5 Mistakes To Avoid In Academic Writing

Aug 13, 2020 | IELTS WRITING TASK 2

The following rules apply for academic writing in general and IELTS writing in particular.

  1. Avoid ‘you’The second-person pronoun ‘you’ is acceptable in certain types of informal writing, such as personal letters and narratives. ‘You’ is used to directly address the reader and can be helpful in personalizing the content.

    Having said that, ‘you’ is generally considered inappropriate in academic writing. Formal papers should not address the reader directly. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid second person without compromising the meaning of the text. Below are some suggestions.

    • Use people
      • You already know that the world is round.
      • Most people already know that the world is round.
    • Use one
      • You may think this would be impossible.
      • One may think this would be impossible.
    • Use someone or somebody
      • You may feel compelled to argue against this point.
      • Someone may feel compelled to argue against this point.
    • Remove an unnecessary ‘you’
      • You should first make sure that everything is set up correctly.
      • First, make sure everything is set up correctly.
    • Rearrange the sentence
      • After reading this paper, you will be able to understand how a helicopter is constructed.
      • This paper will describe how a helicopter is constructed.
  1. Avoid sexismIn the past, when people referred to a member of a group containing both men and women (or boys and girls), they used the pronouns he/ him/ his:
    • A good doctor listens carefully to his patients.
    • Anyone who wants to join should give his name to the secretary.

    Nowadays, many people feel that this usage is unfair to women. If you want to avoid the danger of seeming sexist, you can use one of the following alternatives.

    • Use they/ them/ their to refer back to an indefinite pronoun (anyone, somebody, etc)
      • Anyone who wants to join should give their name to the secretary.
      • Some people object to this usage in formal styles, insisting that they (plural) does not agree in number with anyone (singular). This usage is nevertheless very common.
    • Use he or she, his or her, etc
      • A good doctor listens carefully to his or her patients.
      • This alternative is found in formal writing, and so is the use of he/ she, his/ her, s/he, etc. However, they are generally felt to produce awkward and unnatural sentences, especially when they are repeated, as in:
      • If a doctor listens to his or her patients, he or she will be in a better position to help them.
    • Make all the forms plural:
      • Good doctors listen carefully to their patients.
      • Those who want to join should their name to the secretary.
    • Design the sentence in such a way that a personal pronoun is not needed. For example:
      • If anyone wants to go now, he may do so.
      • Anyone who wants to go now may do so.
  1. Avoid emotionIt is an important feature of academic writing that the writer does not use emotion or humor. Even if you feel strongly about the topic, there are ways to emphasize your opinion without having to sound too sentimental.

    For example, it would be wrong to write something such as:

    • Free healthcare is a wonderful/ brilliant idea.
    • Free healthcare is a terrible/ ludicrous idea.

    Words such as these are too emotional and should never be used in academic writing, even though we may use them in conversation.

    Useful phrases to express strong opinions without using emotions include:

    • This idea would surely be unacceptable to most people …
    • It cannot be denied that … (= It is undeniable that …)
    • It is an inescapable fact that …
    • The benefits of this approach appear to be overwhelmingly positive.
    • This concept seems to be somewhat inadequate.
    • There is an almost universal consensus that …
    • It is almost universally accepted that …
  1. Avoid idioms and clichésAn idiom is a fixed phrase whose figurative meaning is different from its literal meaning. This is because the meaning of individual words is by no means relevant to the overall meaning of the idiom. For instance, the idiom ‘spill the beans’ does not suggest spilling some beans but refers to the revealing of a secret. Examples of common idioms are as below.
    • At the drop of a hat: instantly
    • Once in a blue moon: rarely
    • Rain like cats and dogs: rain heavily
    • A hot potato: a controversial issue
    • Cost an arm and a leg: very expensive
    • It takes two to tango: more than one person is responsible for a situation.

    A cliché is an expression that is used so extensively that it indicates a lack of original thought. All clichés were once fresh and innovative ideas, but they have been overused to an extent that they have lost their originality and are considered a sign of poor writing or old-fashioned thinking. Some common clichés include:

    • Read between the lines: find meanings that are intended but that are not directly expressed in something said or written
    • Time flies: time passes so quickly.
    • Every cloud has a silver lining: every unpleasant situation has some advantage.
    • The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: a child usually has a similar character or qualities to his or her parents.
    • Beauty is only skin deep: physical attractiveness is no guide to a person’s character.
    • A friend in need is a friend indeed: a friend who helps you when you really need help is a true friend.

    While idioms are generally viewed in a more positive sense than clichés, both should be avoided in academic writing because they are either too informal or too repetitive.

  1. Avoid memorized languageA great many IELTS students think they have to show off to the examiner with learned phrases and expressions. Unfortunately, some of these have been overused, and examiners are trained to spot sentences which are not typical of your level of English. This is somewhat easy because the rest of your essay may have issues with unnatural wording or faulty grammar, and suddenly there is an academic phrase that just seems out of place.

    Phrases and sentences to avoid:

    • There are a plethora of reasons for the rise in obesity worldwide, chief among those are eating too much fast food and no exercise.
    • There are good grounds to argue in favor of
    • This is a highly controversial issue that needs to be tackled in a timely manner
    • It cannot be denied that
    • To elucidate my point further
    • The aforementioned arguments offer insights into vindications for the impression that

    You should always use language that you are comfortable with and that help you express your ideas clearly. Below are the terms to be avoided and suggested replacements.

    Nowadays In recent times Crux of the discussion The main/ key issue
    Controversial issue Major issue Stuff/ thing Use a specific word
    The pros and cons Benefits and drawbacks Every coin has two sides/ faces There are both advantages and disadvantages
    A double-edged sword The solution can also cause issues such as … In a nutshell In conclusion
    Firstly The primary reason why Secondly Lack of education is another reason why


8 things that could lower your IELTS writing score (IELTS Focus) https://ieltsfocus.com/2019/06/13/words-and-phrases-to-avoid/

Avoiding second person (Southeast Missouri State University) https://semo.edu/pdf/Writing_handout_Avoiding_Second_Person.pdf

Avoiding sexism in your writing (Longman Dictionary of Common Errors), page 159

Examples of Clichés https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-cliches.html

IELTS Band 9 Grammar Secrets (published by Cambridge IELTS Consultants)

IELTS Writing Task 2: 8 steps towards a band 8 (IELTS.com) https://www.ielts.com/about/news-and-articles/article-ielts-writing-task-2-8-steps-to-band-8

IELTS Writing Tips: 10 sentences to avoid (IELTS Liz) https://ieltsliz.com/ielts-writing-tips-sentences-to-avoid/

Online Cambridge Dictionary https://dictionary.cambridge.org

Online Collins Dictionary https://www.collinsdictionary.com

The Free Dictionary https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com

Writing Commons (Kent State University) https://www-s3-live.kent.edu/s3fs-root/s3fs-public/file/pronoun-you.pdf


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