Avoid informal writing in academic work

How to polish your writing with easy ways to avoid informal phrases

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Informal writing

Informal writing is fine when you’re posting on social media or sending an email to your best friend. In academic writing, it’s best to use words that may at first feel a bit old-fashioned. Some of this type of language may appear to be archaic, and it’s certainly not the way we speak in everyday life, but in formal situations it is best to stick to tried-and-tested phraseology and academic writing is no exception. I often come across familiar or informal phrases when proofreading academic work and I’ll always mark up an alternative, formal wording that is appropriate to the writing. The aim is to make the writing flow like a native academic English speaker.

Use language appropriate for your audience

Every language has its formal and informal registers and it is important to know which particular style to use according to the situation. The tone of your writing should be in keeping with the importance of the subject or the point you are trying to put across. On social media pretty much anything goes, although the grammar police to still lurk in the background, so beware! I will use a slightly more informal style of writing for blog posts like these, for example, than when I am writing a business report or editing a client’s cover letter.

Try these alternatives

If you’re writing an academic paper or dissertation informal language can make the writing appear weak.  Here are a few examples of words or phrases to look out for (and avoid!!) and their more formal alternatives:

INFORMAL                                          FORMAL

Find out                                               discover

A lot of                                                 many

Put forward                                          propose

Look into                                              research/ investigate

Step in                                                  intervene

Get rid of                                              eliminate

Go up and down                                  fluctuate

Pretty good                                          encouraging

Got (results)                                        obtained


Avoid waffle – be concise

Often, formal wording is much longer than informal words, but this is not always the case. Phrasal verbs, such as put up with, put off, cut down on, can often be replaced by a more formal single word – tolerate, postpone and reduce. However, it’s also important to avoid waffle or being what I call ‘too wordy’. You’re looking for concise, precise sentences that get your point across to your audience or readership. Avoid repetition and tautology – saying the same thing twice in a different way. This is especially important if you need to reduce word count. Check out this post for some tips if that’s your problem.

Avoid contractions

Another style to avoid is the use of contractions – you will find that when proofreading I generally change don’t to  do not, and it’s to it is. Other aspects of informal English to watch out for are the use of colloquial or slang terms, vague words and phrases such as nice or thing – your writing needs to be precise. Minimise the use of brackets, which can prevent the text from flowing, unnecessary punctuation such as exclamation marks or dashes and never use texting abbreviations.

Formal or informal?

Below is an example containing two short paragraphs. They both say exactly the same, but the first is written in a formal style and the second uses more informal wording.

Academic writing should be clear, concise and comprehensible. Everyday, informal language should be avoided, and the grammar, spelling and vocabulary should be accurate. If English is not your first language, a good proofreader and editor will polish your writing and eradicate any errors.

When you’re writing an essay it’s got to be easy to read and understand. Don’t use slang or text talk and make sure your grammar and spelling are up to scratch. A good proofreader can help an ESL student by checking their essay and getting rid of any mistakes.