Words to Avoid in Academic Writing: Basic Rules

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by Will Martins / Updated January 31, 2022

The educational process at a college or university is associated with writing assignments of varying complexity. Every student will have to face difficulties or tricky papers. But don't worry, because your goal is to gain new knowledge. 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. The fact is that many first-year students make typical mistakes, forget about formatting, and use unwanted words or slang. All of these factors directly affect grades. So this is why you should be aware of words and phrases to avoid in academic writing. Luckily, you don't have to waste time looking. We have collected all the words and clichés that you should not use if you want to get an A+.

Avoid These Words in Your Academic Writing

The main problem for beginners is ignoring the basic rules. Informal communication and assignments are very different. That is why this list of words to avoid in academic writing comes in handy. Take a look at the sections and remember the general rules that you should follow. New experiences will have a positive impact on your grades.

Too Informal

You cannot use informal writing techniques in college or university. This format is suitable for everyday communication with friends, blocks, or articles on sites. 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 these examples, you can understand that informal taboo words in academic writing are unacceptable. Try to control every sentence and phrase. Then you can be successful.

Too Primitive

In some cases, simple terms are appropriate. However, first-year students often strive to simplify sentences, which indicates a limited vocabulary and an inability to express thoughts in a more voluminous and comprehensive manner. 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

If you use vague language, your thoughts will not always be clear. That is why you should only choose good words to use in an essay or any other paper. Try to convert your thoughts into paragraphs without losing 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

Any exaggerated suggestions look ridiculous, especially if your topic is about social science, mathematics, physics, and other disciplines. There is always an alternative that is more acceptable in a given situation. 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

Want to know what not to use in academic writing? Avoid subjective statements. You'd better be specific about what you want to convey to your audience (professor). 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

Now you know how to write each sentence correctly and avoid most of the pitfalls. Your assignment should be as perfect as a calm water surface. It will be tough at first, especially if you are not a native speaker. However, after a couple of weeks of practice, you will be able to comply with all the rules and regulations. But what if you are still making mistakes? 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.


What should be avoided when writing an academic essay?

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.

What should be avoided in academic writing?

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

Can you use contractions in college essays?

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.

Can you use etc. in an essay?

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.

Should you use "we" in an essay?

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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