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Language and style

Language and style

The following points may help you in developing your academic writing style.

Video introduction


An introduction to language and style for academic writing.

Duration: 1 minute 17 seconds


Where possible you should try to avoid contractions in academic writing.

Avoid: Instead, use:
isn’t is not
haven’t have not
they’ve they have
I’ve I have

Colloquialisms and slang


Academic writing should be formal and avoid any colloquialisms, slang or local accent words, etc.

For example:

  • Canny
  • Okay
  • Dead easy
  • Alright

Formal style

With academic writing you should aim for a formal style. This tends to mean writing in the third person, which means avoiding the use of “I” or “we”.

Example 1

BAD – I chose this question because it is centred around current research…

GOOD – This question was chosen because it is centred around current research…

Example 2

BAD – We didn’t find much evidence

GOOD – Insufficient evidence was found

Example 3

BAD – I’m going to outline three theories

GOOD – Three theories will be outlined.

But first check your subject discipline as some subjects require you to write in the first person.

You also need to think about your word choice and choose more academic words e.g. “examine” is better than “look at”, “demonstrate” is better than “this shows that”.

You may find some of the words listed below helpful to use within your essay:

  • Examine
  • Demonstrate
  • Evidence
  • Example
  • Viewpoint
  • Argument
  • Investigate

Cautious style

Often it is better to be cautious in your style of writing as there is often no right or wrong answer. Whilst essays may ask you to come to a conclusion, this is only in the context of acknowledging that other people hold differing views, e.g. instead of writing “this proves that” try “this suggests that” or “in conclusion, it appears that”.

Avoid narrative

One of the major dangers of writing essays is that you start to narrate or ‘tell the story’. This is easily done. To avoid this you must think carefully about the structure of your essay and proof read your essay.

Proof reading an essay is essential and is not just about the spelling and grammar (though this does still need to be checked). Try reading your essay out loud and check that each paragraph and sentence is analytical and directly links back to the question. If you find it is more narrative, you need to edit or even cut it out of your essay. Remember to always be clear, concise and analytical in your writing.

You may find the PEEL and PESEL acrostics helpful in remaining focussed, precise and analytical in your responses.

The paragraph below is a good example of how easy it is to slip into narrative:

“In conclusion, penguins make fantastic pets. I’ve always had one since I was little. My dad bought it for me because he loves penguins, it sleeps in a little paddling pool by my bed. We feed it fish that we buy from the supermarket. I love my penguin, they make great pets.”

Whilst this paragraph is more analytical, giving reasons for why they make great pets:

“In conclusion, I would argue that penguins make great pets. There are a number of reasons for this; firstly, they are black and white which means they are true Geordies and therefore make ideal pets for Geordies as they make you feel happy every time you see them. Secondly, they are very sociable and actively enjoy being in your company. Research has shown that…”

Test youself: proofreadinggame-proofreading

Have a go at proofreading to see if you can spot the deliberate errors.