialized items.

  • Avoid careless, vague or unnecessary wording.

  • Where appropriate, use Anglo-Saxon terms rather than words of Latin origin.

  • Avoid what Zinsser calls creeping nounism, "a new disease that strings two or three nouns together when one will do".  For example, precipitation activity can be called rain.


Assumptions & attitudes

  • Be careful to avoid wording that may (even unintentionally) reflect questionable attitudes and assumptions about people, sex roles and social groups.  This is not a question of trying to be so-called politically correct; it is simply a matter of showing respect for other groups.

  • Do not use the false generic "man" and its derivatives.  Instead, use people, humans, humanity; work force, staff; artificial, synthetic, manufactured; person-to-person, personally; staffed by; executive; chairperson, chair; fire fighter; supervisor; police officer; leader, politician; etc.

  • Do not use the false generic "he" and other masculine pronouns.  Do not try to get round this with a blanket disclaimer.  Instead, do the following:

  • Change to plural: A person learns that he ...  ↠ People learn that they ...

  • They as singular pronoun.  Ask each person to give their opinion.   [This is correct English, contrary to what some might hold (going back as far as Caxton in 1470).]

  • Use the second person. Each person must write his name ↠ You must write your name.

  • Use an article. Everyone gives an opinion, instead of his opinion.

  • Use the passive. If he cannot answer the question ↠ If the question cannot be answered.

  • Other suggestions.  Ask questions about his family becomes Ask questions about your partner's family.

The above notes are taken from Women in EFL Materials (1991).  On balance: Guidelines for the representation of women and men in English language teaching materials.  Didcot: Women in EFL Materials.  This publication also contains a useful bibliography.


  • ThereAvoid "There is / are" structures.

  • Instead of:  There are many different forms that written debriefing can take.

  • Write  Written debriefing can take many different forms.

  • Do not use "But" or "And" or similar connectors at the start of sentences.  Instead use However, or In addition, or other suitable expressions.

  • Include "that" in subordinate clauses.  Write we think that it is …, and not "we think it is ..." .


Which / that

  • Make sure of correct use of

    • comma + which for non-defining relative clauses (we liked the COMMONS GAME, which was designed and facilitated by Richard Powers), and

    • that for defining relative clauses (the game that we demonstrated was BAFA).

  • Be careful if you give your ms to a British corrector; they often do not make the distinction, which is important, especially for a journal that [not which] is published internationally.  I have had ms back from British correctors who flaunt the rule, and flatten everything to "no comma which", which often makes understanding difficult.

    • More examples of these things can be found on this page.

  • Use who for people (not that).

Other pitfalls

  • Do not use different than or to, but rather different from.

  • Do not attempt to carelessly and indiscriminately split infinitives; instead write with discernment.

  • Use although instead of "though" in most cases.  Do not use while for although.

  • Be very careful of dangling modifiers.  Pls be sure to correct any and all dangling modifiers that may be lurking in your ms.

    • Examples of dangling modifiers and how to correct them can be found on this page.

  • Where appropriate, use Anglo-Saxon terms rather than words of Latin origin.

    • Avoid what Zinsser calls creeping nounism, "a new diseasee that strings two or three nouns together when one will do".  For example, precipitation activity can be called rain.

  • Prefer active sentences where possible.  Use a passive only when it is truly warranted, e.g., it is simpler than the active or it is necessary in the context used.

  • Use first person.  Rather than saying "the present author is of the opinion that", it is better to say I think that.

In any case, make sure that the length of your article suits your topic and the content; and remember that brevity is the soul of wit!  Write what is germane to the topic and omit the tangential.  If your article is too long for what it says, you will be asked to shorten it -- possibly to shorter than what would have been accepted had it been submitted with an appropriate length in the first place!  Both the editor and the reviewers are sensitive to and strict on length.

Headings.  Make ample use of short headings, sub-headings and minor headings where appropriate.  They should highlight the structure of your article visually as well as propositionally. A ll headings are in lower case, unless the word requires upper case, as in a proper noun, or following a colon.

Spelling.  Use American or preferably British spellings.  Spell  role-play  like that (rather than role play or roleplay), with no accent over the o.  Use a slash "/" or a hyphen "-" in simulation/gaming and similar expressions (with preference for the former); use a space where appropriate, such as gamed simulation.

Computers & simulation.  Use the term computer-mediated simulation or computerized simulation for simulations involving human participants (other terms are computer-assisted, computer-based, computer-controlled, computer-dependent.  Use the term computer simulation for computer programs that operate with insignificant or no human participant interaction.

For explanations see "Human and computer involvement in simulation", David Crookall, Allan Martin, Danny Saunders, and Alan Coote.  Simulation & Gaming, 9 1986; vol. 17: pp. 345 - 375.

Use a  hyphen  in such adjectival structures as a decision-making game, a ready-to-use, computer-assisted simulation and problem-solving strategy, but not in nominal phrases such as decision making is a complex process and this is an example of effective problem solving.   Use hyphens with most compound expressions, such as non-usual, re-negotiate, post-test, pre-test, but no hyphen in the most common expressions, such us unusual, regain, overcome.   When in doubt insert a hyphen.  However, use multi-cultural and intercultural.

More examples of the above things and how to correct them can be found on this page.

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