Need to shorten your paper?

Recently, I was asked to help an author shorten a paper by 10% to meet the word-count requirements of the target journal. The paper was already quite short and contained little extraneous information. However, by using the techniques illustrated here with example sentences, I accomplished the task without eliminating anything important. Consider the following sentences:

(1) Proteins have various functions that are precisely controlled.

You can shorten this in two ways. First, revise to emphasize the important point, which in the context of the paper was not the variety of protein functions but the precise control of those functions. Second, eliminate the unnecessary prepositional phrase: use “protein function” not “functions of proteins.”

Protein function is precisely controlled.

(2) The release and activation of the proteins were controlled by…

Again, eliminate unnecessary prepositional phrases: “of the proteins.”

Protein release and activation were controlled by…

(3) The latest analysis methods make it possible to profile all the proteins produced during a given period.

Here, you can replace a phrase with a single word: use “permit” instead of “make it possible.”

The latest analysis methods permit profiling of all the proteins produced during a given period.

(4) There is no general method for controlling the timing and location of activity of proteins within cells.

Here you can eliminate an expletive phrase (“there is”) and use concise terminology: “spatiotemporal control” versus “controlling the timing and location.” Jargon has its uses!

A general method for spatiotemporal control of protein activity within cells is lacking.


(5) Nanoparticles have been successfully used to carry probe molecules into cells.

Eliminate redundant words, “successfully” in this case. “Used” implies success; one would never say “nanoparticles have been unsuccessfully used.”

Nanoparticles have been used to carry probe molecules into cells.


(6) The point of irradiation coincided with the point at which the change in morphology started, suggesting that the change in morphology was initiated by…

Again, eliminate unnecessary prepositional phrases, and don’t repeat words unnecessarily: the second instance of “change” does not need a modifier to indicate that you are referring to the morphological change.

The irradiation point coincided with the point at which the morphological change started, suggesting that the change was initiated by…


(7) Nanoparticles were prepared containing proteins, and the nanoparticles were used as carriers of the proteins into cells.

Turn a compound sentence (two subjects, two verbs) into a simple sentence with a single subject (“nanoparticles”) and a compound predicate (“were prepared and used”).

Nanoparticles containing proteins were prepared and used to carry the proteins into cells.


(8) Enzyme activity was negligible before irradiation, whereas strong enzyme activity was observed after irradiation

Again, replace a compound sentence with a simple sentence. In addition, delete “was observed” and simply state what was observed: “strong enzyme activity was observed” becomes “enzyme activity…was strong.”

Enzyme activity was negligible before irradiation but strong after irradiation.

(9) Changing the reagent concentration resulted in a change in the size of the nanoparticles: a higher reagent concentration produced smaller nanoparticles.

Here you can replace two statements—one general and one specific—with a single specific statement. Don’t state that a change occurred and then describe the change; simply describe the change:

Increasing the reagent concentration decreased the nanoparticle size.


(10) In the merged images obtained immediately after irradiation (Fig. 1, left panels) and 24 h later (Fig. 1, right panels), the fluorescence was visible.

Don’t automatically repeat figure numbers, and omit the word “panels,” which is often unnecessary.

In the merged images obtained immediately after irradiation (Fig. 1, left) and 24 h later (right), the fluorescence was visible.

(11) When a small spot (indicated by the red circle in Fig. 1) was irradiated…

“Indicated by the” is unnecessary here.

When a small spot (red circle, Fig. 1) was irradiated…

Note that none of the original sentences were grammatical wrong, and under normal circumstances, no revisions would be required. However, when concision is a priority, theses types of changes can come in handy.

One thought on “Need to shorten your paper?”

  1. Thank you so much for this entry. I am back in school, and editing my own papers; this will be invaluable for tightening up written-at-the-crack-of-dawn paragraphs.

Leave a Reply to Caryn Sobel Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *