Mini-Tutorial: Word Choice
A free video tutorial from Nadine Bekkouche
Instructor & Psych/Education Systems Researcher
This mini-tutorial gives you the skinny on word choice in academic writing. How important are the fancy words?? This video gives you quick tips to allow you to judge what words to use when in order to make sure you maintain the right tone throughout your paper. Listen in for these valuable tips!
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Effective Academic Writing: Write Papers that Get Results
The "what-you-need-to-know" course on effective academic writing in the social sciences.
01:54:31 of on-demand video • Updated June 2022
Apply some simple rules and principles to enhance your papers
Write according to a structure that supports the clarity and cohesion of your text
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Write using the tricks which make a paper well-received by professors and peers
Welcome to the affected academic writing tutorial on word choice. So word choice should first and foremost be guided by clarity. This is very important. That means that you want to avoid using words that you're unfamiliar with because you think that they're going to make you look smart. Fancy words are actually not what makes good academic writing. Instead, you want to demonstrate a strong logic and a good understanding in your paper. So, I've seen students use long, academic-sounding words or jargon at the wrong time or in the wrong way and it defeats its own purpose, because as a reader instead of being impressed, I'm instantly biased against that student's understanding. So this is kind of the special case of multi-syllabic words. Used appropriately they improve the quality of your paper partly because they help to make you more clear and more concise. The real advantage of an extensive vocabulary is to be able to communicate better. It also helps with what's called academic tone. So, tone is a very important part of academic writing. And again the main reason for this is because it allows you to convey expertise. Academic tone really has to do with the register of language that you're using. So, let's take a closer look here. To maintain academic tone you want to avoid colloquialisms, contractions, and any sentence structure that could potentially end in 'like, you know.' So let's look at a couple of examples to give you a real taste of what we mean by academic tone. 'We rounded up all the participants.' This is a colloquialism. Instead you want to consider saying something like 'We recruited 100 participants,' being specific and using the proper language. Let's look at the next example. 'And we didn't break any rules.' Again, contraction, bad. You can really take the time to explain what you have to say. 'All procedures were in compliance with ethical guidelines.' Finally, 'And then we just ran the experiment, you know?' If you can add that 'you know' to the end of a sentence, it's because it's not clear. So take it away. A good alternative would be something like. 'And we explain the protocol in detail in the next section.' The take home message here: colloquialisms, contractions, 'you know', out! You want to focus on structures like this and sentences like this. This is what we mean by academic tone. Alright. So coming back to this question. Tone is really a matter of register. I think one of the reasons people often end up using enhanced vocabulary even if they're not comfortable with it is because they want to sound -- you know -- academic. But in fact you want to sound like you! Register doesn't mean sounding like a different person. It just means sounding like the version of yourself that's engaging in a conversation with an educated, stuffy, and a highly critical audience. So the best trick I can give you here is to be very polite, because if you try to convey politeness without using any words such as 'Dear So-and-so' or 'please' or 'thank you,' you're forcing yourself into using the appropriate register and tone. So to wrap up: a great paper achieves both clarity and appropriate academic tone. Sometimes it can be hard to do both. If you ever have to choose between them, choose clarity and focus on demonstrating the quality of your logic and understanding.