Writing in Academic English (Language Differences & Exercises)


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Academic writing is described as semi-formal. It differs from informal writing (e.g. everyday emails, journal writing, blogging) in several ways. Please review the differences between academic English and general English below.

College students writing on laptops

Vocabulary-Based Features of Academic English – Part 1

Avoid Idioms (Idiomatic Expressions) & Slang

Informal phrases that have an idiomatic (non-standard meaning) are avoided. For example:

  • Informal: People need to know what's up. (idiom/slang and contraction)
  • Academic: People need to be aware of the current issues. (standard language)
  • Informal: It's not their cup of tea. (idiom)
  • Academic: They dislike it. (standard language)
  • Informal: It was way too expensive. (way = informal word meaning very/far/much)
  • Academic: It was much too expensive. (standard language)
  • Informal: The fans went crazy. (go crazy = an idiom)
  • Academic: The fans cheered enthusiastically. (standard language)

Avoid Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs are a combination of a verb and a preposition or adverb, which gives the words a special meaning. For example: check out, settle down, go over, look forward to all have meanings that are different from the literal meaning of their words. These words are usually avoided in academic writing. For example:

  • Informal: The company was set up in 2010. (set up = phrasal verb)
  • Academic: The company was founded/established in 2010. (standard language)
  • Informal: The team went over the document together. (go over = phrasal verb)
  • Academic: The team reviewed the document together. (standard language)
  • Informal: Some of the rich look down on the poor. (look down on = phrasal verb)
  • Academic: Some of the rich disapprove of the poor. (standard language)

Avoid Other Casual Phrases

Other casual phrases are avoided. These include the following words:

  • a lot / lots (change to many/much/a large amount of)
  • everybody/anybody (change to everyone/anyone)
  • super (change to very, extremely)
  • totally (change to completely)
  • tonnes/tons of (change to many, unless describing the weight of an object)
  • kids (change to children)

Practice Exercises - Group 1

Change the below sentences into academic style.

1. The main character totally hated everybody. (2 issues)

Answer

Problem: The words 'totally' and 'everybody' are casual (informal) style.

  • Better: The main character strongly disliked everyone.

2. The country was kicked out of the Olympics. (1 issue)

Answer

Problem: Kicked out is a phrasal verb. Replace with a standard English verb such as 'banned/suspended/expelled from'.

3. Many people are fed up with politicians. (1 issue)

Answer

Problem: Fed up with is a phrasal verb. Replace with a standard English phrase such as 'People are frustrated with politicians.'

4. Lots of parents became super angry. (2 issues)

Answer

Problem: Lots and super are casual (informal) phrases. Better: Many parents became quite angry.

5. Creating a website is a piece of cake. (1 issue)

Answer

Problem: A piece of cake is an idiom, which is too informal. Better: Creating a website is simple.

Vocabulary-Based Features - Part 2

Use Precise Vocabulary

Writers try to find the correct word for each sentence. Academic English uses approximately 20,000 words, while conversational English uses roughly 2,000.[1] Vague words such as ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ are not used. Instead, use the precise word needed for that sentence.

  • Informal: The survey revealed several things.
  • Academic: The survey produced many results.
  • Informal: The film’s ending was bad.
  • Academic: The film’s ending was dissatisfying.
  • Informal: Renewable energy is the best
  • Academic: Renewable energy is the most environmentally friendly

Explain Terms (Jargon)

The writer should not assume the reader knows everything about the topic; terms are explained to make the writing clear.

  • Confusing: The USMCA was signed in 2020.
  • Academic: The USMCA, a free trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, was signed in 2020.

Practice Exercises - Group 2

Change the below sentences into academic style.

1. The leaders agreed on many things. (1 issue)

Answer

Problem: The word 'things' is imprecise and lazy. Find the right word to use, e.g. 'topics' or 'issues'.

2. The GDP of the country has decreased, which was bad. (2 issues)

Answer

Problem: The acronym GDP needs to be defined for the benefit of the reader the first time it is used. Also, the adjective 'bad' is too simplistic and not very descriptive. Find a more precise word.

  • Better: The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country has decreased, which was a negative development.

3. The report included stuff about saving money. (1 issue)

Answer

Problem: The word 'stuff' is lazy and imprecise. Find the most suitable word for the sentence and use it, e.g. suggestions, information, etc.

Language-based Differences in Academic Writing

No Contractions (isn’t/doesn’t/it’s/they’ll/isn't/doesn't/it's/they'll)

Words that are shortened with an apostrophe are not used. Instead, write the words in their full form (is not/does not/it is/they will).

  • Prices haven’t have not

Use Impersonal Language (it/people/they)

Instead of using first- and second-person pronouns "I" or "You", use the third person. The third person is he/she/it. For example:

  • Too personal: Nowadays, we all have mobile phones. (We = first personal plural)
  • Academic: Nowadays, everyone has a mobile phone. (Everyone = third person)
  • Too personal: I like how Shakespeare describes the scene.
  • Academic: Shakespeare describes the scene beautifully. (deleted phrase with personal pronoun "I")
  • Too personal: Marketers want you to buy their products. (you = second-person singular)
  • Academic: Marketers want people to buy their products. (people = third person perspective)

Use the Passive Voice to Focus on Topic

Academic writing usually focuses on ideas, not people. Therefore, it often uses the passive voice (which emphasizes the object of a verb) and not the active voice (which has a person as the subject). Compare:

  • Not very academic: We surveyed 100 people. (personal pronoun and active voice)
  • More academic: 100 people were surveyed. (no personal pronoun, passive voice)
  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google in 1998. (Active voice - suitable if the topic of writing is Larry and Sergey.)
  • Google was founded in 1998 (by Larry Page and Sergey Brin.) (Passive voice - suitable if the topic of your writing is Google itself, not the founders.)

Practice Exercises - Group 3

Change the below sentences into academic style.
1. We interviewed thirty people about their tastes in music. (1 issue)

Answer

Problem: Make this impersonal by using the passive voice to focus on what was done (not two did it).

  • Better: Thirty people were interviewed about their tastes in music.

2. If you lose your job, you won’t have spending money. (2 issues)

Answer

Problem: 'You' is personal language. Remove this and use the third person. Also, avoid the contraction (won't = will not).

  • Better: If people lose their jobs, they will not have as much spending money.

3. In the previous section, I described the importance of career planning. (1 issue)

Answer

Problem: "I described" is personal language. Focus on what was done, not who did it, by using the passive voice.

  • Better: In the previous section, the importance of career planning was described.

4. If you ask me, social media has had a positive effect on young people. (1 issue)

Answer

Problem: The phrase "If you ask me" contains personal language. Omit it.

  • Better: Social media has had a positive effect on young people.

Sentences & Cohesion in Academic Writing

Varied Sentence Types

Academic writing uses a mix of different sentence types (simple, compound, and complex sentences).

Conversational Style

  • Getting a part-time job is important. (simple sentence)
  • It can give young people work experience. (simple sentence)
  • They will need work experience later in life. (simple sentence)
  • They can also get money. (simple sentence)
  • They can save it for the future. (simple sentence)
  • They can spend it however they want. (simple sentence)

Academic Style

  • Getting a part-time job is important. (simple sentence)
  • It can give young people work experience, which they will need later in life. (complex sentence created with a subordinate conjunction)
  • They can also get money. (simple sentence)
  • They can save it for the future or spend it however they want. (compound sentence that continues two simple sentences with a coordinating conjunction)

Transition Signals

Academic and professional writing use transition signals (e.g. Therefore/As a result/Secondly/In conclusion) to help the reader follow the connection between ideas (this is known as cohesion).

  • Informal: The products were expensive. Sales were low.
  • Academic: The products were expensive. As a result, sales were low.
Common Transition Signals (Conjunctive Adverbs)
SequenceFirst, Then, Next, Finally…
AdditionIn addition, Moreover, Further, Besides..
Cause & EffectTherefore, As a result, Consequently, Hence…
ContrastHowever, Nevertheless, In contrast, Still, …
OtherFor example, In fact, In other words, …
  • Informal (spoken): People like social networking sites. They can interact with friends. Share videos and pictures. Play games.
  • Academic: There are several reasons why people like social networking sites. Firstly, they can interact with their friends. They can also share videos and photographs.  Further, they can even play games online. (All of the underlined words help the reader understand how the ideas relate to each other.)

Coordinating Conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) are used in academic writing to join two independent clauses, not start a new sentence.

  • Informal: Bananas are easy to eat. And they are healthy.
  • Academic: Bananas are easy to eat. Moreover, they are healthy.

Practice Exercises - Group 4

Change the below sentences into academic style.
1. The movie was interesting. But it was quite long.

Answer

Problem: 'But' is a coordinating conjunction (one of the FANBOYS). In writing, do not use 'But' to start a sentence. Instead, use a conjunctive adverb like 'However/Nevertheless', etc.

2. Dogs can damage furniture. And they can bite. It’s important to train them properly.

Answer

Problem: Again, do not start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction in academic writing. If you want to use 'and', then put it in the middle of two independent clauses. Also, the contraction in 'It's' needs to be removed.

  • Better: Dogs can damage furniture, and they can bite. Therefore, it is important to train them properly.

3. The boy moved to the city. He met a girl. She changed his life.

Answer

Problem: Putting three simple sentences in a row is not academic style. Instead, find a way to combine some of them using a subordinate conjunction.

  • Better: The boy moved to the city, where he met a girl who changed his life.

4. It is important to eat vegetables. Carrots contain Vitamin A. This can lower the risk of diabetes.

Answer

Problem: The cohesion between ideas could be improved by adding a conjunctive adverb.

  • Better: It is important to eat vegetables. For example, carrots contain Vitamin A, which can lower the risk of diabetes.

5. Online education is becoming more popular. It offers flexibility and convenience. It lacks the face-to-face interaction of traditional classrooms. Many students find it challenging.

Answer

Problem: Again, writing four simple sentences in a row is bad style. Combine some sentences using conjunctions and add a transition word or two to improve the cohesion.

  • Better: Online education is becoming more popular because it offers flexibility and convenience. On the other hand, it lacks the face-to-face interaction of traditional classrooms, so many students find it challenging.

Content & Organizational Features

Avoid Asking Questions

Do not ask questions to the reader in academic writing. This is more common for high-school-level writing or speeches.

  • Not academic: Why aren't more people becoming vegetarians? (question form)
  • Academic: One question that remains is why more people are not becoming vegetarians. (statement form)

Be Tentative & Cautious

Academic writing avoids generalizations and other sensational statements to avoid saying things that may not be true or proven.

  • Not academic: Men love sports.
  • Better: Many men love sports. (Adding many makes it more likely to be true)
  • Not academic: No one likes working on the weekend.
  • Better: Most people dislike the idea of working on the weekend. (softer, not absolute)
  • Not academic: Smartphones are killing society.
  • Better: Smartphones may be having a negative effect on some aspects of society. (softer, less likely to be false.)

Organized Structure

Ideas are organized linearly; there are no surprise endings in academic writing. Essays begins with an introduction that has a thesis statement that clearly announces the focus or main idea of the paper. This idea is then discussed in paragraphs that start with topic sentences. At the end, ideas are summarized in the conclusion.

Supported by Sources

Arguments and ideas are supported by reliable sources. These sources are cited in-text and listed at the end of the paper.

  • Not Academic: Reading books is better than watching TV. Everyone knows that.
  • Academic: Reading books offers more mental benefits than watching TV. For example, a study by Johnson (2024) found that reading improves imagination compared to watching shows on television.

Formatting Systems

Academic writing is formatted in a style, such as APAMLA, depending on the academic area.

Practice Exercises - Group 5

Change the below sentences into academic style.
1. What is customer service? It means providing people with the help they need.

Answer

Problem: Don't ask questions to the reader. Remove the rhetorical question.

  • Better: Customer service means providing people with the help they need.

2. Bitcoin is the future of money. By 2030, everyone will be using it.

Answer

Problem: This sentence is overconfident in tone and doesn't leave room for the possibility of being incorrect.

  • Better: Bitcoin may be the future of money. By 2030, more people will likely be using it.

3. Eating dark chocolate can improve memory, so it’s actually good for you.

Answer

Problem: A claim like this needs a citation to research-based support.

  • Better: A study by Lamport et al. (2020) suggests that eating dark chocolate improves memory. Therefore, eating it can be have cognitive benefits.

Wrap-Up: Exercises on All Points - Group 6

1. Social media can be bad for you. (2 issues)

Answer

Problem: Use more precise language (change 'bad') and avoid personal language ('you') to the third person.

  • Better: Social media can be harmful for young people.

2. Many people want to purchase an electric vehicle. These vehicles are usually more expensive. (1 issue)

Answer

Problem: Add a transition word to improve the cohesion between the two sentences.

  • Better: Many people want to purchase an electric vehicle. However, these vehicles are usually more expensive.

3. Why don’t people recycle more often? (2 issues)

Answer

Problem: Avoid asking questions to the reader, who cannot answer. Change this question into a statement.

  • Better: One question that remains is why people do not recycle more often.

4. We analyzed the data carefully. (1 issue)

Answer

Problem: Focus on what was done, not who did it. Use the passive voice to make this sentence less personal.

  • Better: The data was analyzed carefully.

5. The story is set in Chicago. And the main character is a 13-year-old boy named Ronnie. (1 issue)

Answer

Problem: Avoid starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. Instead, use it to combine both clauses.

  • Better: The story is set in Chicago, and the main character is a 13-year-old boy named Ronnie.

6. The team looked over the proposal and made some changes. (1 issue)

Answer

Problem: 'looked over' is a phrasal verb. Replace it with a standard verb such as 'reviewed'.

7. If you eat fruit and vegetables regularly, you won’t get sick. (3 issues)

Answer

Problem: This phrase has personal language ("you"), a contraction ("won't"), and a claim that should be hedged/softened because it likely isn't always true.

  • Better: If people eat fruit and vegetables regularly, it may limit how often they get sick.

8. Kids can learn stuff by watching YouTube videos. (2 issues)

Answer

Problem: The words "kids" and "stuff" are informal.

  • Better: Children can learn lessons by watching YouTube videos.

9. Everybody knows that gas produced by cows is killing the planet. (2 issues)

Answer

Problem: This is not an accepted fact. Therefore, it requires evidence and a citation in order to be convincing to the reader. Also, the phrase "is killing the planet" is too strong because there are likely other factors that are also harming the planet. This phrase should be softened and written less emotionally.

  • Better: Methane produced by cows is one factor contributing to global warming (Baceninaite et al., 2022).

10. At the end of the day, the film succeeds in convincing the viewer that everyone can succeed in life.

Answer

Problem: The phrase 'At the end of the day' is an idiom. Avoid idioms in academic writing.

  • Better: Overall, the film succeeds in convincing the viewer that everyone can succeed in life.

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48 comments on “Writing in Academic English (Language Differences & Exercises)

  1. Comment (Posted on 6-18-2020 at 12:47) Reply

    Very effective exercise.

    1. Manik Shrestha (Posted on 10-14-2023 at 21:46) Reply

      Thank you, professor. This exercise is very helpful.

  2. Pereira, I.C (Posted on 11-13-2021 at 22:55) Reply

    The exercises were really helpful. What was even more effective was the feedback process. Comparing the suggested answers with
    the learners responses helped understand the points that were being made.

  3. Deduo Qiang (Posted on 12-6-2021 at 02:46) Reply

    thanks

  4. Lizeth Z Manzo. (Posted on 1-16-2022 at 15:02) Reply

    Thank you, professor, this exercise is very helpful, and the website is excellent! Thanks.

  5. Pamela O (Posted on 3-15-2022 at 03:35) Reply

    This is a very helpful exercise!

  6. Ana Lilia Hernández Romero. (Posted on 1-6-2023 at 10:36) Reply

    Thank you for the task, It is a great exercise to start the trimester.

    1. Erielle Laceste (Posted on 10-6-2023 at 22:33) Reply

      It was easy to understand, so helpful for studying not only academic writing but for improving speaking or communication skills.

      Class: 217

  7. Alex (Posted on 1-8-2023 at 15:22) Reply

    great exercises, that’s was very helpful.

  8. Melanie C. (Posted on 1-8-2023 at 19:13) Reply

    Very helpful!

  9. Alonso Espinoza (Posted on 1-9-2023 at 12:53) Reply

    It is a good review of the notes, and the exercise helps to put academic English writing into practice again.

  10. Mylene E. (Posted on 1-10-2023 at 09:38) Reply

    Very helpful and useful!

  11. Ruby Fernandez (Posted on 1-10-2023 at 15:14) Reply

    It was really helpful, I could remember with the examples. Thank you, professor.

  12. Anu Sharma (Posted on 7-11-2023 at 14:37) Reply

    Thank you professor for this wonderful exercise. It will helps us alot.

  13. Elizsa Salcedo (Posted on 8-10-2023 at 20:18) Reply

    Thank you, professor!! Really helpful for my part :)

  14. Saskriti Prajapati. (Posted on 10-6-2023 at 19:05) Reply

    thank you.
    class:217

  15. Cesa Jea Mangilaya (Posted on 10-6-2023 at 19:51) Reply

    Thank you.
    ENGL102-06

  16. Fiona Iliza Mushimire (Posted on 10-6-2023 at 20:50) Reply

    Thanks, this was helpful.
    ENG 102-06

  17. julienne santiago (Posted on 10-7-2023 at 12:08) Reply

    thanks, its very useful and easy to understand.

    ENG 102-06

  18. Marvellous Oluwabunmi Alonge (Posted on 10-9-2023 at 15:00) Reply

    Thank you, professor. This is really helpful.

  19. Rey Torrecampo (Posted on 10-9-2023 at 20:27) Reply

    Good Exercise!
    ENGL 102-08

  20. Davinder kaur, ENG 102 Section-8 (Posted on 10-10-2023 at 20:29) Reply

    Thank you professor, it is very helpful exercise to learn.

  21. Lomelita T. Medina (Posted on 10-11-2023 at 11:32) Reply

    Very helpful!
    (ENGL 102-08)

  22. Dipendra Thapa (Posted on 10-12-2023 at 01:01) Reply

    Dipendra thapa (ENGL102-06)

  23. Ketan Bali (Posted on 10-12-2023 at 11:06) Reply

    Thanks professor very effective exercise.
    ENGL102-06

  24. Charlene Nuval (Posted on 10-12-2023 at 11:08) Reply

    Engl102-06

  25. Abeguel Villanda (Posted on 10-12-2023 at 11:09) Reply

    Thanks Professor
    English 102-06

  26. Strechle Doles (Posted on 10-12-2023 at 20:49) Reply

    Thank you for this site. It is simple and easy to understand. It is something we can always use as reference.

    1. Strechle Doles (Posted on 10-12-2023 at 20:50) Reply

      (ENGL102-08)

  27. Mary Ann Ramirez (Posted on 10-12-2023 at 23:25) Reply

    ENGL102-08

  28. Subhanil Dey (ENG 102-08) (Posted on 10-13-2023 at 00:41) Reply

    A helpful assignment to start things off.

  29. TRIMAR VALDEVIA YANSON (Posted on 10-13-2023 at 20:32) Reply

    The task is very helpful. It provides clear explanations of what must be observed in Academic writing. Thank you so much.

  30. gurkirat kaur (Posted on 10-14-2023 at 01:07) Reply

    helpful exercise

  31. Manik Shrestha (Posted on 10-14-2023 at 21:47) Reply

    Thankyou Professor.

  32. Gian Carlo Belonguel (Posted on 1-5-2024 at 15:35) Reply

    A very interesting kick-start activity to start the term.

  33. Prince Gatare (Posted on 1-9-2024 at 14:45) Reply

    Very helpful!

  34. Andrea del Bosque (Posted on 1-10-2024 at 16:08) Reply

    great tool!, People did not even notice when they have this mistakes writing.

  35. Joanne (Posted on 1-10-2024 at 19:28) Reply

    Thank you prof. It was helpful.

    1. Manish Khatiwada (Posted on 1-11-2024 at 08:37) Reply

      Thank you professor,very helpful

  36. Rosemarie (Posted on 1-10-2024 at 21:37) Reply

    Thank you professor. Helps me understand better.

  37. Amrita Bhandari (Posted on 1-11-2024 at 18:12) Reply

    Thank you Professor. It was really helpful.

  38. THARINDU SENARATH (Posted on 1-13-2024 at 00:31) Reply

    Thank you professor. very helpful and good exercise !!

  39. PRABESH GIRI (Posted on 1-14-2024 at 17:29) Reply

    Great exercises for a fresh start. Thank you professor.

  40. Alma Bernal Hernandez (Posted on 1-19-2024 at 15:14) Reply

    It was very helpful to review all the correct ways we can improve our Academic writing with examples and exercises.
    Thank you Professor. ENGL102

  41. Edlyn A. Canciller (Posted on 4-9-2024 at 21:06) Reply

    Thank you Professor Matthew, 1st day of the class was very fruitful. ENGL102-08

  42. Geraldine Grace Joaquin (Posted on 4-10-2024 at 20:06) Reply

    A great way to help us retain what we learn. Thank you, professor. ENGL102-06

  43. Anonymous (Posted on 4-20-2024 at 03:37) Reply

    Appreciation

  44. Saraligia Castillo (23100894) (Posted on 7-6-2024 at 17:51) Reply

    The exercises and examples help broaden sentence structure perspective and vocabulary. It was very helpful.

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