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Avoiding vague language

How can I avoid vague language in my academic text?

Academic writing should be precise and specific. The more ambiguity in your text, the more potential for misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

The following are tips to avoid vague language in your academic text:

  1. Use specific nouns

Instead of vague references to people or places, aim to be specific. Avoid terms like ‘people’, ‘area’ or ‘company’. Avoid at all costs terms like ‘thing’ or ‘stuff’, as they are also informal. Think of the entity you are referring to and name it; i.e. is it a phenomenon, a theory, a finding, a factor, or anything else? 2. Be careful with pronouns

Whenever using personal pronouns (such as ‘they’), make sure that the noun they replace is clear from the context of your sentence or from the preceding sentence. The same applies to demonstrative pronouns such as ‘this’, ‘that’ or ‘these’. 3. Use exact figures or values

Instead of vague numerical markers such ‘several’, ‘almost’, ‘approximately’ or ‘about’, refer to more precise values or figures. ‘Three’ is better than ‘several’, and ‘1991’ is better than ‘in the early nineties’, for instance. 4. Be careful with expressing duration and frequency

Similar to the above, replace vague terms such as ‘regularly’, ‘frequently’, or ‘for a long time’ with more precise indicators of frequency or duration (e.g. ‘every 10 minutes’, ‘for 25 years’, etc.).

To make sure your writing is precise and specific, use Writefull’s automated copyediting app. It gives you language feedback and writing support widgets, tailored to academic writing.