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Formal Academic Writing

1. Do not use contractions

Contractions, such as "don't""can't" and "won't", are words formed from two abbreviated words. In formal writing, you should always write the words in full.

2. Do not use colloquial vocabulary

Colloquial vocabulary is really the type of language that is used in everyday conversation, which means that it is informal. Academic writing should always be formal.

These are some examples of expressions that you should avoid, together with their formal alternative:          


Formal Alternative

figure out


loads of research

extensive research

I will try and explain

I will try to explain

check up


find out


a lot of


for sure

I am sure/certain

You should also avoid other types of informal English such as figures of speech; these include metaphors, similes, hyperbole, clichés and idioms. Some examples of these include:

  • The mind is an ocean (metaphor)
  • The mind is like an ocean (simile)
  • Thousands of tests (hyperbole)
  • No pain, no gain (cliché)
  • It is now all water under the bridge (idiom)

In addition, you should avoid using all forms of the verb to get; these also belong to colloquial language and so have no place in formal academic writing.

3. Avoid using run-on expressions

Run on expressions include phrases such as and so forthand so on and etc. Instead, you should try to write the sentence as a complete statement.


Formal Alternatives

Some examples of citation styles include APA, IEEE, Chicago Manual of Style, Harvard, etc.

Some examples of citation styles include APA, IEEE, Chicago Manual of Style, Harvard and MLA.

4. Avoid repetition

The English language has an extremely wide vocabulary. Good writers demonstrate their skills by avoiding use of the same word: one alternative is to use synonyms.

5. Do not use rhetorical questions

A rhetorical question is a question for which no answer is expected: the writer assumes the reader knows the answer, or goes on to answer the question in the text. These kinds of “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. For example:


Formal Alternatives

What do we mean by "stalking"? It has been defined as "a long-term commitment to engaging in persistent campaigns of harassment that have ..."

McEwan et al. define stalking as "a long-term commitment to engaging in persistent campaigns of harassment that have the potential to cause immense ..."

Notice that you can change a rhetorical question into a statement and still use it effectively in an assignment.

6. Place adverbs within the verb

In informal English, adverbs are commonly placed at the beginning or end of sentences. However, in academic writing, they should be placed within the verb group, as seen in the examples below:      


Formal Alternatives

Then the paper will discuss ...

The paper will then discuss ...

The media presents the nursing profession in a negative way generally.

The media generally presents the nursing profession in a negative way.

7. Make sure you avoid redundancy

Redundancy refers to padding out our writing by using words that mean the same. Some examples of this include:

  • UOIT is known and recognised as a diverse learning community
  • He sat alone by himself
  • The theory was not easy: it was very difficult to understand
  • The result of the research was both limited and confined

8. Avoid starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction

Do not start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction such as for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so. Because they are meant to join words, phrases and clauses, these conjunctions do not have a role to play at the start of a sentence. However, the following transitional adverbs can be used instead at the beginning of sentences:

additionally   moreover   nevertheless   however   therefore   thus   alternatively