You are a professional and are very proficient at academic writing in your first language, but when it comes to translating your work into written English, suddenly you don't know your "ifs" from your "ofs." This is natural in professional ESL writing, because writing in another language is a lot more complicated than speaking it. However, here are some helpful tips to improve your ESL writing.
When you first learn the mechanics of structuring an academic paper—whether you're a native English speaker or someone learning English as a second language—it's easy to fall into the trap of relying too heavily on certain stock academic phrases. Yet this attempt to make your writing sound more academic can actually cloud your meaning and frustrate your professors.
These academic phrases are often used to help transition from one idea to another. It is true that the occasional transitional word or phrase is necessary to connect ideas and maintain the flow of your writing. It is also true that a certain level of professionalism and academic language is required to give your work or research the authority it needs to convey your ideas. Unfortunately, there can be a fine line between clarity and redundancy, thoroughness and overwriting.
Below are the top 10 academic phrases your academic writing doesn't actually need.
1. On the other hand…
In the English language, certain phrases have to be paired together to make sense. You essentially can't have one without the other, and the connective and contrasting phrases on the one hand…on the other hand are one such pairing that is commonly misused. Simply put, you cannot use on the other hand without first including on the one hand. Even when used correctly—to contrast connecting ideas in support of your argument—these academic phrases can usually be cut from your writing.
2. In order to
In order to is one of those phrases that is often used to help new English writers understand or structure sentences. It is also used when native English speakers are learning another language and translating that language back into English. So it makes sense that in order to appears in many examples of academic writing. The reality is that in order to is an example of overwriting (i.e., using more words than necessary) and can almost always be written simply as to.
Indeed is one of those archaic academic phrases that most native English speakers never use—unless they own a monocle, talk in a Victorian English accent, and rely on a pocket watch. It's incredible how pervasive this word is in some academic writing. Cutting this word from your academic writing is, in most cases, a good idea.
4. However, moreover, furthermore . . .
Admittedly, transitional words do have their place in the English language, but that place is not at the beginning of every single sentence. When used sparingly and appropriately, words such as however, moreover, and furthermore can be helpful for leading a reader from one idea to another or connecting sentences to maintain the flow and clarity in your academic writing. If used too often, the opposite can happen, and your writing can become tedious and confusing. Use transitional words with caution!
5. As well as
Another example of overwriting is the much-used phrase as well as. Its most common offense is connecting the last element in a list when a simple and would work—and be more concise!
6. For a short (or long) period of time
These convoluted academic phrases are common in scientific or technical academic writing that describes experiments or research methods. For a short period of time can always be shortened to for a short time (or for a long time); as a result, your writing will become much clearer and easier to read.
7. By using
Sneaky little prepositions have a habit of popping up where they are entirely unneeded. Such is the case with by using, a phrase that many writers use without thinking twice about it. But wait! Does that little two-letter word actually need to be there? Again, cut the unnecessary clutter in your academic writing and simply write using instead.
8. Due to the fact that
This academic phrase runs rampant in all kinds of writing. It's the wordy, nerdy sibling of the conjunction because. In most cases, simply using because keeps your writing concise and readable. Ditch the extra words.
9. In relation to
There are better ways to increase your word count than by adding extra filler words. Another classic example of wordiness is the phrase in relation to, which appears in all kinds of unwanted situations. If you find yourself using this phrase a lot, consider replacing it with the prepositions about, to, or with instead, and give your readers a break.
10. In the event that
In the event that takes top prize for wordy phrases used in place of two-letter conjunctions. This academic phrase can be replaced by a simple if, without taking anything away from your writing.
Wanting to make your writing appear as professional as possible is a laudable goal, but all too often, overly complex language is mistaken for being intellectual. As such, wordiness is an easy trap to fall into for many academic writers. Remember, concise writing is often better than academic writing, and transitional words are not necessary at the beginning of every sentence. Keep the above alternatives in mind the next time you're writing a paper—your readers will thank you.
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