Language and style

Objective, impersonal and relatively formal

The language of academic texts should be objective, impersonal and relatively formal. That means that you should avoid writing the way you talk.

In practice this entails:

  • Being restrictive with the use of personal pronouns when referring to the sender, and avoiding direct reference to the reader. In other words, be careful with the words Iyouwe and them. The use of is accepted when you explain the arrangement of the paper, but keep in mind that personal opinions must be well grounded with sound argumentation and reference to theory.
  • Avoiding the use of features from oral language use such as directly addressing the reader, and oral usage such as well, ok, then, you might say that, don't you think, etc.
  • Avoiding vague formulations such as "many people think that". Avoiding general words such as make, things, etc. More specific alternatives exist; for instance "carry out" or "conduct" an investigation instead of "make an investigation".
  • Use of the passive. The passive is usually not recommended and is seen as impersonal and formal language use, however, this style is often the best solution in academic writing as it enables the writer to avoid mentioning the actor, and instead concentrating on the act or process. Here is an example of the passive: "It has been claimed that the president defied his counsellors in this matter".

Other important linguistic aspects:

Sentence structure

You should avoid long sentences. The best solution is a mix of long and short sentences. Each sentence should contain only one fact, and all parts of the sentence should be connected to the verb, which is the core of the sentence.

Correct verb tenses

Continuing, general situations are referred to in the present tense - as in this paragraph. The past tense (e.g. investigated) is used about acts or situations at a particular point or period in the past.

Expressing reservations

In an academic text you should never claim something you are not able to prove. It is therefore useful to be able to express certain reservations, but not the way we do it in everyday speech such as "I think that", "I feel that". These expressions do not belong in academic writing. There are a host of terms you can use to express uncertainty in an objective way, for instance: seems that; may seem to; should, as a rule; possibly; probably; apparently; seemingly; indication; possibility; assumption; view; it is possible that, etc. But use such stylistic reservations sparingly.

Just as expressing reservation is important you should also be careful with the use of words expressing too much certainty such as never, always, all, no one, completely, absolutely, etc.

Published June 18, 2018 2:58 PM - Last modified June 18, 2018 4:26 PM