Words to Avoid in Academic Writing: Basic Rules

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by Will Martins / Updated September 13, 2023

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The educational process at a college or university is associated with writing assignments of varying complexity. Every single student will have to deal with complicated, tricky, and demanding assignments that will require profound knowledge, deep analysis, impeccable writing skills, inspiration, and a plethora of other elements. Although, in some instances, college students prefer to entrust their success to professionals, most learners accept the challenge and make the maximum effort to come up with a comprehensive, well-structured, and consistent paper worth the highest grade.

At this point, it is indispensable to emphasize that the main idea of writing academic papers is to expand vision, deepen knowledge, and practice skills. But what about paper details? Do beginners need to know any nuances in advance? Here are things to avoid in academic writing that you should be aware of.


Imagine having to write essays, research papers, and book reviews every week. Such an intense schedule is very difficult for a beginner. As a result, a considerable number of learners make the same mistakes, ignore the words to not use in an essay, forget about proper formatting styles, and fail to meet other requirements. All these factors influence the final grades, making the process ineffective and useless. Therefore, before diving into the writing process, learners should get aware of the key specifications and features of an impeccable academic paper. What words not to use in an essay? What phrases can contribute to the relevance of the essay? These are the questions you need to find decent answers to before you are done with the preparatory stage and proceed to the paper writing.

Avoid These Words in Your Academic Writing

One of the main mistakes beginner writers make is ignoring the basic requirements and rules. Instead of reading detailed information on the words to use in research paper and the ones to ignore, analyzing paper specifications, and singling out the difference between formal and informal communication, they start working on the content. That is why, in most instances, they fail to create an influential paper worth the highest grade.

Do you have little experience writing academic papers? Do you want to sound persuasive and scholarly? Check out a comprehensive list of words to avoid in academic writing that may come in handy. Look through various categories and sections to that you can stick to the basic rules.

Too Informal

Academic writing is not about expressive personal points of view. It is about presenting the relevant data taken from credible sources. Therefore, there are lots of words you shouldn't use in an essay if you want it to sound formal. Avoid informal writing techniques when it comes to college projects. Instead, use the proper format that will make the paper comply with the requirements. Here are weak words to avoid in academic writing that you should remember.


  • Bad: A priest from America
  • Good: A priest from the (the United States/US/USA)

A Lot Of

  • Bad: A lot of places to see
  • Good: (Several/Many) places to see


  • Bad: From 1987 till 1999
  • Good: From 1987 (until/to) 1999

Thanks to the examples of bad academic writing, learners can understand that informal words affect the quality of the papers and make them sound unprofessional. Take these aspects into account to that you avoid informal phrases and words and come up with top-quality essays.

Too Primitive

What words to avoid in an essay? Striving to find the answer to this question, students make a completely different mistake that triggers the same impact. Although simple terms and easy explanations can be beneficial, they are not appropriate for scholarly projects of certain levels. While the first-year students can sometimes use them, they will indicate nothing else but a limited vocabulary, lack of writing competence, and inability to express their thoughts. Therefore, it is critical to avoid primitive words and replace them with more sophisticated alternatives. It would help if you didn't forget about words not to use in a research paper. Then you won't have a problem.


  • Bad: The district was bad.
  • Good: The district was (unpleasant).


  • Bad: A big building
  • Good: A (large/sizable) building


  • Bad: A good book
  • Good: A (useful/informative) book

Remember these primitive words to avoid in academic writing. You should polish your paragraphs like the sword of a medieval soldier. Correcting phrases and sentences are the keys to high grades.

Too Vague

Clear, transparent, and straightforward sentences and ideas are valued when it comes to academic writing. Therefore, make sure you opt for the good words with specific meanings. Do not use tricky phrases that can make the readers doubt your competence. Instead, convert your thoughts into paragraphs without a negative impact on the content quality.


  • Bad: People are concerned about their stuff.
  • Good: People are concerned about their (belongings/possessions/personal effects).


  • Bad: Many things are mentioned in the article.
  • Good: Many (evidence/details) are mentioned in the article.

A long time

  • Bad: This stone has fascinated miners for a long time.
  • Good: This stone has fascinated miners for (over two years).

Any formal essay will be much better if you try to avoid vague language and be as transparent as possible in your wording. Then your professor will be pleased with your efforts.

Too Exaggerated

Working on academic papers, students should beware of exaggerations, especially when it comes to assignments in physics, mathematics, social science, and similar disciplines. The main goal of the writer is to present relevant, up-to-date, credible information in the most unbiased way. Here are three main words not to use in an essay. Remember this list.


  • Bad: Politics always argue on
  • Good: Politics (frequently/typically) argue on

Best, Worst, Perfect

  • Bad: This is the best solution to fight plagiarism.
  • Good: This is the (ideal) solution to fight plagiarism.

Very, Too

  • Bad: The glaciers are very important for the survival of humanity.
  • Good: The glaciers are (critical) for the survival of humanity.

Now you know how important it is to avoid forbidden words in writing. One incorrect wording can affect the overall impression of the entire paragraph. Try not to make these mistakes or spend more time reading each sentence.

Too Subjective

What are other words and phrases to avoid in academic writing? Subjective statements are taboo, as they will make your essay sound trivial and unprofessional. Even if you are writing an opinion paper, you should emphasize different points of view on the subject matter rather than presenting only your individual perspective. Be correct in your wording, and you will succeed.

Wonderful, Good

  • Bad: The article received many good reviews.
  • Good: The article received many (positive) reviews.


  • Bad: The musicians naturally had a good time.
  • Good: The musicians had a good time.

Of Course, Obviously

  • Bad: The results obviously speak for themselves.
  • Good: The results (clearly) speak for themselves.

As you can see, one word can change an entire sentence and even affect a paragraph. So try not to be too subjective and use clear wording. This advice is extremely simple but effective.

Generally Unnecessary

Brevity is the soul of wit. So this is why you can cut out unnecessary words like a highly trained surgeon. Don't be afraid to spend an extra 15 minutes polishing every sentence. As a result, you will be very happy with the outcome. Take a look at some examples.

Have/Has Got

  • Bad: The book has got nine chapters
  • Good: The book has nine chapters

Helps To/Serves To

  • Bad: This sentence serves to add new meaning to the text.
  • Good: This sentence (adds) new meaning to the text.

Just a couple of changes and every suggestion you make will be improved. Then, all you need is a little patience until you can automatically write correctly. This way, you no longer need to spend time learning the basics.

Generally Incorrect

Here's another reason why you should improve your college essay vocabulary. There are many cases when even native speakers write sentences incorrectly. Imagine the confusion overwhelming international students when they read samples on the Internet. Here's what you should pay attention to first.


  • Bad: The sailors are literally dying of hunger.
  • Good: The sailors dying of hunger.

Had Of, Would Of

  • Bad: The experiment would of consisted of
  • Good: The experiment would have consisted of

Now you know more words to avoid in an essay. Spend at least a couple of days improving your vocabulary, and you'll be amazed at how easy you can write sentences. All you need is a little patience.

Other Words to Avoid


Sometimes your topic may be about certain technical parameters or research aspects. In this case, you'd better avoid words like deconflicting, especially if you don't provide any explanations. There are many alternative ways to describe a process or situation.


Every cliché is a step backward for a good student. Surely your professor will understand what you mean. But why use clichés like "thinking outside the box?" Here are some examples you shouldn't use.

  1. I lost track of time.
  2. Time heals all wounds.
  3. Don't put all of your eggs in one basket.
  4. Let's touch base.

As a rule, all such clichés are inappropriate in most essays. Instead, try to find alternatives or describe certain situations directly. Then you will not have problems with conveying information to your audience (professor).


Should you include slang like cool or dope in some sentences? Such words do not belong in your assignment! Instead, choose more correct options for expressing emotions if necessary.


Abbreviations are appropriate if they abbreviate the name of an educational institution, company, or technology. If you use options like TV, fridge, or photo in your assignment, you should forget about high grades.

The Gender-Biased Language

You will be surprised, but there are quite a few gender-biased words that can significantly influence your grades. Here is just a small list of things you should know about. Of course, most professors won't be happy if they see you use it stereotypically.

  • Bad: mankind
  • Good: people, humanity
  • Bad: manpower
  • Good: workforce, employees
  • Bad: fathering
  • Good: begetting, fostering
  • Bad: mothering
  • Good: caring, nurturing

As you can see, the alternatives are equally informative but avoid bias or over-emphasis on gender. Try to stick to the correct wording so that every proposal you make is perfect. Just a couple of weeks, and you should be able to learn most of the correct word variations.

When Taboo Words Can be Used in Academic Writing

Sometimes your professor may allow you to use a less formal tone. As a rule, students do not have hard restrictions regarding reflective reports and personal statements. In this case, you are not limited by any aspects other than common sense. All you need is the ability to express your thoughts. Even if you use "Literally," "Naturally," "A long time," or other words from the list, then your professor is unlikely to mind. However, jargon is still unacceptable, so you shouldn't forget about words to avoid in essays. Be careful, and you can expect high grades.

Summing Up

If you have been attentive in reading all the guidelines and tips, you have a chance to come up with a top-quality academic essay worth the highest grade. Besides, you are aware of words to never use in an essay if you want it to sound scholarly and influential. Although advancing writing skills is a long-lasting process that will require a lot of time and effort, it will be 100% worth the results. Dedication and goal orientation are the exact qualifications that will help you make the right choices and focus on the most critical aspects to keep your papers outstanding and influential.

But what if you are still making mistakes? What if the awareness of the words not to use in essays does not help you create impeccable papers? Are you ready to put up with low grades? Perhaps now is the perfect time to find the best essay writing services and delegate the papers. Then you will have more time to practice.


Try to avoid vague thesis statements, clichés, and slang that can make your sentences incorrect. Also, it would help if you forgot about long and confusing sentences.

Forget about first-person pronouns or addressing readers as "you." Also, you shouldn't use abbreviated versions of words, waffling, and slang expressions.

As a general rule, you would be better off checking this with your professor. The point is that in some cases, students may use contractions in essays and some other papers.

Most colleges and universities allow the use of "etc." at the end of a list. However, if you do not use this word too often, your professor will not have any questions.

It would help if you did not use "we" or "us," as these words are nothing more than a way to include the reader in the essay. Try to avoid these words or find alternatives. Then you don't have to put up with low grades.

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