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Language and style

Clear, concise and formal

The vocabulary, tone of voice, and style you choose to use in your writing can help you communicate your ideas more clearly to your reader.

Academic writing is concise, clear, formal and uses a mixture of the active and passive voices. It does not need to be complex or use long sentences and obscure vocabulary.

Be concise

In academic writing it is important to be concise. This helps your reader to quickly find and understand the points you are making.

To ensure your writing is concise, you can do the following:

  • Only include one main idea per sentence.
  • Keep your sentences to a reasonable length (generally not more than 25 words). Long, complex sentences can be difficult to understand and this may distract the reader from your point.
  • Avoid repeating the same idea in more than one sentence. Reading your work aloud may help you to identify any repetition.

Clarity and accuracy

Academic writing should always be clear, easy to understand and accurate. You should aim to demonstrate the following in your writing:

  • use specific and precise language
  • use specialist terminology where appropriate
  • use punctuation accurately
  • check your work is clear and accurate: you could read your work aloud to find and adjust small mistakes before you hand it in.

Read more about editing and proof reading your work.

Make your structure clear

Use signposting vocabulary when necessary to show the reader the structure and direction of your argument. You can use specific words and phrases to point out a change of direction eg “on the other hand”, “however”, or to show you are continuing the same point eg “furthermore”, “additionally”.

This table shows common signposting techniques and some of the vocabulary you can use.

Purpose Words and phrases
Continue the same point


Change direction in fact
in contrast
on the other hand
Draw a conclusion therefore
in summary
to conclude
List aspects of a topic, or steps in a process First... next... then... finally...
One [important aspect is]… another aspect...
First... second...

To give your writing a sense of “flow” or coherence, you can use vocabulary and techniques to refer back to ideas from the previous sentence or paragraph.

For example, you could use a pronoun such as “this” to refer to the concept you are currently discussing, or use a phrase like “as previously discussed” to show you are continuing the same point.

Use formal language

In academic writing you are expected to use formal language.

Avoid using colloquialisms or slang terms. For example, instead of “sort of” use “somewhat”, and instead of “basically” you could use “fundamentally”.

Write words out in full rather than shortening them. For example, instead of writing “don't” or “isn't” you are expected to write “do not” or “is not”.

The use of clichés is not appropriate in academic writing. These are phrases such as “at the end of the day” or “in the nick of time.” Instead of this you might write “finally” or “at a critical moment”.