The language of academic writing

Academic writing is a formal style of writing used in scholarly publications, and it demands a careful use of your language. As such, what you posit is as important as having the right language to convey it. Many a student has been told by their course instructors and supervisors that their good ideas are conveyed in a poor language. On these grounds, this treatise will discuss five linguistic habits to avoid in academic writing.

1. The use of exophoric pronouns: Exophoric pronouns are pronouns that do not refer to any noun within a text. In academic writing, we must avoid the use of pronouns to refer to whatever is not found in the text. An example is when you define imagery in a scholarly work as “mental pictures of our world”. A reviewer will immediately wonder who “our” refers to in such a context, especially when you write for a global audience. In academic writing, the researcher must separate himself/herself from the participants and audience/readers of the research and should avoid the use of pronouns such as “we” and “our”. Another common example is to say, “We can define imagery as…” One immediately wonders who the “we” refers to. It is a linguistic habit that is better avoided in academic writing.

2. Making Assumptions: Another common linguistic habit to avoid in academic writing is the assumption that your readers know what you know or will agree with your stance. Many writers use expressions such as “We know the Buhari government has really failed the country”, and one wonders how many people know and agree to that. A writer can choose to express his or her opinion or buttress a submission with earlier research, but it is not a good academic habit to co-opt others into the presentation of one’s opinion. Also, in that sentence, the writer takes it that every reader will know the country being referred to is Nigeria. Unfortunately, that may not be as clear to the readers as the writer assumes. It is, therefore, important to use words with exactitude in academic writing.

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3. Using flowery expressions: Collins Dictionary explains flowery speech or writing as that which contains long or literary words and expressions. Such linguistic embellishment reduces the quality of academic writing. For instance, an expression such as “I will spice up my argument” is not scholarly. The use of “spice” which gives a culinary effect is of little or no significance to academic writing. Instead, it is apt to say that an argument in academic writing can be “buttressed” or “supported”.

4. Promoting your bias: While it is normal for people to have their biases and preferences, it is important to dispense with them in academic writing. I supervised a master’s student recently, and I had to admonish her to expunge her dislike for a particular participant in her presentation of findings. In reporting research findings and writing other parts of an academic work, there will be no reason to use “strong words” or intensifiers like “very”, “extremely” or “really”, as such may indicate bias. For instance, when one reads a research finding such as: “From the research, it is crystal clear that the PDP government has not contributed to the development of the state”, one wonders if the finding is clearer as a result of using “crystal clear”. For this reason, researchers must use adverbs and adjectives sparingly. The finding above could have simply been reported thus: “The study shows that the PDP government has not contributed to the development of the state.”

5. Using unexplained codes: By unexplained codes, I mean the use of abbreviations that have not been given earlier in a sentence and using “et al” with names when the names have not been stated in full earlier. For instance, to write that “SFG is important to understand language in context” without initially writing the full meaning of SFG is a bad linguistic habit in academic writing. Similarly, to write that “Bamgbose et al (2020) supported the earlier submission” without first mentioning all of the authors, as in Bamgbose, Lawal and Gbade (2020), is also impermissible in academic writing.

In conclusion, academic writing has peculiarities which must be mastered by anyone who aspires to be a scholar, academic or public presenter. Thankfully, this exposition on the language of academic writing will stand these individuals in good stead.

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