Jul 092012

When we speak to people, we choose our words carefully to suit the occasion. If you want to borrow money from a bank, and you have an appointment with the bank manager, you do not say to him, “Hi mate! How’s it goin’?” This would be inappropriate because it is too informal.

Similarly, if you meet your friends in Starbucks for a coffee, you do not say to them, “Notwithstanding the unseasonably high temperatures, I will nevertheless elect to consume a hot beverage.” This too would be inappropriate, as it would sound too formal.

When we talk about using formal or informal language, the technical word for this is register.

In academic writing, you need to demonstrate to your marker/supervisor, that you can write in appropriately formal language. This demonstrates that you have read academic texts to prepare for your assignment, and that you have a good idea of what academic writing consists of.

Tips for making your English writing sound more formal:

1. Contractions: eg “I’ve, she’s, I’ll etc . Don’t write contractions in formal academic writing; use the full forms ie I have, she is, I will,

2. Get: this word is banned from academic writing! It has 3 general meanings: to become, to have or to obtain. Look at these examples:

“China’s economy is getting stronger” : “China’s economy is becoming stronger”

“India has got problems with its infrastructure” : “India has problems/is experiencing problems with its infrastructure.”

“The researcher got a sample of data.” : “The researcher obtained a sample of data.”

3. Using the word “I”
: only use the word “I” in formal academic English if you are writing something personal, such as a reflective log.

Use “the researcher”/”the writer”/”the author”. E.g. “The researcher conducted a survey of 15 engineers.”
The only time you should use the word “I” in a standard dissertation is in the acknowledgements section e.g. “I would like to take this opportunity to thank my supervisor.”

4. Avoid colloquial language: Colloquial or idiomatic language in academic writing can jump out of the page at the marker! I have read phrases such as :
Fashion is my passion.
This is a hot topic in Economics.