For further assistance, advice or tutoring/coaching in these skills contact Dr Bill Wrigley.
Avoid using conversational English
Use formal written English. Informal, casually spoken English used in everyday conversation should be avoided.
✖ The worker spent a lot of time getting a hard job done.
✓ The employee spent considerable time completing a difficult job.
✖ People who fill out surveys on this topic must be really down.
✓ People who complete surveys on this topic are often quite depressed.
Avoid using contractions and some abbreviations
A contraction is a shortened version of a word or word group, such as isn’t (is not), can’t (cannot), there’s (there is), and won’t (would not).
Some abbreviations should also be avoided, such as eg (for example), i.e. (that is), yrs (years), and etc (ecetera, or, and so on). Etc should never be used.
✖ There’s considerable debate about the veracity of this claim.
✓ There is considerable debate about the veracity of this claim.
✖ There’s several reasons for this, eg the current weather.
✓ There are several reasons for this, for example, the wet weather.
✖ The symptoms examined in the study were palpitations, insomnia etc.
✓ The symptoms examined in the study were palpitations, insomnia….. and…..(list all of the symptoms).
Avoid using clichés, colloquialisms or slang
A cliché is an overused or stereotyped expression (such as, over the hill, meaning old).
A colloquialism is a phrase that is in very common use.
Slang is a word(s) that is not considered standard English, such as cool: That performance was really cool.
✖The moment of truth arrived for the teacher to begin the exam.
✓The time came for the teacher to begin the exam.
✖This assignment is a piece of cake compared to the previous one.
✓This assignment is easier than the previous one.
Use the passive voice to convey objectivity
Using formal English often means writing in an impersonal style by using the passive voice. However, the active voice is often preferred.
The active and passive voices refer to the form of the verb in a sentence.
Active voice: says what the subject of the sentence does or did. The subject performs the action.
Example : The teacher explained the principles clearly.
Passive voice: says what happens to the subject. This is achieved by using the word(s) was …., has been ….., is being…., will be….
Example: The theory was explained clearly by the teacher.
Avoid using ‘you’
Replace ‘you’ with ‘one’. Alternatively, use the passive voice.
✗ You would not expect this group to have responded negatively to the intervention.
✔ One would not expect this group to have responded negatively to the intervention.
✔ The negative response to the intervention would not be expected. (passive voice)
List of informal and formal academic words and phrases
There are many words and phrases often used by students that, although used in conversational or informal English, are not considered formal English required for academic writing. The table below lists many of these, together with a formal English alternative.
Table 1. List of informal words and their formal equivalents.
|Informal, ‘Wordy’ Language||Formal Language|
|a lot||many, considerable number, numerous|
|came up with||produced, provided|
|come up with||develop|
|carried out (a study)||conducted, performed|
|deal with||manage, respond to|
|did, done||conducted, performed|
|get rid of||eliminate, removed|
|go down, get smaller||decrease, reduce|
|go into, talk about||discuss|
|go up, get bigger||increase|
|(a) great deal of||considerable|
|in accordance with||consistent with|
|find out||determine ascertain, discover, learn|
|(it is) fitting||(it is) appropriate|
|made up of||consisted of, comprised|
|make up,||constitute, comprise|
|make it easier||facilitate|
|make sure||ensure, verify|
|not been much||few, little|
|pointed out, watched,||indicated, observed|
|put forward (an idea, view, theory)||present, propose|
|said||reported, indicated, stated|
|set out to do something, try to do||aim|
|tell apart/between, make a distinction||distinguish, differentiate, discern|
|went back over, looked over,||reviewed|
|worked out, figured out||determined|
|whole lot of||various|