In this article, I will offer 9 tips to get you writing more formally for your university. Also, I will provide a fun activity for you to practice these lessons learned.
There are many ways to improve the formality of your writing for university. Some of these have been covered in my previous articles such as ‘Phrasal Verbs Hurt Your Thesis Grade’, ‘Academic Vocabulary Outperforms ESL Beginner Words’ and ‘Writing Objectively for University: Your 5-point Checklist’. This article doesn’t aim to cover every possible way you can make your writing more formal. Instead, it offers a checklist of recommendations you can quickly and easily implement to improve the formality of your writing.
Write Words in Full
When writing formally, avoid contractions and unnecessary abbreviations when possible. For example:
Replace: I’m, we’re, I’ve, we’ve, she’s, he’s, aren’t, didn’t, can’t, shouldn’t, demo, photos, fridge, phone, info
With: I am, we are, I have, we have, she is, he is, are not, did not, cannot, should not, demonstration, photographs, refrigerators, telephones, information
Replace: a.s.a.p., e.g., i.e., etc., cf., viz., vs., &
With: as soon as possible, for example, that is, and so forth, compare, namely, versus, and
Avoid Conversational or Colloquial Words and Phrases
Unless it’s a formal speech, spoken English is not usually formal. Sayings, words or phrases such as the following are typically omitted when writing formally.
3. Colloquial Linking Words
OK, right, well, like, anyway, at any rate, to say the least
4. Colloquial Intensifiers
Just, simply, really + adjective
(The need to avoid intensifiers was introduced in the second main point of my article titled ‘Writing Objectively for University: Your 5-point Checklist’)
5. Colloquial ‘Run-ons’
And so on, so on and so forth, etcetera
6. Slang or Words Used in a Slang Manner
Pros and cons, give and take, kind of, sort of, would of, ‘til, till, stuff, things, humongous
Use Formal Verb Forms
The need to replace two-part and three-part phrasal verbs with their more formal equivalents was introduced in my article ‘Phrasal Verbs Hurt Your Thesis Grade’. Here are few examples of how phrasal verbs can be replaced with their more formal, one-word verb equivalents.
7. Phrasal Verbs
Replace: go up, come back, find out, get across, put off, set up, mixed up
With: increase, return, discover, communicate, postpone, organise, confused
Omit All Idioms and Clichés
The following are examples of idioms and/or clichés which should be avoided:
8. Idioms and Clichés
‘Cut-throat competition’, meaning very intense, aggressive, and fierce competition.
‘The elephant in the room’, meaning an obvious problem or controversial issue that no one wants to discuss.
‘An uphill battle’, meaning something that is difficult to achieve because of obstacles and difficulties.
Idioms and clichés sometimes convey the wrong meaning when written. Furthermore, they are generally used informally in conversations.
Your reader can’t answer the question for you. You may, on occasion, pose rhetorical questions which you plan to address and respond to in your writing. However, it is rare that we ask questions at all in academic writing.
9. Rhetorical Questions
Replace: If the effectiveness of the United Nations on permanent members with veto power is questionable, then why isn’t a substitute global governing body for the United Nations created?
With: The effectiveness of the United Nations on permanent members with veto power is questionable, so it is unclear why a substitute global governing body for the United Nations isn’t created.
Task: Writing Formally
Remember, there are other ways to make your sentences more formal. The points above merely represent a quick and easy-to-understand 9-point checklist to lift the formality of your writing immediately.
Now it’s your turn. Choose the most formal academic sentence in each of the following multiple-choice exercises.
This article was proofread with Grammarly.