Few people have the time to read long articles. Below are some suggestions to stay within BAMS word limits. For BAMS articles, the intended average is 4,500 words and can be achieved with the techniques below. Intelligent use of appendixes, supplements, sidebars, footnotes, and captions can be particularly helpful.
Appendixes are appropriate for technical methods that are not fully necessary for all readers to absorb. They are also a good space for quantifying work while the main text remains more qualitative. Appendixes appear near the end of a print/digital article.
Supplemental material has strong relevance to the article but offers an excellent avenue for going into detail and thus keeping the main text short and readable. It is also useful for large tables that might be unnecessary for the general reader or for animations and other digital content. The print version of an article with supplemental material has an icon and footnote to alert readers of the availability of the supplements. The digital version of the article contains a live hyperlink to the supplements. Referring to the supplemental material in the text is beneficial to the reader.
Consider using a sidebar for specialized content to avoid distracting readers from basic, new, surprising, or otherwise memorable content. Often this specialized content is in the traditional “Methods” section of a paper. A sidebar may be up to about 500 words. Most articles should not have more than two sidebars. A very short aside for specialists, on the other hand, might be best placed as a footnote.
Avoid duplicating caption information in the main text. Likewise, an explanation about how to read a figure or table should be in the caption, not in the main text. The best place to discuss the implications of a figure or table is in the caption itself, unless those implications are central to the main point of the article.
Equations are essential and often an elegant way to communicate science. However, sometimes well-known equations are best left to references rather than reprinting them in the article. If your paper is highly mathematical, consider crafting a shorter, less-detailed version for print and using a BAMS online supplement for the math.
Use “active voice” wherever possible. Passive voice is verbose and harder to read. Keep your paragraphs under 150 words when possible. Also, a good example helps readers retain interesting specifics. When you quantify something, remember that not all readers have a sense of small and large in all types of units and all situations, so enlightening comparisons can improve reader comprehension. Ultimately, a good BAMS article should be readily accessible—at least in the main text and captions—by a second-year college student majoring in meteorology or oceanography.
Make reading a linear experience by achieving a logical, compelling flow. It is better to trim some detail on some points in order to focus on a few essential ideas and thus give more space to establishing the context and logical flow. The best way to create an inexorable momentum that sweeps readers to your concluding paragraphs is to make one overarching point early and then organize everything else in the article such that it argues (pro or con) and amplifies that point. Everything inessential to that flow is good material for an appendix, a sidebar, and/or online supplemental material.
Redundancy is a sign of poor flow. The traditional article format—introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusions—encourages repetition. This is also true for a good lecture format, in which you tell students what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. However, this style works best with a captive audience—not with readers. If you find yourself referring to a previous section or a later section of the article or if you find yourself summarizing a previous point, you will dissuade readers from continuing. They might jump ahead or even quit reading. Your conclusions should take the next logical step in the article instead of repeating what has already been said. Likewise, the introductory pages should not be an abstract or summary of subsequent pages. Use the opening of the article to establish a context and give readers a reason to continue by making your one good point worth explaining in subsequent paragraphs.
Aim for exposition and avoid long bulleted or numbered sections. Your article should not look like an outline or a list. Lists lack the context, transition, and relationships that are necessary for flow and retention of information.
Multiple levels of subheads are another form of outlining that discourages necessary context and flow. Focus on agile transitions and limit your subheads to one or two levels. Note that BAMS articles never begin with a subhead.