The Oxbridge Editing Blog 12th April 2024

Words to Avoid in Academic Writing

12th April 2024
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Academic writing requires a level of precision and clarity that is distinct from everyday conversation or informal writing. Knowing which expressions and words to avoid in academic writing is crucial. In this article, we will explore several categories of words that should be used sparingly or not at all in academic contexts, ranging from colloquialisms and vague expressions to clichés and fillers.

1. Colloquial/Informal Writing

In academic writing, it’s crucial to maintain a formal tone and avoid language that is overly conversational or familiar. Colloquial expressions are a common mistake in academic writing: they can undermine the seriousness of your work and may not be universally understood or accepted in scholarly circles. Examples of such words or phrases include:

  • “Wow,” “Okay”: These expressions are too casual for academic writing and should be replaced with more formal equivalents like “Remarkably,” or “Accepted.”
  • “Totally,” “Basically,” “Sort of”: These words lack precision and can weaken your arguments. Instead, strive for clarity with terms like “Completely,” “Fundamentally,” or “To some extent.”

2. Exaggerations

Avoiding exaggerations is essential in academic writing to maintain objectivity and credibility. Words that overstate or embellish can weaken the validity of your arguments. Be mindful of these examples:

  • “Always,” “Never,” “Everyone”: Using absolute terms can oversimplify complex issues. Instead, use phrases like “often,” “rarely,” or “the majority of.”
  • “Groundbreaking,” “Revolutionary,” “Unprecedented”: While it’s important to highlight the significance of findings, be cautious with hyperbolic language. Opt for terms like “significant,” “innovative,” or “remarkable.”

3. Vague Expressions

Clarity is paramount in academic writing. Vague expressions can lead to confusion or misinterpretation of your ideas. Examples of words to avoid include:

  • “Stuff,” “Things,” “A lot”: These terms lack specificity. Instead, use precise nouns that convey your meaning clearly.
  • “Seems,” “Maybe,” “Probably”: Aim for more certainty in your assertions by using terms like “indicates,” “suggests,” or “likely.”

4. Too Subjective Expressions

Academic writing should present information objectively rather than subjectively. Minimise the use of personal opinions or feelings. Watch out for:

  • “I believe,” “In my opinion,” “I feel”: While personal perspectives are valuable, academic writing emphasises factual evidence over personal sentiments.

5. Fillers

Avoid unnecessary words that don’t add meaning to your sentences. Fillers can dilute the impact of your writing. Common fillers to avoid include:

  • “Basically,” “Actually,” “Literally”: These words often add little substance to your writing and can be omitted for greater clarity and conciseness.

6. Contractions

Contractions like “can’t,” “won’t,” or “shouldn’t” are considered too informal for academic writing. It’s best to use the full forms of words to maintain a professional tone.

7. Clichés

Lastly, steer clear of clichés, as they can make your writing appear unoriginal or uninspired. Academic writing should strive for fresh and precise language. Clichés are phrases or expressions that have been overused to the point of losing their impact and becoming stale. Using clichés can make your writing appear unoriginal or uninspired, which is contrary to the purpose of academic discourse that values fresh perspectives and innovative ideas.

Examples of clichés to avoid include:

  • “In the nick of time”: Used to describe something happening just before it’s too late.
  • “Every cloud has a silver lining”: Often used to convey optimism in the face of adversity.
  • “Fit as a fiddle”: Describes someone who is in good physical condition.

Instead of relying on clichés, strive to use language that is specific, clear, and evocative. Aim to express your ideas in a way that engages your readers and demonstrates your unique perspective as a researcher. 


Mastering academic writing involves careful attention to language and style. By avoiding colloquialisms, exaggerations, vague expressions, subjective language, fillers, contractions, and clichés, your writing will become more precise, objective, and impactful. Remember, clarity and professionalism are key in effectively communicating your ideas within scholarly discourse. So, the next time you’re crafting an academic paper, be mindful of the words you choose—they can make all the difference in conveying your message clearly and convincingly.

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