Prof. Dr. Felix Naumann

Tips on writing

Below is a collection of notes and tips on writing English research papers. Some of the hints are taken from "Bugs in Writing" by Lyn Dupre, which I highly recommend. The lists are unordered. I only list things that can be searched for in a last pass through the paper or thesis before submitting. Also, the issues listed here are sometimes particular to authors of German mother-tongue.


  • such as: Always preceded by a comma.
  • i.e.: Always preceded and followed by a comma.
  • e.g.: Always preceded and followed by a comma.
  • because: Always preceded by a comma.
  • which: Is preceded by a comma (as opposed to "that").
  • Enumerations: In contrast to German, place a comma before the final "and" or "or": ...databases, information systems, and search engines.

Poor/Difficult Words

  • will: Can be removed without substitution in almost all instances, except when explicitly talking about the future.
  • like: Probably you mean "such as". Remember commas before "such as"
  • which/that: "That" identifies an object; "which" adds a remark to an object. Removing the "that"-clause destroys the sentence, removing the "which"-clause leaves the sentence intact.
  • whole: Usually "entire" is better.
  • very: Avoid it.
  • bad: You probably mean "poor".
  • seems to be: Avoid it.
  • in order to: Usually can be replaced simply with "to".
  • this: Should always be followed by the referenced noun. "This works well." vs. "This technique works well."
  • a/an: according to pronunciation: <ul><li>"an" is not used before any vowel: "A used book", but "an unintelligible book".</li><li>"an" is used not only before a vowel: "An XML book".</li></ul>
  • only: Place it right before the thing you want to modify. Usually not a verb. "We only consider trees." vs. "We consider only trees."
  • send vs. sent, build vs built, etc.: We have built a prototype.
  • get: is quite colloquial. Try "obtain", "yield", "receive", etc.
  • apply: "apply to", not "apply on" (this is a typical mistake for Germans)


  • Try to place groups of citations in the same order as they appear in the bibliography: [8,25,3] is not as nice as [3,8,25]. Use \usepackage{cite} to automatically fix this.
  • Capitalize the words Figure, Section, Table, etc. if the are followed by a reference to a concrete Figure, Table...
  • Avoid calling the first section "Introduction". Give it a telling name.
  • You can abbreviate Fig., Sec., Tab. only if the words do not begin the sentence.


  • Consistency: Make sure that same conferences or same journals are referenced in the same way. A useful tool are bibtex macros, such as: @string{jgg1 = "Journal of Gnats and Gnus, Series~1"}
  • Year: Make sure that the publication year appears only once, not twice or evven three times, as I often observe.
  • Page numbers: If you include page numbers, you need to do this for all references, not just the ones where you happened to have them. For journals, page numbers are more important.
  • I usually do not care if some conference was the "23rd" in a row. 


  • Use \@ after capitalized abbreviations at the end of sentences: We now describe our PDMS\@. The tool lacheck.exe finds those instances in LaTeX documents.<ul><li>Another tip: \usepackage{xspace} and \newcommand{\ourModel}{NameOfOurModel\xspace}</li></ul>
  • Use tilde (~) instead of a space before citations and references: This evidence was presented by Ullmann~\cite{Ullmann90}.
  • Use the utility lacheck.exe on your .tex file to find get some hints.
  • Use correct quotation marks: ``quoted''.
  • In .bib file be sure to put curly brackets around capitalized abbreviations, such as {SQL}, {XML}, and {Garlic}.

External pointers

Further items are welcome:
Felix Naumann