Avoiding informal language
How can I avoid informal language in my academic text?
Compared with other forms of written English, academic writing has a formal register. Colloquialisms that you hear in everyday speech have no place in a thesis, paper, or other research text. Here are tips to avoid informal language in your paper:
- Be mindful of connectors
Connectors, or words used at the beginning of sentences to link ideas together, should not be informal. Never start your sentences with ‘also’, ‘but’ or ‘so’; use ‘additionally’, ‘however’ or ‘therefore’ instead.
Find more formal connectors from Writefull’s Sentence Palette, and learn more about using connectors here and here.
- Avoid slang and conversational vocabulary
You must avoid any vocabulary that is too familiar, idiomatic, or that belongs to slang. Terms such as ‘thing’ or ‘stuff’ should be banned. Phrases such as ‘lots of’, ‘sort of’, ‘a bit’, ‘these days’, etc. are too conversational and should be replaced with ‘many’, ‘somewhat’, ‘slightly’, and ‘nowadays’.
- Replace informal words with formal equivalents
Replace ‘big’ or ‘huge’ with ‘considerable’ or ‘substantial’. Also see if there are formal equivalents of common verbs. For example, instead of ‘get results’ or ‘do an analysis’, use ‘obtain results’ and ‘perform an analysis’.
Learn more about correct verb-noun pairs in academic writing here.
- Avoid meaningless words
Be mindful of words that lack meaning. Examples are ‘big’, ‘huge’, ‘nice’, or ‘get’. Those are all common in everyday speech, but too vague for academic writing. Think of what exactly you mean by ‘nice’ in relation to its noun. If it’s a study, could you replace it with ‘well-designed’ or ‘rigorous’?
Learn how to present your results with meaningful words here.
- Pay attention to phrasal verbs
Not all phrasal verbs should be avoided in academic writing. But in many cases, the one-word verb equivalent of Latin origin is more formal and therefore better suited to the genre. Instead of ‘go up’, ‘cut down’, ‘work out’, ‘take off’ or ‘bring up’, use ‘increase’, ‘reduce’, ‘calculate’, ‘remove’ or ‘mention’. If you aren’t sure whether to use a phrasal verb or a single verb equivalent, go here.
Learn more about using phrasal verbs in academic writing here.
- Ban contractions (don’t, can’t, etc.)
You must ban the use of contractions in your academic text, as contractions are a feature of informal language. For examples of contractions to avoid, go here.
Make sure your writing is academic
To make sure your writing is academic-like, use Writefull’s automated copyediting app. It gives you language feedback and writing support widgets, tailored to academic writing.