When you are writing a dissertation, many words and phrases that are acceptable in conversations or informal writing are considered inappropriate.
You should try to avoid expressions that are too informal, unsophisticated, vague, exaggerated, or subjective, as well as those that are generally unnecessary or incorrect.
Bear in mind that these guidelines do not apply to text you are directly quoting from your sources (including interviews).
Academic writing is generally more formal than the writing we see in non-academic materials (including on websites). It is also more formal than how we normally speak. The following words and phrases are considered too informal for a dissertation.
|A bit||The interviews were a bit difficult to schedule||The interviews were (difficult/somewhat difficult) to schedule|
|A lot of, a couple of||A lot of studies||(Many/several/a great number of/eight) studies|
|America||A researcher in America||A researcher in (the United States/the US/the USA)|
|Isn’t, can’t, doesn’t, would’ve (or any other contraction)||The sample isn’t||The sample is not|
|Kind of, sort of||The findings were kind of significant||The findings were (somewhat significant/significant to some degree)|
|Til, till||From 2008 till 2012||From 2008 (until/to) 2012|
(i.e. the second-person point of view)
|You can clearly see the results||One can clearly see the results|
The results can clearly be seen
Some words should not be used because they do not have a scholarly feel. As utilizing too many simple terms makes your writing feel elementary, substitute more sophisticated words when possible. It’s also better to replace phrasal verbs with their one-word alternatives.
|Bad||A bad result||A (poor/negative) result|
|Big, humungous||A big sample||A (large/sizable) sample|
|Get||This model gets attention||This model receives attention|
|Give||This chapter gives an overview||This chapter (provides/offers/presents) an overview|
|Good||A good example||A (useful/prime) example|
|Show||The below figure shows||The below figure (illustrates/demonstrates/reveals)|
Using terms that are vague makes your writing imprecise and may cause people to interpret it in different ways. Avoid the below expressions and try to be as specific as possible.
|Stuff||People are concerned about their stuff||People are concerned about their (belongings, possessions, personal effects)|
|Thing||The report presents many things||The report presents many (details/findings/recommendations)|
Academic writing is usually unadorned and direct. Some adverbs of frequency (such as always and never), superlatives (which are terms that indicate something is of the highest degree, such as the best), and intensifiers (which are words that create emphasis, such as very) are often too dramatic. They may also not be accurate – you’re making a significant claim when you say something is perfect or never happens.
These terms do sometimes add value, but try to use them sparingly.
|Always, never||Researchers always argue that||Researchers (frequently/commonly/ typically) argue that|
|Perfect, best, worst, most, always, never (or any other superlative)||The perfect solution to the problem||(An ideal solution/one of the best solutions) to the problem|
|Very, extremely, really, too, so (or any other intensifier)||This theory is extremely important||This theory is (important/critical/crucial)|
Some words and phrases reveal your own opinion or bias. For instance, if you state that something will obviously happen, you are actually indicating that you think the occurrence is obvious – not stating a fact. Expressing your opinion is usually only appropriate in certain sections of a dissertation (namely the preface, acknowledgements, discussion, and reflection), so take care when using words and phrases such as those below.
|Beautiful, ugly, wonderful, horrible, good, bad||The literature review included many good articles||The literature review included many articles|
|Naturally||The participants naturally wanted to know||The participants wanted to know|
|Obviously, of course||The results obviously indicate||The results indicate|
You should strive to make your academic writing as concise as possible. Avoid adding words and phrases that do not create meaning, even if you think they give your writing a more refined feel.
|Has got/have got||This dissertation has got four chapters||This dissertation has four chapters|
|Serves to, helps to||This chapter serves to explain||This chapter explains|
It is not uncommon that words and phrases are used inappropriately, even by native speakers of a language. If you’re exposed to such mistakes often enough, you may start thinking they are correct – but it’s important that you don’t let them creep into your writing.
You should also bear in mind that some of these mistakes relate to things we all frequently mishear (for instance, we often think the speaker is saying would of instead of would have).
|Literally||The students were literally dying to participate||The students were (dying/very eager) to participate|
|Would of, had of||The study would of considered||The study would have considered|
In general, you should also try to avoid using words and phrases that fall into the following categories:
- Jargon (i.e. “insider” terminology that may be difficult for readers from other fields to understand)
- Clichés (which are expressions that are heavily overused, such as think outside of the box and but at the end of the day)
- Everyday abbreviations (e.g. photos, fridge, phone, info)
- Slang (e.g. cops, cool)
- Not gender neutral(e.g. firemen, mankind)
Reflective reports sometimes have a less formal tone; if this is what you are writing, you may not have to follow these guidelines as strictly. This may also be true if you are writing the preface or acknowledgements for your dissertation, as these sections have a more personal voice than the rest of the document.
Essay Writing Tips: Avoiding Common Content Mistakes
No matter how well-versed you are with grammar, punctuation and other areas that come into play for writing assignment essays, making a mistake with the content hurts your overall essay. Use these essay writing tips focused on common content mistakes to improve your essays on any topic.
No clear introduction or conclusion
Your introduction introduces your topic. It provides any necessary background information to set the stage for your thesis. Failing to craft an effective introduction leaves your readers unsure of what they are about to read and creates a haphazard start to your essay.
Similarly, if you fail to write a solid conclusion while writing an essay, your essay is left with a feeling of being abruptly cut off with no clear finality. A good conclusion restates your thesis and is a summary of your topic as it relates to and emphasizes the points you make throughout the essay.
Problems with thesis
Your thesis statement contains the main idea of your essay. It is meant to give your readers an idea of how you intend to develop the essay and where the focus lies with respect to the topic. It not only declares your position or argument, but it also puts your readers on the same page as they explore the topic with you through the words you write. When you fail to focus your thesis, your essay has no structure and no clear direction.
Just as important as writing a strong thesis, support for your thesis must be woven throughout your essay. With evidence, facts, statistics and logic, the body of your essay must support the thesis. Failing to support your thesis results in a poorly constructed essay that does not accomplish what you set out to convey.
In addition, if you cannot support a thesis with enough ideas to develop the thesis fully in the body of the essay, tweak your thesis as needed by using prewriting exercises to help you develop more focus or to formulate a new thesis. A poorly formed or unsupported thesis does not create the backbone necessary when writing an essay that is effective and well-planned.
No supporting examples
All of the ideas within your essay must be supported and clarified. The best (and easiest) way to accomplish this is by using examples to illustrate your points or arguments. Without adequate support, your essay lacks depth.
Even with a strong thesis and ample supporting information, you can present the information in a way that hurts your essay. Shape your thesis methodically by presenting information, arguments and facts in a logical progression. Your readers should understand your essay and argument without any degree of difficulty.
If you are writing an essay and the overall flow or paragraph layout is ambiguous, create an outline of your main ideas. Then, reorganize and structure your essay in a way that drives conclusions from the ideas you are presenting. Start on the paragraph level to ensure you are structuring paragraphs well and providing smooth paragraph transitions.
Including too much information
Not staying focused is another common mistake. If you find yourself trying to cover 20 topics in 20 paragraphs for an assignment essay, you are including too much information. The problem often lies in two areas. You are either adding thoughts or ideas that are too far removed from the focus of the essay or you are writing an essay based on a thesis that is too broad in scope.
Identify which mistake you’re making by looking at the primary topic and examining how each idea fits in with the overall thesis. Adjust the information you are including or the scope of your thesis as needed to stay on topic and to provide the right level of information.
Failure to follow instructions
Read all assignment instructions carefully to understand the expectations clearly. For anything you do not understand, ask questions. If you do not understand what is expected, you cannot provide it in a well-planned and well-written essay no matter how many essay writing tips you follow.
Use of inappropriate or strong language
Along with the content and its structure, the right language impacts your overall essay. If you find yourself using jargon and other specific or technical jargon, reword as much as possible to avoid this. Unless you are writing to a very specific audience, you want the language you use to be interpreted easily by anyone who reads your essay. In addition, it is best to avoid the following forms of language and ways of presenting information when writing an essay for academic purposes:
- Idioms, colloquial expressions and clichés
- Overly simplistic language
- Emotional or strong language (unless it’s relevant to the overall assignment
- Blind references to statistics without citing the source
- Personal examples in any essay that does not require the first-person perspective
Use of the wrong POV
While some essay assignment writing clearly requires writing in a particular point of view, not all essay assignments do. Make sure you understand which points of view are appropriate for different types of essay assignments, and learn how to maintain the same point of view to form a more cohesive essay. Always consult your assignment instructions and/or your instructor when you are uncertain.
These essay writing tips address the most common mistakes students just like you make when writing academic essays. Knowing what to watch out for is the best way to ensure you craft a well-written, concise and on-topic essay with a well-supported thesis and solid structure. Keep these common mistakes in mind, and your essays are sure to be easier to write.