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Academic Writing
Formal Language
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Hints for choosing more formal words

In academic writing you should aim to be succinct, thus:

1. When picking a word, choose the most relevant and specific one for the point you wish to make; for example:
(match the colours across the examples to see the alternative words)

 

Informal Formal
Lots of job loss is just one thing resulting from automation. Widespread unemployment is one consequence of automation.
The common owl is active at night. The common owl is nocturnal.


Want to practise this skill? You can go to a skill development exercise based on the information contained in hint 1.

2. Also try to use the most formal way of expressing your point (this may mean you use a more technical word); for example:

 

job loss right arrow unemployment
T.V. right arrow television
workers right arrow employees
the same as right arrow equivalent

HINT: although you aim to use more formal words in academic writing, you should not aim to obscure your meaning behind a lot of impressive words. Ultimately you should try to achieve succinct, clear prose.

 

2a. Avoid using phrasal verbs such as 'get up', 'put into', 'find out' that are often used in spoken English. Replace these verbs with more formal single verbs such as 'rise', 'contribute' and 'discover'; for example:

Informal Formal
Researchers looked at the way strain builds up round a geological fault. Researchers examined the way strain intensifies around a geological fault.
Technology companies got together with stockbroking firms in order to dominate internet trading. Technology companies merged with stockbroking firms in order to dominate internet trading.

Want to practise this skill? You can go to a skill development exercise based on the information contained in hint 2.

 

3. Make sure the description you provide is as specific as possible.

Look at the colour coded words and phrases to see the differences in word choice in the following examples. The exactness of the description has been increased by including more specific adjective (fiscal) as well as additional descriptive words (highlighted); for example:

 

Informal Formal
The government has made progress in economic policy. The Australian Government has made considerable progress in implementing fiscal policy nationwide.

 

3a. A specific description means you also need to avoid using unsophisticated adjectives such as 'good', 'bad', 'big', 'little'; for example:

 

Informal Formal
One of the bad aspects of chemotherapy is the side effects. One of the negative aspects of multi-drug chemotherapy is the uncomfortable side-effects.

 

Also avoid using adverbs such as 'really', 'very', 'just'; for example:

 

Informal/ Spoken Formal
It caused a really big reaction. It caused a considerable reaction.
It caused a dramatic reaction.
It caused an explosive reaction.

 

Notice that in the previous three examples, a more comprehensive description has been achieved because unsophisticated and non-specific words have been replaced with more formal descriptive words.

Want to practise this skill? You can go to skill development exercises based on the information contained in point 3.



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