Academic writing

Making your writing sound formal

It is usually the case that in formal writing you avoid the use of personal pronounsThese include I, me, we, us and you. However there are instances in certain disciplines where your lecturer will invite you to use the first person. In reflective journal writing for example, using the first person is appropriate.

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a. When you are reporting what you did,

Instead of writing:
I prepared all the laboratory equipment for the whole group.
Write:
The laboratory equipment for the chemistry experiment was prepared.

Instead of writing:
I presented the group’s findings to the class.
Write:
The group’s findings were presented to the class.

b. When you are referring to what you have said,

Instead of writing:
As I have already mentioned, Save the Children are leading the policy discussions on the establishment of Early Childhood Centres.
Write:
As previously mentioned, Save the Children are leading the policy discussions on the establishment of Early Childhood Centres.

In each of these examples, we used the passive voice to make sure that the language sounds impersonal.

c. When you want to signal that you are drawing a conclusion, use an impersonal form such as: It can be seen that...

Instead of writing:
When using this teaching methodology with children from non-literate homes, you can easily see why it will never be successful.
Write:
When using this teaching methodology with children from non-literate homes, it can easily be seen why it will never be successful.

d. When you want to use evidence to arrive at a conclusion you can also use similar language. For example:

Instead of writing:
We can see, after examining the students’ results, that children are much more likely to be successful in their first two years of school if they have benefitted from preschool activities that promote cognitive growth.
Write:
The students’ results show that children are much more likely to be successful in their first two years of school if they have benefitted from preschool activities that promote cognitive growth.

You are often asked to present a point of view in your writing, but it is important that you do this in an appropriate way.

The words in the table below help to grade the strength of your opinion. That is, they fill in the space between ‘yes’ or ‘absolutely’ or ‘no’ ‘not at all’. They are words which cover the ‘shades of grey’.

Strong Moderate Weak
Must Will May
Certainly Probably Might
Undoubtedly Likely/unlikely Could or possibly

You can also use the different phrases given below to show the strength of what you are saying your language by using expressions like:

Strong Moderate Weak
It is certain that It is likely/unlikely It seems possible
It seems clear It seems probably It appears possible
It appears obvious It appears probably/likely It is possible

For example:

It is unlikely that government funding for university research will increase over the next five years.

It seems clear that that the number of online courses will increase.

 

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