Word Choice in Formal Writing: Top Tips to Avoid Frequent Mistakes

For every author, making informed word choices while writing a paper is paramount to their success. While writing a manuscript, you frequently and meticulously select words that let you express your ideas with utmost clarity. Subsequently, you determine a befitting way to regroup those words into phrases, sentences, and at times, paragraphs. Therefore, it is always prudent to be aware of and eschew from errors in word usage that could affect the clarity of your manuscript.

Here are a few of the most frequent mistakes when it comes to word choice:

Incorrectly used words

Original version: Everyone complemented Chloé Baker for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Revised version: Everyone complimented Chloé Baker for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Reason for revision: “Complement” means something that completes or adds further features to something else, whereas “Compliment” means to praise someone.

Words with undesirable implications or meanings

Original version: I sprayed the caterpillars in their personal zones.

Revised version: I sprayed the caterpillars in their hiding zones.

Reason for revision: The original version has a word (personal) that can be interpreted in two ways. The revised version communicates the intended meaning with clarity.

Complicated words in place of a simpler/shorter term

Original version: No one was convinced that her story wasn’t apocryphal.

Revised version: No one was convinced that her story wasn’t untrue.

Reason for revision: The original version has a complicated word (apocryphal); the revised version replaces it with a simpler and shorter word—untrue.

Awkward words

Original version: High school athletes’ inclination towards sports science in the 21st century is in total contrast with the attitude shared by the previous generation.

Revised version: The inclination towards sports science among the high school athletes in the 21st century is in total contrast with the attitude shared by the previous generation.

Reason for revision: The italicized phrase in the original version is difficult to read, and a little unclear, whereas the revised version is easily comprehensible.

Similar meaning words used in the wrong context

Original version: As the number of cholera patients skyrocketed during the winter, the doctors worked overtime to hastily treat as many patients as possible to avoid any patients missing out on treatment.

Revised version: As the number of cholera patients skyrocketed during the winter, the doctors worked overtime to promptly treat as many patients as possible to avoid any patients missing out on treatment.

Reason for revision: “Hastily” is similar to “promptly,” but in the context of medical care for a serious disease, the word “hastily” is inappropriate as it can easily mean “speed with recklessness.”

Words that communicate nuances of meaning

Original version: A conversation between the presidents of both countries is necessary to avoid further escalation of the precarious political situation.

Revised version: A discourse between the Presidents of both countries is necessary to avoid further escalation of the precarious political situation.

Reason for revision: The word “conversation” isn’t suitable considering the seriousness of the matter. “Discourse” is more suitable, given the gravity and formal nature of the situation.

Furthermore, it is best to figure out the most effective way to convey your message succinctly in academic writing. Here are a few notable examples:

Longer phrase

The concise word
Shown beyond doubt Proven
From my standpoint Personally
In the course of During
On the assumption that If
After a period of time Afterward
At the same time Though
For the reason that Because
On all occasions Always
A number of Several
Throughout the world Worldwide
In the ancient past Historically
At that point in time Then
Leading up to Before
All Things Considered Considering

These are a few tips to make sure you always select the correct words when writing an academic paper and avoid the mistakes enlisted in the article:

    1. Always check the meaning of unfamiliar words before using them in your manuscript, for instance, nonplussed, admonish, arcane, esoteric, expunge, phlegmatic, platitude, quixotic.
    2. Avoid using fancy words to impress the reader/reviewer with your extensive vocabulary. It’s a strategy that can backfire, and it also makes the reading experience unnecessarily difficult. For instance, use “optimistic” instead of “sanguine”; use “breeze” instead of “zephyr.”
    3. Make sure you use accurate phrasing. For instance, instead of “the pasty doctor,” use “the pale obstetrician.”
    4. Whenever possible, avoid repetition. For instance, instead of “new innovations,” use “innovations”; instead of “revert back,” simply write “revert.”

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