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Academic Style Guidelines

Academic essays should be written in a formal, academic style. This style includes:

  1. Employing tentative rather than assertive language. Do this by:

    • using possibly and probably in front of verbs and noun phrases; e.g. 'This is possibly caused by...' or   'This is probably the most important factor.'
    • using the modal verbs may and might; e.g. 'This may be the most important factor.'
    • using appears to and seems to; e.g. 'This appears to be the most important factor.'
    • avoiding always and every, and replacing them with often and many/much
  2. Using formal vocabulary e.g. discuss rather than talk about. One way to do this is by replacing phrasal verbs with more formal ones.

  3. Use more formal grammar, for example:
    • Use 'There' as a subject; e.g. 'There is a serious risk of...'
    • Use 'It' as a subject; e.g. 'It is very difficult to...'
    • Use 'One' as a subject; e.g. 'One may ask whether...' ('One' is a formal version of 'You' [plural] in general)
    • Use the passive voice; e.g. 'Many things can be done in order to...'
      To practise this, try these 2 matching activities: Activity 1, and Activity 2 on common errors in formality.
  4. Avoiding the use of personal pronouns such as you and we to address the reader

  5. Avoiding short, disconnected sentences

  6. Avoiding the use of rhetorical questions such as “Did you know that spoken and written language are very different?”

  7. Avoiding the use of contractions such as won’t, didn’t, we’ll

  8. Avoiding the overuse and misuse of certain logical connectors, especially besides, furthermore and moreover. Besides is too informal, and both furthermore and moreover mean that the following information is more important than the information before, which is usually bad organisation. Use In addition or Also instead

  9. Ensuring that grammar is accurate, that ideas link together smoothly and that a full range of grammatical structures is employed, such as relative clauses

  10. Referencing correctly, in both in-text references and bibliographical references.

Correct the following sentences to make them more academic. You can check the answer after each question, or, after you finish them, you can click the 'Check All Answers' button to see the answers and feedback.

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Answer Key

Here are the answers:

1. Your answer is:

Suggested answers:
'As we all know, The standard of English in Hong Kong is possibly becoming worse.'
'As we all know, The standard of English in Hong Kong seems to be becoming worse.'
'As we all know, The standard of English in Hong Kong may be becoming worse.'
As we all know is too assertive for academic writing. This sentence needs to be more tentative. See Guideline 1 for more information.

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2. Your answer is:

Suggested answer:
'The university is requesting more money.' Requesting is a more formal verb for asking for.

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3. Your answer is:

Suggested answer:
'One may ask whether the Great Wall of China is visible from space.' Do not use rhetorical questions (see Guideline 6), and these questions can be replaced with formal grammar (see Guideline 3).

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4. Your answer is:

Suggested answer:
'In the conclusion I will state my opinion.' Tell is quite an informal verb, and in academic writing  you should be avoided (see Guideline 4).

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5. Your answer is:

Suggested answer:
'Some commentators say that students lack creativity and imagination.' In academic writing, short, unconnected sentences are not appropriate (see Guideline 5).

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6. Your answer is:

Suggested answers:
'In traditional education, questioning the teacher was not allowed.' (See Guideline 7)
'In traditional education, questioning the teacher was discouraged.'

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7. Your answer is:

Suggested answer:
'According to Wong (2003, p.41), he says that the information is inaccurate.' Don't use According to and a verb, such as says, after the author's name. See Guideline 10 and the instructions on in-text citations.

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8. Your answer is:

Suggested answer:
'Chan, K.K. (2003, pp.47-8) states that the data is not complete.' Do not use initials in in-text citations. See Guideline 10 and the instructions on in-text citations.

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9. Your answer is:

Suggested answer:
'Academic writing is more formal than secondary school essay writing. In addition, it is generally less assertive.' See Guideline 8.

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10. Your answer is:

Suggested answer:
'My writing is often too assertive.' Words that indicate extremes, such as always and every are too assertive and therefore not suitable for academic writing (see Guideline 1).

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Last updated on: Friday, March 23, 2012