Words To Avoid In A Formal Essay

Checklist of language to avoid in academic writing

1. Do not use contractions
Contractions are the words formed from two abbreviated words, such as "don't", "can't" and "won't". Please write the full words.

2. Do not use colloquial vocabulary
Colloquial vocabulary includes words and expressions that are used in everyday spoken language. They do not provide the exactness needed in an academic setting (Fowler & Allen, 1992).

An example is:
Retirement is something most of us must face sooner or later.
This could be replaced by the more formally worded:
Retirement is inevitable.

Also avoid other types of conversational language such as figures of speech, cliches and idioms; for example:

Colloquial ExpressionFormal Alternative
above boardlegitimate
reached a happy mediumreached an acceptable compromise
get through itsurvive, penetrate
part and parcelintrinsic to
easier said than donemore difficult in practice
beyond a shadow of doubtdefinitely
in recent yearsrecently
pay lip service tosupport through words but not through actions
got out of handwas no longer under control
a stumbling blockpoint of contention
explored every avenueinvestigated alternatives

3. Avoid using run-on expressions
Run on expressions include phrases such as 'and so forth', 'and so on' or 'etc'. Try to complete the sentence properly; do not use these if you can avoid them; for example:

Informal (includes run on)Formal Alternative
Nurses must take into consideration patients' dietary needs resulting from allergies, medication, medical conditions and so on.Nurses must take into consideration patients' dietary needs resulting from allergies, medication and medical conditions.
Public transport includes vehicles for public use on the roads, airways, waterways etc.Public transport includes vehicles for public use, such as buses, trains and aeroplanes.

4. Do not use rhetorical questions
A rhetorical question is a question for which no answer is expected. A rhetorical question is one in a written text where the writer assumes the reader knows the answer, or where the writer goes on to answer the question in the text. Such questions are inappropriate for academic writing: readers might not know the answer and the point being made could be more strongly and clearly expressed as a statement. You should not risk your point being misunderstood: make your point clear and 'up front'; for example:

Informal (includes rhetorical question) Formal
Industrial sites cause vast amounts of environmental pollution, so why do we still use them?The question surrounding the continued use of industrial sites, given their vast pollution production, still remains.
What is a team? A team can be one person but will usually end up including many more.A team can include one person but usually involves many more.
The question is, however, does the "Design School Model" provide a practical solution to the problem of how to formulate strategy?It is questionable whether the "Design School Model" provides a practical solution to the problem of strategy formulation.

Notice that you can change your rhetorical questions into statements and still use them effectively in an essay.

5. Place adverbs within the verb
Adverbs should be placed within the verb group rather than in the initial or final positions. In informal English, adverbs often occur as clauses at the beginning or end of sentences; for example:

Informal Formal Alternative
Then the solution can be discarded.The solution can then be discarded.
The blood is withdrawn slowly.The blood is slowly withdrawn.

© Copyright 2000
Comments and questions should
be directed to Unilearning@uow.edu.au


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