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The effect your words create
  The choices you can make
  Things to avoid

Finding the best words

Being concise

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The effect your words create - The choices you can make

Some of the choices facing you are:

  • technical or non-technical words (what will the reader understand/expect?)
  • specialist or non-specialist words (what will the reader understand/expect?)
  • academic language or non-academic language.

See the Use of Words at Starter Level for guidance about 'Using words correctly', and 'Words which are not acceptable in academic work'.

Emotive or non-emotive words
You may want to consider using:
  • emotive or non-emotive words i.e. words which convey a feeling.
This uses non-emotive words.
The soldiers killed civilians.

Here the words defenceless and vulnerable create feelings in the reader.
The soldiers killed defenceless and vulnerable ordinary men, women and children.

The words here are not very emotive.
He was concerned about this issue.

Here the words very worried suggest a stronger feeling.
He was very worried about this issue.

Emotive words might not be acceptable in your subject, especially if objectivity is important.

In any academic writing, if you use emotive words you must be able to justify them. It is not 'academic' to make judgements without justification.

Short/common or long/unusual words
You can consider using:
  • words which are short or commonly used
  • words which are long or unusual.

There may be short/common or long/unusual words with similar meanings.

see - observe
find - locate
give (e.g. meaning) - convey (e.g. meaning)

Sometimes you need two or three short words to give the same meaning as one long one.

carry out - implement
place next to - juxtapose

Short/common words are easier to read. They tend to create a simple effect.

Long/unusual words can be more difficult to read. They tend to create an effect that something is difficult or complex.

This balance between the two can vary.
  • The more short or common words there are, the more simple something will seem.
  • The more long or unusual words there are, the more complex something will seem.

Generally, academic work has more long or unusual words than non-academic writing. This is because words in academic work may be specialised or need to give a precise meaning.

These are all words you could use instead of see. They all have slightly different meanings.
notice observe perceive visualise


  • If you use too many long/unusual words, your reader may not understand you.

  • Make sure the words you use mean what you think they do. Long/unusual words used wrongly can confuse the reader or look silly.

Guidance on Using words correctly can be found in the Starter Level of this topic.

Good writing:

  • is writing the reader can understand
  • conveys the exact meaning you intended.

© Learning & Teaching Institute, Sheffield Hallam University 2004