Better Signal Phrases for Research Writing

Overview

In style guidelines for research writing we have the idea of efficiency.

The concept is:

  • to use the least amount of words necessary to be clear (don’t be wordy).
  • to avoid saying what is unnecessary (don’t be redundant).

Here in an example of an awkward signal phrase, or phrase that introduces a source, and several solutions that will instantly improve your research writing style.

Problem

Consider a common style of awkward signal phrase used by beginning research writers. It might look like this:

“In a journal article I found called [“title”] it states that…”

  • It takes 10 words, plus a long title, to get the reader to the point. Therefore, it is wordy – a burden to readers.
  • We know the author found the article because it is in the paper, and we will know it’s a journal article because we have Works Cited (or References in APA style) to tell us. Therefore, it is redundant

Writing like this clogs the paper and takes away from developing the content. 

Solutions

Try these less redundant, more efficient solutions:

  • “The article [“title”] states…”
  • Instead of giving a long title, use the authors, for example, “Afshari, Mojgan, et al. write…”
  • In APA style you would add the year: “Afshari, Mojgan, et al. (2009) write…”
  • Or give the authors with a relevant description, such as “Afshari, Mojgan, et al. studied how technology is used by teachers and found…”
  • In APA style you would add the year: “Afshari, Mojgan, et al. (2009) studied how technology is used by teachers and found…”

Don’t forget your in-text citation at the end. 

Better introductions to sources that are less redundant and more efficient will not only give you more time to develop your research paper, but will be a relief to readers. As a bonus, your research style will instantly sound more professional. 

For several decades I have conducted writing workshops of all kinds, and for 14 years I have taught writing on the faculty of Indiana University Southeast. Now I have decided to give back for these opportunities by making my lessons available online. I hope you enjoy this lesson, and the other lessons here on my writing Web site, michael-jackman.com. You may download and use any lesson here free of charge, provided you give credit as: © Copyright Michael Jackman. All Rights Reserved.

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