Word Choice Problems: How to Use The Right Words in Academic Writing 

by Paperpal
word choice in academic writing

Researchers and scholars must pay considerable attention to the choice of words in academic writing. Academic writing is characterized by its focus on accurately reporting new ideas and discoveries, which are then used to build new research and knowledge. Any unintended errors in phrasing can mislead or confuse readers, limiting the effectiveness and impact of the research. Therefore, students and researchers must choose and use the right words and phrases to convey their ideas correctly in academic writing.  

Problems resulting from the use of wrong words

Non-native English speakers or those just starting their academic writing journey often face challenges in phrasing their ideas appropriately. Using incorrect words can lead to several problems when it comes to academic writing because of it:  

  • Fails to communicate effectively. The purpose of a research report is to convey the research accurately and precisely, allowing others to replicate or reproduce experiments effectively. Incorrect word choice can be misleading or confusing for readers, weakening the message you want to convey. For example, the use of “affect” instead of “effect”, “assure” instead of “ensure”, and so on. This raises questions about your abilities as an author, often implying a lack of effort in refining the manuscript. 
  • Confuses readers: In using the wrong words, readers fail to understand what you intend to convey. For example, the misuse of some words can completely change the meaning of the sentence. These include confusing words such as “principal” and “principle” or “complement” and “compliment”. 
  • Sets a wrong academic tone: Word choice affects the tone of your academic writing, which must be formal and direct. It should also be factual and objective, free from personal opinions.  
  • Use of clichés: If word choices are not given due attention, there is the possibility of the use of informal language and clichés, which do not conform to academic writing conventions. The use of clichés in your writing conveys that you lack originality, which affects the quality and credibility of your research. 
  • Repetition: Repetition of words and ideas can be distracting for the reader. Check for repetitions and eliminate superfluous words. 

Tips to help authors identify if they have used the wrong words

As an author, it can be challenging to identify if you have used the wrong words in your writing. It’s essential to ensure that the words you use convey the intended meaning and avoid confusion. Here are some tips to help you improve the clarity and effectiveness of your writing.

  1. Many word processors underline incorrect words and suggest the right ones. However, these are unlikely to be able to point out the best choice of words for academic writing.  
  2. When proofreading your paper, ask yourself if the words used to convey your meaning clearly or if you have chosen words to impress readers, which can be interpreted differently based on audience understanding. While you need to integrate research terminology in your writing, refrain from using jargon, slang, and region-specific terms.  
  3. Check for repetition of words or phrases in your writing and replace these with carefully considered synonyms. Make sure the synonyms you select fit the context of your writing; check and replace vague words with strong ones that best convey your message.  
  4. Reading your writing out loud can help you identify words or phrases that seem out of place or have multiple meanings. Remember that the writing has to make sense to you because that’s how your audience is likely to read and perceive your work. If the sentences sound vague, you need to rewrite them to make it clear. 
  5. The comments from reviewers and others editing your work will help you identify vague, repetitive, and cliché words.  

Mistakes to avoid in word choice in academic writing

Academic writing requires precision in word choice to convey ideas accurately and effectively. However, it’s easy to make mistakes that can undermine the writer’s credibility and clarity of thought. Let’s explore some common mistakes to avoid in word choice when writing academically.

  • Avoid using double negatives and instead write affirmative sentences. An example of a double negative is, “This technique is not uncommon”. You can instead write, “This technique is common”. 
  • Jargon and slang should be avoided in academic writing. Develop your skills in using accurate and precise words and expressions. Some examples of words to avoid are “if and when,” “in the foreseeable future,” “in the long run,” “as a last resort,” “it stands to reason,” and “easier said than done.” 
  • Use short, concise sentences, as wordiness can confuse the readers. Try to avoid wordy phrases such as “It may be said that” or “It is worth mentioning at this point that” and so on. You could use single words instead of phrases. For example, replacing:  

“despite the fact that” with “although.” 

“It appears that” with “apparently.” 

“fewer in number” with “fewer” 

“in the near future” with “soon.” 

  • Avoid using contractions such as “isn’t” or “wouldn’t” instead of “is not?” or “would not?” as these are frowned upon in academic writing. 
  • Many writing style guides recommend using gender-neutral language that does not conform to stereotypical and obsolete gender roles. For example, use “human” instead of “man,” “personnel,” “workforce,” or “staff” instead of “manpower.” 

Choosing the right words is crucial to writing effectively in an academic setting. Keep these common mistakes in mind and use resources like dictionaries and style guides to improve your writing and ensure that your ideas are communicated with clarity and precision.

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