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Words which are not acceptable in academic work

Your university written work must use words which are seen as 'academic'.

There may be a few exceptions to this on some courses (e.g. creative writing; publicity brochures; web pages; journalistic pieces). For such work, check with your tutor what is acceptable.

The following will look at the sorts of words which are or are not acceptable in academic work.

Slang

Slang is not acceptable in academic work.

Example
Slang words for the police include *cops, coppers, bluebottles, the law.

Why should slang not be used?

  • The reader may not understand it. People outside a group using certain slang words may not understand them (e.g. religious group; ethnic or cultural group; group sharing an interest, like a sport; age group).
  • It is too informal for academic work.
  • It comes in and out of fashion (by the time you read this, the examples may be outdated).
  • Slang words often have a 'proper' meaning when used in another context. The reader may think you mean something else.
Example
Many slang words show that something is good - *cool, great, fabulous, wicked.

These words have other, 'proper', meanings (e.g. cool=cold; great= big; fabulous=related to a fable etc.).

Difficulties
Slang is so common in spoken English that we may not be aware of it. We may think that what is slang is 'proper' usage.

Phrases can be slang, as well as single words. You need to check for them (they often appear in students' work!), and rephrase them in a 'proper' way.

Examples
*No problem
* It's cool
*I can't get my head around it
* How stupid is that!

To find out what is slang:

  • use a dictionary. It tells you if a word is slang, and if it is only ever used as slang or has a 'proper' meaning
  • ask somebody to check your work for slang words or phrases (note: if work is assessed as individual work it must be your own).
Texting or other shortened words

Many people are so used to sending text messages on mobile phones that they may use texting terms for speed in drafts or notes. You may also have your own shortened forms of words which you commonly use in notes.

Before you hand any work in, always check that you have not used texting terms or similar shortened forms of words. They are unacceptable in academic work (they may be misunderstood).

Examples

r u - texting, 'are you'
c u l8r - texting, 'see you later'
gr8 - texting, 'great'
2moro - texting, 'tomorrow'
org - shortened word, 'organised' or 'organisation'
inst - shortened word, 'institution', 'institutional' or 'instituted'
info - shortened word, 'information' or 'informed'

Words which might be offensive

You need to avoid words which might offend somebody (you may offend the person assessing your work!).

Difficulty
If something doesn't offend you, you may not realise it could offend others. It can help to:
  • use this guidance to alert you to issues
  • ask somebody to check your work for words which may offend (note: if work is assessed as individual work it must be your own).

The following looks at three types of words which could offend and should not be used in academic work.

Swear words
Never use a swear word or phrase, even a mild one, in academic work.
Terms (e.g. Slang) which may be offensive

You should never use slang in academic work, but especially if it is derogatory (puts somebody or something down). Some terms are not slang, but are now seen as offensive.

Note. *puts somebody or something down is a slang phrase, and should not be used in academic work.

Example
*scumbag - offensive slang used for somebody who is despicable
* pigs - an offensive slang word for the police
*cripple - an offensive term for someone who is physically disabled.
Discriminatory words

See Non-discriminatory language in the topic menu.

Some slang words are also seen as discriminatory and therefore offensive.

Example
*bird - for a girl or woman

© Learning & Teaching Institute, Sheffield Hallam University 2004