Selecting the appropriate language and tone is an important part of essay writing which most students develop over time.

But there are some simple errors that students make time and time again which are easily avoided when you know about them. Follow these five tips to get a head start:

Avoid Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns are words such as ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘we’ or ‘they’ and should be avoided in most essays. If you have a sentence such as, “I will be considering why…” change it to something like, “this essay will consider why…”. A sentence such as “we tested this by” could be replaced with “the group tested this by…” and so on.

Writing in the third person

Don’t Use Abbreviations

The tone of an essay would usually be formal, and accordingly to demonstrate this, words are not commonly abbreviated. Don’t, for example, becomes does not; wouldn’t becomes would not, isn’t becomes is not, and so on.

Use Acronyms Correctly

An Acronym is a type of abbreviation, but these are allowed in essays. In an essay on the United Nations Security Council, for example, the full title would be used the first time it is mentioned, followed by the acronym in brackets. Throughout the rest of the essay, only use the acronym. For example, “This essay will evaluate the effectiveness of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Since the 1950s, the UNSC has…”

Use Formal Language Correctly

“You don’t use abbreviations in essays” is an example of informal language – the personal pronoun is used (you) and ‘don’t’ is an abbreviation. A formal way of writing this would be, “do not use abbreviations in essays” or, “abbreviations are not used in essays”. If you are ever unsure whether you’re using a word correctly, look it up, because inappropriately used words will undermine your essay. If you right click over any word in Microsoft Word you can see a list of synonyms – words which mean roughly the same thing. Do not do this, however, unless you are certain the word you’ve selected is right. For example, the word ‘right’ suggests ‘true’ – but in this case, it wouldn’t make sense to write “unless you are certain the word you’ve selected is true”. Also, the inclusion of Latin terminology such as et al and inter alia, whilst formal, won’t necessarily impress your lecturer, and won’t on its own improve your grade.

Adopt the Right Tone

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. You may, for example, think one of the academics you’re writing about is a complete idiot. It’s possible for you to convey this opinion, if done correctly. Firstly, highlight what you disagree with, perhaps using a short, direct quotation, then choose your language with care. “It may be speculated/ ventured/ suggested that such an argument is short-sighted/ one-sided/ foolish/ naïve/ ill-informed/ baseless/ devoid of reason” etc. Of course, you then have to say why, else you’ve just ventured an opinion without supporting it. Expressions such as “it might be/ it could be suggested” (also known as weasel words) are also a useful way of tucking in an aspect of your own personal outrage into formal academic essays.

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