How to use appropriate academic language in research papers?

By Riya Jain and Priya Chetty on June 22, 2021

Many enter academic writing due to a passion for knowledge or pursuing it as an entryway career. Impactful writing in the academic world requires communicating ideas by using appropriate academic language, clarity, and grace. Most forms of writing such as email, texting, letters, etc. make use of informal language. Academic and scientific writing, however, requires the use of appropriate academic language. A good flow of writing leaves a lasting impression on the readers. Thus, it is essential to convey information and views concisely and clearly. This article offers insights on how to improve academic language in a paper.

Bloated language is not academic language

This misconception among writers is that supplementary words or sentences add more smartness and show in-depth knowledge about the subject. However, this unnecessary fluffing of words frustrates the reader and makes the content unnecessarily complex. A good academic paper is clear and concise. Wastage of words and repetition is avoided as many journals regulate a word limit. Some examples showing the difference in ‘bloated’ and concise sentences are shown below.

Bloated sentenceReduced sentence
A social media influencer is an influencer who helps to integrate the credibility of a specific industry in order to increase the rate of the audience who are active in distinctive social networking websites.Social media influencers are users of social media who use their credibility to increase engagement for a specific product/ service.  
In the novel, A Farewell to Arms, written by Ernest Hemingway, the author presented courage theme. This theme displays honourable courage and difficult war in every instance.Ernest Hemingway’s novel, A Farewell to Arms, features characters enduring difficult wars and displaying honourable courage.  
Table 1: Reduction of bloated language

Get rid of redundant or wordy phrases

In the English language, there is the presence of many phrases that have multiple words. Although a writer needs to be cognizant about wordiness, a fine line exists between rambling and expressing. Therefore the use of these phrases must be avoided if it can be expressed in lesser words. For example:

Redundant wordsEffective words
In the event thatIf
Pandemic timespandemic
A majority ofMost
Due to the fact thatbecause/since
Subsequent toAfter
Have the capability toCan
A lot of job cutsconsiderable downsizing
With regard toconcerning/about
Keeping the workplace retained in the organizationretain employees  
Most specimens were blue in colormost specimens were blue  
Roots penetrate into the soil to a depth of 5 metersroots penetrate  
Table 2: Reduction of redundant phrases

Even, the word “etc.” should not be paired with “including”, “such as”, or “for example” because these words specifically mean that list is indicative and not exhaustive.

Everyday spoken language is not academic language

Use appropriate academic language that is organized, logical and avoids a detached tone. Usually, writers adapt to everyday spoken language, but the use of casual language should be avoided.

Casual languageFormal words
Mellow and goodMild-mannered and kind
Get to herAffect her spirit
Current and most suitableEfficient/effective
A lot ofEnhanced/numerous/higher
Get in touch withContact
Give the go-aheadAuthorize/authorize
The person is addicted to workWorkaholic
Table 3: Reduction of everyday speech-language to formal

Use varying sentence structure

Sentence structure represents the physical structure of a sentence. For making an impactful research paper, it is important to use variegated words but avoid their overuse. Furthermore, repeating longer sentences may overshadow the argument and inundate the reader. Even frequent usage of short sentences makes arguments stunted or rushed. Therefore try to keep the length of sentences short and up to 20 words.

Inappropriate sentenceVarying sentence
In actual fact, every single nurse in the hospital worked for treating their patients from 3 am in the morning to twelve in the night.Every nurse in the hospital worked from 3 am to midnight
The mean age value for group A is 30 years while for group B mean age is 26 years, thus, there is a presence of a statistically significant difference between both groups.With the mean age of group A > group B, there is a significant difference between both groups.
Table 4: Using varying sentence structure

Use sufficient referencing and citation

Academic papers to a great extent rely on the review of existing information in the form of secondary research. When reviewing secondary studies, references must be provided. It helps to establish the validity and credibility of the information. Although there is no standard rule for the number of references to use in a study, as a hand rule consider an average, 1 reference per 100- 150 words. For example;

Today, a vast number of elements contribute towards creating work-life balance in employees. The findings of Yadav & Dabhade (2014) identified rewards, mentally challenging work, favourable working conditions, supportive coworkers, and employee-friendly policies as some of the factors leading to work-life balance and job satisfaction. (Chaitra, Kumar, & Renuka, 2016) also identified some of the factors that impact work-life balance. The study collected data from 60 respondents and applied descriptive statistics and analysis of variance (ANOVA) technique for analyzing the data. It was found that over time, meetings, travelling to work, and training after the working hours influence the work-life balance of the employees. (Sharma & Shekhawat, 2017) assessed the association between employee performance and work-life balance in the hotel industry of Rajasthan in India. The main aim of their analysis was to determine the factors affecting the work-life balance of the employees.

Refer to the right sources of secondary information

The type of secondary sources referred to while writing greatly affect the quality of the paper. For example, if you refer more to blogs and web pages then your content is likely to be ambiguous. This is because webpages are written to target the masses. For example –

Use of casual language in blog article which makes academic content less impactful
Figure 1: Use of casual language in blog article which makes academic content less impactful

The above figure shows that the flow of sentences is informal with the usage of first-person pronouns and the exclusion of references to validate the information. Thus, this article is less suitable for academic writing, whereas the below study is a more suitable source of information.

On the other hand, referring to more academic sources such as journal papers and books academic journals are more structured and precise with clear content. It is likely to make your content more technically sound with less redundant information.

Presence of refined language in journal articles helps produce better quality content
Figure 2: Presence of refined language in journal articles helps produce better quality content

Importance of grammar check in academic language

Making grammatical mistakes while writing is common but avoidable. Eliminating grammatical errors improves the quality of the paper. Fortunately, there are many applications available that helps to track and correct these errors instantly. Grammarly is one of the most popular and convenient applications. Installing the Grammarly plug-in helps remove the mistakes while writing.

The figure below presents an example of the use of Grammarly for grammar and spell check while writing. It shows that the phrase “in the event that” is redundant and can be reduced to “if”.

Grammarly example 1 for this article
Figure 5: Grammarly example 1 for this article

Academic writing is an organized and information-oriented work, requires a clear, concise, powerful, and graceful representation of ideas. Though often due to lack of practice or knowledge, writers tend to make mistakes. However, for impactful study, it is essential to empower yourself with knowledge, mix the sentence structure, and write to express not impress.


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Riya Jain