LANGUAGE USAGE IN ACADEMIC WRITING

Reference as: Mkandawire, S. B. (2015). LTC1100 Language Use in Academic Writing. The University of Zambia Lecture notes for week 4. Retrieved from https://sitwe.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/language-usage-in-academic-writing/

4.2 Avoidable Language in Academic writing?
Academic writing follows certain conventions which are universally accepted. One of the rules in academic writing is that certain forms of language or words used when writing should not be accepted. Such words or forms of language are used in informal setting and may be hard to be understood by others. The following are examples of avoidable language in academic writing:
(a) Do not use contractions and abbreviations
Contractions are words written in short version such as can’t for cannot in full form, don’t for do not in full form, it’s there for it is there in full form, and he’ll for he will in full form, doesn’t for does not in full form and shouldn’t for should not in full form. Any form of contraction is not allowed in academic writing. Make sure you always use the full forms of those contractions.

Abbreviations such as etc. must not be used in academic writing. Furthermore, you must use the full forms of words. For instance, rather than using TV, memo, or quote. You must use Television, memorandum or quotation.

(b) Avoid using informal English language
This means that when writing your essay consider the following:
(i) Do not write your essay in point or bullet form, numbering or sub-headings, these are expected in your research or observation reports.
(ii) Do not use colloquial words or slang expressions such as thing, cool, kid, a lot of, stuff and sort of.
(iii) Avoid double words such as what’s up, put off, bring up, get away with but instead, use words equivalent to these phrasal verbs.
(iv) Avoid common but vague words and phrase such as nice, get and thing.
(v) Do not ask questions or use exclamation marks and dashes in academic writing.
(vi) Do not use the language for phone texting or sms.
(vii) Avoid using sexist language such as him/her or herself/himself, chairman, mankind in your writing. For example, do not refer to the country as he or she nor a doctor as he or she. It is better to make them subject plurals and refer to them as they or in the case of the country, state it in neutral way.
Exercise to check your formal language extracted from http://www.uefap.com/writing/exercise/feature/styleex1.htm
1. With women especially, there is a lot of social pressure to conform to a certain physical shape.
2. Significantly, even at this late date, Lautrec was considered a bit conservative by his peers.
3. It focused on a subject that a lot of the bourgeois and upper-class exhibition-going public regarded as anti-social and anti-establishment.

The answers to these questions are:
1. With women especially, there is a great deal of social pressure to conform to a certain physical shape.
2. Significantly, even at this late date, Lautrec was considered somewhat conservative by his peers.
3. It focused on a subject that much of the bourgeois and upper-class exhibition-going public regarded as anti-social and anti-establishment.
(c) Be objective and avoid Personal Language and make your writing formal (be impersonal)
Make your writing formal and impersonal by avoiding the use of personal language such as I, My, Our, me, myself and we. Use third person to show that you are objective. Compare these:
Wrong: In this essay, I am going to discuss the importance of ……
Correct: This essay discusses the importance of ………
Wrong: My research has shown that the people of Zambia are friendly.
Correct: This research has shown that the people of Zambia are friendly.
Wrong: what I can say about this is that …….
Correct: On this subject matter, it could be said that…..

Nobody is interested in your opinion but everybody wants to know what you have ready about a particular topic. Your reader will assume that any idea not referenced in your essay is your own. It is therefore unnecessary to make this explicit use of personal language. You should not say: “In my opinion, this study is very interesting.” You must say that “this is a very interesting study.” Do not use “you” to refer to the reader or people in general. For example, do not write “You can remember life struggles of the Zambian people during colonial era”. You must say or write: “It is easy to remember the life struggles of the Zambian people during colonial era”. This means that you must not utilize emotional language but be objective rather than subjective. Meaning state points in a neutral way by using impersonal subjects. For example, instead of saying;
“I believe that singing at night help reduce fear of the dark”, you should say “It is believed that singing at night help reduce fear of the dark” or you can say “It can be argued that singing at night help reduce fear of the dark”. Note that such points must be supported by evidence from your reading by quoting the authors correctly.
More examples of objective writing in academic essays or starting arguments in writing academic style include the following:
(i) The information provided by Debby (2014:23) clearly shows that …..
(ii) This is a point of departure…….
(iii) This is where the disagreements and controversies begin …
(iv) A common conclusion on this matter is that
(v) This is not a view shared by everyone, Sitwe (2015) for example, claims that …
(vi) It is important at this stage to consider …
(vii) Several possibilities emerge …
(viii) It can be imagined that …
(ix) It may be argued that …
(x) It is widely held that …
Furthermore, to show that the writer is objective, they use the following words: ‘It was resolved that …….’ “it was observed that…….”, “it was noted that …………..”, “it was thought …….”, and “the Act was signed”, all of these suggest some space between the writer and what was observed, noted, thought and signed.
(d) Avoid making sweeping statement or generalizations but be precise and accurate
You must ensure that the phrases and sentences you are making in your essays are based on facts with evidence well stated or supported. Use hedging or dodging language in your academic writing which is more neutral. Hedging language help create some distance between what you are writing and yourself as a writer so that you are cautious and neutral about what you are writing. To avoid over generalizations, you can use words such words as some, a few, others and so forth.

Academic writing also demand precision, you need to be precise when using information, dates or figures. For example, you must not say “many people believe that” or “a lot of people believe that” when you can say “200 people believe that”.

Accuracy on the other hand demand that you must choose the correct words when writing. For example, synonyms such as meeting, assembly, gathering and conference must be well utilised. Equally, words such as money, cash, currency, capital or funds must be accurately utilised.

(e) Structure your writing carefully
When writing, make short, clear and complete sentences. Organize your writing into paragraphs, use connecting words and phrases to make your writing explicitly and easy to follow. You must also check your grammar correctly. As a writer, you are also expected to use language in expressing you points carefully so that you conform academic writing style. For example, avoid expressing strong opinions too directly Academic writing is concerned with presenting your discussion in an objective way, so there is no need to assert your opinions too strongly and openly. For instance,
Do not say: Banda has an extremely important point to make because he…..
You should say: Banda’s view is significant because…… avoiding words such as very, really, quite and extremely.
Remember that when you are writing, your views are merely contributing to the wider knowledge so you should not be too assertive to the extent that whatever you present is correct. Because of this, writers tend to use hedge language. For instance;
Do not say: Banda’s view is very correct because ………
You should say: It appears Banda’s view is ……… or It could be said that Banda’s view….
Part of this information was extracted from http://www.library.dmu.ac.uk/Support/Heat/index.php?page=488
(f) Use evidence from your reading to support your cases and reference this correctly.
Good academic essays are supported by existing literature on a particular subject matter. Every major point cited must be supported by at least one scholar to qualify or support the point raised. This is what we call responsibility.

(g) Use passive verbs than active to avoid stating the doer
This is important and it is usually done with such sentences as “tests have been conducted on ——“. Other recommended verbs to use include imagine, suggest and claim. In addition, attitudinal signals such as apparently, arguably, ideally, strangely and unexpectedly. Note that all these words allows you to hint at your attitude about something without using personal language.
Examples:
Do not say: In my essay I will discuss the role of the citizens in a country. (=active verb)
You could write: In this essay the role of the citizens in a country will be discussed. (=passive verb)
Do not say: I have divided the chapter into three sections.
You could say: The chapter is divided into three sections.
(h) Make use of Hedging language
When writing academic essays, you must make a decisions about your stance on a particular subject, or the strength of the claims you are making. This is done using what linguists call hedging. The following phrases on hedging are taken from
http://www.uefap.com/writing/feature/hedge.htm
The language used in hedging for academic writing includes:
1. Introductory verbs: e.g. seem, tend, look like, appear to be, think, believe, doubt, be sure, indicate, suggest
2. Certain lexical verbs e.g. believe, assume, suggest
3. Certain modal verbs: e.g. will, must, would, may, might, could
4. Adverbs of frequency e.g. often, sometimes, usually
4. Modal adverbs e.g. certainly, definitely, clearly, probably, possibly, perhaps, conceivably,
5. Modal adjectives e.g. certain, definite, clear, probable, possible
6. Modal nouns e.g. assumption, possibility, probability
7. That clauses e.g. It could be the case that .
e.g. It might be suggested that .
e.g. There is every hope that .
8. To-clause + adjective e.g. It may be possible to obtain .
e.g. It is important to develop .
e.g. It is useful to study .
Hedging words and examples and examples are exemplified in the following phrases from the same site. Compare the following statements:
1. It may be said that the commitment to some of the social and economic concepts was less strong than it is now.
The commitment to some of the social and economic concepts was less strong than it is now.
2. The lives they chose may seem overly ascetic and self-denying to most women today.
The lives they chose seem overly ascetic and self-denying to most women today.
3. Weismann suggested that animals become old because, if they did not, there could be no successive replacement of individuals and hence no evolution.
Weismann proved that animals become old because, if they did not, there could be no successive replacement of individuals and hence no evolution.
4. Yet often it cannot have been the case that a recalcitrant trustee remained in possession of the property entrusted to him.
Yet a recalcitrant trustee did not remain in possession of the property entrusted to him.
5. Recent work on the religious demography of Northern Ireland indicates a separating out of protestant and catholic, with the catholic population drifting westwards and vice versa.
Recent work on the religious demography of Northern Ireland shows a separating out of protestant and catholic, with the catholic population drifting westwards and vice versa.
6. By analogy, it may be possible to walk from one point in hilly country to another by a path which is always level or uphill, and yet a straight line between the points would cross a valley.
By analogy, one can walk from one point in hilly country to another by a path which is always level or uphill, and yet a straight line between the points would cross a valley.
7. There are certainly cases where this would seem to have been the only possible method of transmission.
There are cases where this would have been the only possible method of transmission.
8. Nowadays the urinary symptoms seem to be of a lesser order.
Nowadays the urinary symptoms are of a lesser order.
The choice of these phrases and sentences depends on the level of surety in the claims.
4.3 Use of Grammatical words and Tenses
When writing academic essays, do not waste time by using words anyhow. Make sure that every word count. For example:
Avoid saying: A famous theorist scholar called Albert Bandura wrote a beautiful piece of work on social learning which offers valuable insights into this discussion…
You should say: Bandura (2003) offers valuable insights into …

This demand that every word you use must be of significance in that sentence and it is informative enough.

Words must also be used clearly and concisely so that the meaning that they carry in those context are simple and straight forward. This demand that huge words must be avoided by all means necessary. For instance;
Do not say: A corpulent lackadaisical unicorn.
You should say: A fat lazy admired girl.
Do not say: The denotation was obfuscated by the orator.
You should say: The meaning was hidden by the speaker.
As a writer, you must aim for the right word for the right occasion expressed in a manner that it would be easy to understand by your readers.
Furthermore, if you are reporting on past tense or present tense, you must be consistent with the tense you are using to inform your audience readers. For example;
(a) The Past Tense
If you are writing on something that happened in the past, you have to maintain the past tense so that you do not mix up ideas. For instance,
(i) The Second World War had devastating impact upon the society in the countries affected.
(ii) The group discussions were conducted with nine groups of parents in Muchinga Province.
(iii) By 9 hours AM on Monday, everyone had already reported for work.
(b) The Present Tense
If you are writing on something that is still happening now, you have to maintain the present tense unless you want to compare it with something in the past or future. For instance,
(i) Banda’s book emphasises that fighting for boys or girls is wasting time.
(ii) The deviance theory support the view that ……
(iii) His argument illustrates that…..
Remember that when talking about events that happened in the past, avoid phrases such as: ‘in the past’ or ‘in recent times’ this and this happened but focus on specific issues at hand so your writing does not become redundant.
You must also avoid generalizing phrases and certain grammatical aspects when used, you must ensure that your reader knows what you are referring to when you use words such as: it, them, and they. Words such as people and ideas have the potential to be vague. So, avoid saying: ‘according to many people’. Ensure that you explain which people or which ideas.
4.4 Conclusion
The most important things in academic writing is to keep your writing clear and concise and make sure that you get your ideas over in a comprehensible form. Do not use informal language but your sentences must be complete with ideas arranged in paragraphs and sections.

REFERENCES
Adler, N. (1997) International Dimensions of Organizational Behaviour. 3rd ed.Ohio: South-Western College Publishing.
Heaton, J. B. (1975) Studying in English. London: Longman
Hefferman, James & John Lincoln (1986) Writing. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Sir Ernest Gowers says in his The Complete Plain Words.
Quick, Radolph & Sidney Greenbaum (1973) A University Grammar of English Essex: Longman
Sheal, P. (1981). Writing Skills Essex: Longman
Byrd, P. (1994). Writing grammar textbooks: Theory and practice. System, 22 (2), 245-255.
http://www.library.dmu.ac.uk/Support/Heat/index.php?page=488

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About Sitwe

Sitwe Benson is a citizen of the world based in Zambia. He is never alone.
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