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'' 'Style' can mean different things to different people. But directness and clarity of expression usually work'

Style is intensely personal; most writers can recognise their own prose (the moral of that story is don't use your supervisor's words unacknowledged!). There are few hard and fast rules to what your style has to be as long as:

  • it works - it gets your ideas across elegantly and effectively
  • it's appropriate - academic prose doesn't have the same tone as a piece of journalism or a letter home

For anyone who reads widely much of this understanding of 'style' has become instinctive, so it is worth spelling out that academic discourse begins by being:


  • This means that the interpretation is yours, the argument in the essay is yours, and so you do not need to say 'I think'.
  • 'I think' can be used, but only infrequently and then with deliberation to achieve particular emphasis or to distance yourself from a particular view
  • A better way of expressing 'I think' is 'It could be argued that...', rather than 'I want to argue' or 'You could argue'.


  • Don't use abbreviations (such as don't)
  • Don't be too colloquial; not only is the tone wrong, but it is likely to be anachronistic (saying 'Edward II was gay' begs huge questions about the construction of sexuality)
  • Avoid overuse of vague terms such as 'vast', 'incredibly', 'hugely'. Such imprecise terms impact negatively on the authority of your argument because they betray a sense of uncertainty, exaggeration or lack or research
  • The use of impersonal and formal language blurs that boundary between style and use of language - which is considered in the next section of this resource.