Word Choice in Academic Writing: Commonly Confused English Words

As an academic researcher, a part of the writing process that frequently causes confusion and leads to common mistakes is word choice. While writing in English, maintaining the correct word choice is fairly difficult for both ESL researchers and native English speakers who are not proficient writers. In English, there are various pairs or sets of words that sound or look alike but have varied meanings, as well as those that sound and look different but have similar meanings. Comprehending the meaning and use of both the pairs or the set of words in any of these scenarios is necessary for enhancing the language and content of the written study. Here we go through some commonly confused English words that many ESL authors generally misuse, and give examples of how they can be used suitably in academic articles.


Homonyms are words that sound or look alike but have different meanings. We have listed a few homonyms that are often used in formal writing. The explanations will help you recognize the accurate choice based on the usage.

Affect vs. Effect

Affect is a verb that means “to exert influence” or “make a difference to.”


Did the medicine affect the patients?

Effect can be used as both a noun and a verb (typically meaning to bring about something), depending on the context.

For instance,

  1. We were wondering if the medicine had any effect (n).
  2. The Aharonov–Bohm effect (n) is a quantum mechanical phenomenon in which an electrically charged particle is affected by an electromagnetic potential.
  3. The Ministry of Finance effected (v) many pressing policy changes in 2020.

Accept vs. Except

Accept is a verb that means “to agree” or “to trust.”

For instance,

My loan application was accepted.

 Except can be used as a preposition, a conjunction, or a verb, and it means “not inclusive” or “other than.”

For instance,

  1. All of the students aced the test except (prep) for one.
  2. Most of the data gathered did not divulge anything important, except (conj) that some protocols could be optimized for future experiments.
  3. The patients under treatment for tuberculosis are excepted (v) from the study.

Then vs. Than

Then can be used as an adverb that means “at that time” or “next in a series.” It can also be used as an adjective and a noun.

For instance,

  1. First, they tested sample C, then (adv) sample D was tested.
  2. The experiment was performed as per the protocol then (adj).
  3. Let us observe how this experiment turns out; we can decide how to proceed then (adv).

Than is a conjunction and preposition that is used to link two things that are being compared.

For instance,

Group E decreased less than the control group.


Some words are so similar to others in spelling or meaning that they cause even more confusion. Words such as “there” and “their” are so regularly mistaken within the context of a sentence that they drive markers to distraction. If you do not want to exasperate the person you are trying to impress, it’s a great idea to study these problem words:

Here are a few of the most common words with correct definitions and examples:

Their vs. There vs. They’re

Their is a possessive pronoun that means “relating to” or “belonging to.”

For instance,

It is their car.

 There is an adverb that refers to a place.

For instance,

We had to stand over there.

 They’re is a contraction that means they are.

For instance,

They’re going to the theatre.

Tip: In academic writing, avoid using contractions (such as can’t, don’t, and shouldn’t).

To vs. Too vs. Two

To is typically used as a preposition.

For instance,

To determine the nature of the compound, we tested its activity.

Too is an adverb that means “in addition” or “also.”

For instance,

We conducted the extra tests, too.

Two is the numeral 2.

For instance,

The experiment was performed with two groups.

Near Synonyms

These words do not sound alike or look alike, but they have similar meanings, and are often used inaccurately in formal writing. The list given below is not comprehensive but will give you a clear idea of common misinterpretations.

Although vs. While

Although is a conjunction that is used to indicate a contrast.

For instance,

Although the data seemed proper, the researcher attempted to confirm the outcomes.

 While is a conjunction that is used to indicate time and can also be a noun when it refers to a period of time.

For instance,

  1. The experiment was performed while (conj) it was snowing.
  2. The stimulation activity was stopped for a while (n).

Since vs. Because

Since can be used as a preposition, conjunction, or an adverb, and it refers to the time between the intervening period and the time under consideration.

For instance,

  1. The country saw increased productivity rates in the manufacturing sector since (prep) the 1990s.
  2. The student has not been home since (conj) he started high school.
  3. Increasing public criticism has led several social media platforms to re-examine their privacy policies, many of which have since (adv) been revised.

Because is a conjunction that is used to show causation.

For instance,

I want to examine the data because I am inquisitive about the outcomes.

If vs. Whether

If is a conjunction that is used to explain the outcome or the effect of something that may happen or be correct, i.e., “if” can be used to describe a specific condition.

For instance,

Put your pen down if you are done with your assessment. (This is conditional because you only need to put your pen down if you are done with the assessment).

Whether is a pronoun (usually used with ‘or not’) that refers to a choice between alternatives.

For instance,

Put your pen down whether or not you are done with your assessment. (This not conditional because you have to put your pen down either way.)


Word choice has undoubtedly been a significant part of creative writing, but the same holds true for academic writing. Meticulous word choice has an incredible influence on your writing and how it is perceived by your audience. It can transform an ordinary writer into a better one and make a bland subject appear engaging. Well-selected words create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind and senses. Selecting the right words increases the impact your work creates on your audience and amplifies its reach globally.

Besides, if you are looking for an AI-driven writing tool to enhance your writing, then check out Trinka, the world’s first language enhancement tool that is custom-built for academic and technical writing. It has several exclusive features to make your manuscript ready for the global audience.

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