Academic language. (Part 1)
1. Academic LanguagePART 1
2. Academic writing is:Formal
(impersonal, no slang, formal sentence structure)
(critical thinking: how and why)
(gives a balanced point of view, more than one
point of view)
(ideas flow logically from one to another:
signposts, topic sentences and linked paragraphs)
(keeps to the structure of an essay, report etc)
(evidence and examples, referencing)
3. Academic writing is formalIn academic writing we write more formally than usual.
“In five experimental conditions we found that subjects took the
recipients’ attentional state and their own communicative
effectiveness into account by adjusting signal production
accordingly. More importantly, in case of communicative failure,
subjects repeated previously successful signals more often with a
familiar than unfamiliar recipient…”
4. Academic writing is reasoned and impartialAcademic writing is about critical thinking and reasoning.
But what is critical thinking?
•Implies questioning taken for granted assumptions
•Involves both openness to new ideas and appropriate scepticism
• Provides evidence to support claims
Good thinking always involves ability to ask good questions.
5. Academic writing is structuredArticle structure
2. Methods (can be placed in some journals after
6. Academic writing is logicalTo create a piece of writing that is logical requires planning.
A good way to plan a paper is to put down your ideas in bullet points using one
page. You can also create a ‘mindmap’ for your ideas or list a series of questions.
Another key aspect in creating a logical piece of writing involves writing in
A report or essay is made up of a series of related paragraphs.
Paragraphs organise meaning. They help your readers to think clearly about what
you have written.
7. An Academic Paragraph-a paragraph introduces and develops one main idea
- the main idea is introduced through a topic sentence, which is usually the first sentence
- all sentences in the paragraph need to relate to the main idea in a logical way
-paragraphs are linked together and flow logically on from each other
- in-text references need to be included in the paragraph if supporting ideas come from other sources.
8. Using wordsUse the minimum number of words!
You may often find that there are a number of words
contained in your writing that can be safely eliminated
without any kind of danger to your meaning
number of words contained in your
writing that can be safely eliminated
without any kind of danger to your
meaning whatsoever. (Beer & McMurrey, 2005, p. 34)
Alternative choices – alternatives
Actual experience - experience
‘Various differences” (Various implies difference so you do not need both words)
Avoid starting sentences with linking words
such as but, and or yet.
Beer, D., & McMurrey, D. (2005). A guide to writing as an engineer (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons
11. Avoiding wordy phrasesInstead of . . .
the reason for
for the reason that
due to the fact that
owing to the fact that
in light of the fact that
considering the fact that
on the grounds that
this is why
Use . . .
because, since, why
regardless of the fact that
notwithstanding the fact that
in the event that
if it should transpire/happen that
under circumstances in which
on the occasion of
in a situation in which
under circumstances in which
in reference to
with regard to
concerning the matter of
where . . . is concerned
although, even, though
it is necessary that
there is a need/necessity for
it is important that
it is incumbent upon
cannot be avoided
is able to
has the opportunity to
is in a position to
has the capacity for
has the ability to
there is a chance that
it could happen that
the possibility exists for
in anticipation of
at the same time as
may, might, can, could
before, after, as
15. Grammar in Academic EnglishUSAGE OF TENSES
16. Present tensesPresent Simple is often used in abstracts and summaries, in introduction when referring to
other people’s ideas, suggestions or fundamental findings.
“This study… demonstrates that the residues lining the substrate binding pocket and N-terminal
lid are the primary determinants of their substrate specificities”. “We also report the
experimentally determined structure of mArAT-aromatic amino acid complex.”
Present Perfect is often used as an alternative to the present simple, but is particularly used to
emphasise current relevance or continuing debate.
“Berg and Hudson have emphasized that modern factories need not have been large…”
Present Perfect is used to summarise points or arguments, especially in the concluding
“The qualitative analyses in this chapter have illustrated crucial aspects…”
17. Past SimplePast Simple is used to refer to procedures used in individual studies:
“Borgen et al statistically modelled the magnitude of such temperature…”
“Our functional assays clearly showed the inability of mArAT to catalyze Hsp as substrate, but it
exhibited broad specificity for aromatic amino acids.”
“To explore the conservation of active site residues of Iβ aminotransferases across species, we
performed a structure and sequence based alignment of mArAT and mHspAT”
18. Will / shallIn academic language will and shall may be used to refer to things which are to
be found later in the text or to predictions which the authors make. Both
simple and progressive forms are used. Sometimes Future perfect can be used
“The ‘rare resource’ hypothesis predicts that two monkeys that are both holding anointing
resources will not form anointing dyads, whilst the ‘mutual application’ hypothesis predicts that
monkeys holding anointing resources will continue to seek out other monkeys that hold
resources, and that social anointing actions will target parts of the body that are inaccessible to
a monkey rubbing individually.”
“After organisational-transformations the “right” environment will likely have changed, but the
right internal state remains the same.”
19. ContractionsContracted verb forms are generally avoided in academic writing.
“In contrast, capuchin monkeys in other studies 34,35, baboons, Papio papio 36, tonkean and
rhesus macaques, Macaca tonkeana & M. mulatta 37, rooks, Corvus frugilegus5, and African
grey parrots, Psittacus erithacus 38, did not pass the delay and/ or solitary control conditions,
suggesting that they do not pay attention to the other’s role or even lack an understanding of
the need of a partner.”
20. Active and Passive voicePassive voice is common in academic writing since it is often necessary to shift the
focus from human agency to the actions, processes and events described.
“Cooperative hunting has been described in social carnivores7–10, chimpanzees…“
“most emphasis has been put on whether animals understand the need and role of the partner in
“In experiment 1, seven ravens were confronted with the string pulling set-up in a group setting”
To signpost the section dealing with personal stance and evaluation, the author
shifts to active voice:
“We investigated the cooperative problem solving abilities of ravens by using a setup comparable to most other studies based on the loose string paradigm.”
21. Active and Passive voiceActive voice is also frequently used with impersonal subjects, as well as to
describe activities etc. of the objects studied.
“In a group of captive Sapajus sp. the frequency of aggression increased, and durations of
affiliative behaviours decreased…“
„individuals form multiple highly differentiated affiliative and agonistic relationships with others”
“The ravens cooperated successfully in 397 out of 600 trials (66.17%).”
22. Personalizing and de-personalizingPersonal pronoun “I” more commonly occurs in humanities, as well as in spoken academic style.
It is usually followed by such verbs as:
23. Personalizing and de-personalizing“We” is typically used to refer to more than one author of an academic paper:
“We investigated the cooperative problem solving abilities of ravens”
Also, “we” can be used by a single author as an inclusive strategy, referring to the
author and reader together, making him a part of the team:
“We know the molecular biology of this virus in very great detail”
“You” and “one” can both be used to refer to people in general, and to academic
community of writer / speaker and readers / listeners. “You” is less formal than one.
“It is possible that the more words you already know, the easier it is to aсquire the meaning of new
“One” is less frequent than you, particularly, in spoken academic language.
24. Modality: hedging and boostingAcademic texts are often characterized by a desire to avoid making
claims and statements that are too direct and assertive. Therefore,
hedging (making a proposition less assertive) is very important in
◦ “The anger experience may culminate in a variety of behavioral
Sometimes, however, it is necessary to assert a claim or viewpoint
quite directly and confidently (boosting).
◦ “We must remember, however, that migrants may not need information
about more than one destination”
25. Hedging: the use of modal verbsCan, could, might and may
Academic English often needs to state possibilities rather than
facts, and academics frequently hypothesise and draw
Can is often used to make fairly confident but not absolute
“Genetic mutations, infection by parasites or symbionts, and
other events can transform the way that an organism’s
internal state changes in response to a given environment.”
26. Could and MightCould and might are used for more tentative assertions:
“In some cases, the disadvantageous effects of these events
could be reduced or neutralized”.
“An argument is then made as to why we might expect
interoceptive behaviour to be more robust to
organisational-transformations than exteroceptive
27. MayMay describes things which are likely to occur or which normally do
occur. In this usage it is a formal equivalent of can:
„Increased coverage on the upper back may result from self-directed rubbing a
against other anointing individuals that may be a secondary source of material”.
May is also widely used in a more general way in academic texts to make a
proposition more tentative. May is less tentative than could or might:
“The social anointing behaviours in capuchin monkeys may have lead to the
formulation of the social bonding hypotheses for the function of anointing in the
“They may well be explained in terms of innate behaviours”.
28. Would“Would” is frequently used to hedge assertions which may be
challenged when it precedes such verbs as “advocate”,
“argue”, “assume”, “claim”, “expect”, “propose”, “suggest”.
„Since the behaviour must be costly, we would expect it to provide significant
benefits to the subjects.”
“This would suggest that birds that did not receive a reward in the previous
successful cooperation trial, are less motivated to cooperate again.”
29. Hedging: other expressionsApparently
“We found that anointing generally occurred with little aggression in our study groups.“
„Bouts in our groups typically included salivating and tail coiling, behaviours previously only observed in
30. Prepositional phrases, used as hedgesAs a (general) rule
Broadly (generally) speaking
In a sense, in a way
In most cases
In some (many) respects
More or less
31. Hedging and impersonal constructionsPropositions may be hedged by the use of impersonal constructions with
passive voice to avoid a more direct commitment to a proposition:
“It is suggested that the analytic procedure…”
“It is claimed…”, “It is assumed…”, “It is generally agreed…”
Also passive constructions (in complex subject) are used with the following
expressions to make propositions less direct:
Be believed to
Be claimed to
Be considered to
Be found to
Be said to
Be seen to
Be shown to
Be thought to
“Operating practices are said to have been a major obstacle to improvement.”
32. Seem in Complex SubjectThe verb “seem”, however, can be used in complex subject
constructions in active voice with the same effect as the previous
“Within a well-defined niche constant environmental conditions seem to be the
exception rather than the norm.”