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Supervisor comment: 'Clarity of expression, avoiding ambiguity'

Academic writing should be formal and not too conversational in tone. It is normally written in the third person without too many 'I thinks' or 'in my opinions'. It is more subtle and sophisticated than you may have been used to, with less need to state explicitly that you are about to conclude or that you have a certain opinion. This should be evident if you express yourself clearly and succinctly throughout. Sophisticated use of language is something that develops and it is advisable to read as widely as possible in your field to extend your vocabulary.

Clarity of argument relies heavily on using vocabulary which suits your purpose and audience. Some argue that it is more challenging in scientific writing to use a wide range of vocabulary because of the need to use precise technical terms. Without a range of vocabulary and variety of sentence structures, however, writing can seem dull and repetitive to the reader. Despite this challenge, you can work on widening your vocabulary without your writing seeming pretentious or loaded with jargon.


Further Reading

  • Matthews, J. & Matthews, R., 2008 Successful Scientific Writing. 3rd ed. Cambridge University Press. See especially Chapter 6: Improving word choice and syntax style. Much of this book is aimed at postgraduate level, so be selective. Contains subject-specific guidance on word choice and grammar. Find this in the UL
  • Stott, R., Snaith, A. & Rylance, R., 2001: Making your Case. A practical guide to essay writing. Pearson Education. See Chapter 2, Style and voice in academic writing, for information on formality of register. The associated activities use non-scientific texts, but nevertheless provide the opportunity to evaluate different use of language. It is possible to substitute a scientific text if you prefer. Find this in the UL
  • Barrass, R., 2007 Scientists must write. 2nd ed. London Routledge. See chapter 6, Choosing words focuses on achieving clarity through effective word choice and identifies common mistakes. Find this in the UL
  • University of Manchester: Academic Phrasebank (accessed 13.08.2009.)