When writing college or post-graduate papers, one must be careful to write in a professional sounding, academic tone. This means language, wording, claims, or descriptions that are unbiased, objective, scholarly, precise, and fully supported by evidence. A negative or unprofessional tone can arise from language forms such as these.
- Writer voice
- Use of second person forms ("you, your")
- Use or overuse of first person forms ("I, we, our, my")
- Subjective first-person expressions, e.g., "I think, we believe"
- Sentence form
- Overuse of quotations and quoted expressions
- Use or overuse of questions
- Using questions, especially non-rhetorical questions, that a writer poses and then immediately answers, i.e., topic-raising questions
- Overuse of hypothetical questions, or suggestive questions (which imply a certain answer or assumption)
- Don't you think all students have the responsibility to learn on their own? That's why this program does not use traditional exams.
- General level discussion, e.g., using common, general knowledge; not providing informative, new, insightful, or unique ideas or information
- Arguments or main ideas that are common and not original, unique, or derived from careful thinking
Problems here arise from using modifiers whose meaning is not logically called for or appropriate, e.g., in making statements whose degree of meaning are not logically and clearly supported by evidence. This can include unnecessary use or overuse of adverbs and adjectives to qualify or emphasize statements, such as:
- Misuse or overuse of degree, manner or frequency adverbs, especially common ones, e.g., really, clearly, a little, definitely
- Unnecessary use of emphatic adverbs, e.g., especially, really
- Over-sweeping adjectives, e.g., outstanding, obvious
- Making broad generalizations, e.g., with always, every time, everyone, never
- Emotional language
This includes wording that is emotional, negative, inflammatory, judgemental, or that shows a bias, e.g.:
- It is heartbreaking that so many mice are starving.
- His performance was terrible, sickening, and sad. And he just looks pathetic.
- His policies incur the hateful wrath of the public.
- Informal language
- Slang or colloquial language, e.g., "But hey, that's totally cool, man."
- Clichés, e.g., "But every cloud has a silver lining."
- Colloquial idioms, e.g., "As they say, there are more fish in the ocean."
- Colloquial figures of speech, e.g., "So don't worry if you haven't hooked the right man yet."
- Imprecise or vague terms instead of more formal, precise terms, e.g., "take out" instead of "remove, excise"
- X We got good results, like, in our latent space model we got a near-perfect fit.
- ✔️ Satisfactory results were obtained in this study; for example, in the latent space model, we obtained a near-perfect fit.
- Colloquial wording
The following are informal, or can be informal if used too often, and can be better expressed with more formal equivalents in academic writing. Synonyms for such words can be found from a thesaurus (a synonym dictionary) such as www.thesaurus.com.
|Informal||→ More formal|
|Adverbials & connectors|
|anyway, anyways [ = topic shift marker]||As mentioned, .... |
For / As for ...,
Or a sentence starting with another prepositional phrase; or start a new paragraph.
|besides||Furthermore, / Also, / In addition, / Additionally,|
|like this||like so, thus, accordingly, similarly, respectively, ...|
|nowadays||currently, in recent times, recently,...|
|Adjectives & modifiers|
|big, huge, gigantic||large, extremely large, enormous, great, voluminous, massive, exorbitant, significant, substantial...|
|good||advantageous, excellent, desirable, effective, suitable, beneficial, of considerable quality, greatly appreciated, ...|
|kind of, sort of||slightly, somewhat|
|a little||slightly, somewhat, fairly|
|lots of, a lot of||many, a large amount of, a large quantity of, numerous|
|more and more||increasingly __, __-er (e.g., increasingly fierce, increasingly fiercer, fiercer; more daunting, increasingly daunting)|
|pretty||fairly, somewhat, generally, very|
|really||extremely, greatly, dramatically; indeed|
|Nouns & pronouns|
|part||partition, section, component, sector, element, entity, portion, aspect, paragraph, ...|
|people||individuals, participants, subjects, men, women, humans, citizens, voters, students, adults, population, researchers, Canadians, ... (The appropriate noun would depend on the context.)|
|thing||item, object, material, entity, device, ...|
|stuff, thing(s)||items, objects, material, entities, devices, ...|
|someone, something||a certain person/item, a specific person, a/this/that particular individual, an entity, a person, an item |
Use a specific noun phrase; or use a passive voice verb and omit the vague subject.
|way||manner, method, means, methodology, instrument, aspect|
|do||conduct, perform, ...|
|get||receive, obtain, acquire ... ; become|
don't, can't, won't, they're...
|Uncontracted forms: |
do not, can not / cannot, will not, they are