It’s very common for students to use long words they don’t understand very well in their essays and theses because they have a certain idea of what academic writing should be. Many students believe that academic writing is wordy and convoluted, and uses a lot of jargon. This leads many students to fall into a trap of imagining that the longer the word, the more impressive and intelligent their writing will seem.
We often see long sentences and multisyllabic words where shorter sentences and simpler words would do. Some students even use Microsoft Word’s thesaurus function to replace a common word with a more complicated word. This is a risky move, because unless you’re very careful, the new word may not carry quite the same meaning as the original, even if it’s similar.
The result can range from funny to confusing, which defeats the purpose of academic writing: to be as clear and concise as possible, using just the right words to convey your argument. Using uncommon words, instead of making your paper seem smarter, generally detracts from your ideas.
To avoid this, using linking or transition words that signpost your arguments can help to clarify your views and show the reader what to expect from certain paragraphs or sentences. These words give structure to the whole, helping you to organise your ideas and assist the reader in understanding them.
We have prepared some flashcards containing linking words you can use in academic writing.
Below is a handy list of words that are both useful and appropriate to academic language.
Not only… but also
In the same way
Showing cause and effect
As a result
Hence (never ‘hence why’)
Since (try to avoid ‘as’ when showing cause and effect)
This suggests that
It follows that
For this reason
Comparing and contrasting
On the other hand
On the contrary
Showing limitation or contradiction
Despite/in spite of
While (not whilst!)
On the contrary
Emphasis, addition or examples
Further (not ‘furthermore’)
First, second and third (not firstly, secondly and thirdly)
It can be concluded that
As can be seen
Given the above
The best way to get better at writing academic language is to read academic writing. You’ll pick up all sorts of useful tips from published papers in your area of study.