Category Archives: Vocabulary

“Academic Style” or “How to Write so that Others Understand You and Are Impressed”

Style is vitally important in writing.  Your overall writing presentation,  the words you use and how you use them has a great impact on your readers.   And, of course,  you write for your readers.

Academic writers wants to appear academic and professional.  They do this in various ways.   First, they use academic words and phrases,   such as “major”  instead of “big”,   “much”  or “many” rather than “a lot of”,  “effective” rather than “good”.    The words you use should convey precise meaning.  For example,  “good” is too general;  as a reader,  I want to know good in what way? Except for social media,  you do not write the way you speak,  or you should not.    Professional style also avoids jargon, slang, or colloquialisms. This
style of language is too informal for academic professional writing.

Academic writing also adopts a style of writing sentences that are neither too short, nor too long,  but which are clear and demonstrate the writer’s knowledge.    My rule of thumb is that a sentence should not exceed 3 lines on a page.   A sentence should reflect one idea.   An idea can be complex,  thereby requiring numerous clauses.   But if it is too complex,  it is best to break it into several sentences.   Don’t make it too difficult for the reader.   As a writer,   you know what you mean,  but you should put yourself in the shoes of the reader.
One important way to support our points when writing is by examples.   Examples can be introduced within a sentence,   or as a sentence on their own.   Remember to say something about the example given rather than just throw it in.   Try to use powerful examples that are current and ideally universal.    Examples from history don’t necessarily need to be avoided, but they should be blended with those nearer to us in time.
Examples from one’s own country may not necessarily apply in other countries.     Examples must be credible,  relevant,  and easy to comprehend.

One of the challenges writers in Canada who come from other countries face is that what is considered good academic style in their country may not necessarily be considered good in Canada.    In North America,  you don’t write to show off.    Using “multi-syllabic words”   that most people don’t know (for example:  pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis ) or filling your writing with unnecessary words to make it longer  is just bad writing.  The democratic ethos holds that good writers write in a way that anyone with the necessary context and background knowledge should be able to understand.

It is also important to remember that all academic writing is not good academic writing.   There are many bad writers in academia who do not necessarily write clearly and concisely.    A good way to improve your writing is to find some models of  exemplary academic and professional writing,  and emulate them.   Read the Economist or Time magazine.     Or Harvard Business Review.       Find a writer you like and study their style.

Remember it takes time to develop a style that fits you and fits your reader.    Knowing the key principles comes first,  then following them.

You may find these internet resources useful.

You can read the online version of one of the best style books,  appropriately name The Elements of Style here.

Words and phrases to avoid

More words and phrases to avoid  (with alternatives)  from the British Council