Taboo words in academic writing

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Informal writing is not acceptable when it comes to many types of academic writing, which demand a well-structured, clear, and formal language. So, you should always choose your words carefully and avoid using taboo word types when writing your essay, research paper, or dissertation.

Taboo word types include expressions and phrasal words that are too informal, subjective, vague, unsophisticated, exaggerated, and even other expressions that may be considered unnecessary and incorrect. Pay extra attention not to use these word types unless they are taken directly from a source.

Describing informality

Although you may be used to using certain informal words in your daily life or seeing informal writings in non-academic works, you must avoid adding those words in your writing process. Here is a list of informal words and phrases and how you can modify them.

Taboo word Example Alternative version
A bit
The forest fires were a bit difficult to put out.
The forest fires were (difficult / somewhat difficult) to put out.
A couple of, a lot of
A couple of organizations…
(Several / many / a significant number of / seven) organizations…*
Turkey
A study conducted in Turkey…
A study conducted in (The TR / Turkey / Turkish Republic)…
Kind of, sort of
The results were sort of unclear.
The results were (somewhat unclear / unclear to some degree)
Til, till
From 2019 till 2021…
From 2019 (until / to) 2021…

* If possible, try to give an exact number in your academic writing.

Avoid using the first-person and second-person points of view in your academic writing. If necessary, you can replace it with the word “one,” or you can turn your sentence into a passive voice.

You can shorten a word or a word group by omitting some internal letters and sounds. It is called contraction. Contractions are among the don’ts of academic writing. Here is an example:

Informal sentence beginnings

While you may use them in other parts, there are also some words that are unacceptable at the beginning of sentences. In that case, you should either use appropriate transition words or remove them altogether. Here is a list of them:

Taboo word Example Alternative version
And
And the interviews took place at…
The interviews took place at…
Also
Also, the children are more prone to…
(Furthermore / Moreover), the children are prone to…
Besides
Besides, climate change has a severe impact on…
Additionally, climate change has a severe impact on…
So
So, it is clear that these issues…
Therefore, it is clear that these issues…

Describing subjectivity

When writing academic material, you must avoid using words and phrases that reveal your own bias towards the subject. For example, unless instructed otherwise, it is crucial to present facts instead of personally guessing the possibility of an occurrence.

Of course, stating your opinion on matters can be allowed and even needed in some academic types, such as reflective and argumentative essays, personal statements, and certain parts of a dissertation. However, be careful as the words listed below are not acceptable in most cases.

Taboo word Example Alternative version
Good, wonderful, bad, horrible, beautiful
There were several good articles regarding…
There were several relevant articles regarding…
Obviously, of course
The findings obviously present…
The findings clearly present…
Naturally
The children can naturally wonder…
The children can wonder…

Describing vagueness

Academic writing demands precision and clarity. Always try to be as specific as you can, and avoid expressions and phrasal words that add vagueness to your paper.

Taboo word Example Alternative version
Thing
The research shows several things.
The research shows several (findings / details)
Stuff
The government is concerned with the ongoing stuff.
The government is concerned with the ongoing (issues / problems / agenda etc.)
A while/a long time
The doctors have been working on the issue for a while.
The doctors have been working on the issue for ten years.

Describing unsophistication

You should not use too many simple words in your academic writing, or it might seem elementary. Try to change your phrasal verbs with their one-word substitutes as well.

Although the table below will give a list of taboo words that are too unsophisticated, some words may still be acceptable in different situations from time to time. Don’t forget that successful academic writing demands concision as well as diversity in the language (US or UK English). Just try not to overuse any words.

Taboo word Example Alternative version
Give
The poem gives insight on…
The poem (presents / offers / provides) insight on…
Get
The newspaper got applause for…
The newspaper received applause for…
Good
A good result…
A positive result…
Big
A big sample…
A (sizable / large) sample…
Bad
This bad behavior is…
This (poor / negative) behavior is…
Shows
The findings show…
The findings (present / reveal)…

Unnecessary words

You may feel that certain verbs give a refined feel to your paper. However, you should avoid adding words and phrases that are generally unnecessary and don’t add meaning to your writing. Here are two examples of it.

Taboo word Example Alternative version
Has got/have got
The book has got two parts.
The book has two parts.
Serves to/helps to
This topic helps to explain…
This topic explains…

Incorrect language

Some common words and phrases may be used incorrectly, even by native speakers. Once you are overexposed to those mistakes, it is normal to assume they are correct.

You should be careful not to let them in your writing process, they are among the don’ts of academic writing.

Taboo word Example Alternative version
Would of/had of
The administration would of believed that…
The administration would have believed that…
Literally
The participants are literally begging to…
The participants are (begging / very eager) to…

Things to avoid

Of course, never forget to abstain from using expressions that are under these categories as well.

Always try to use non-sexist, inclusive language. For example, avoid using words like mankind and businessman.

For example; telly, chap, etc.

Clichés are highly overused expressions, such as all for one and one for all, and read between the lines.

Don’t use unknown terminology that may not be understood by readers from different fields.

Such as info, phone, photo, etc.
Ibrahim Akturk
Ibrahim Akturk
Content editor at Tamara Research. Translation major, huge coffee and baking nerd. Addicted to good music and great articles.

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