Top tips for formal academic writing

The world of academic writing can be a terrifying place, full of tricky rules and customs. If you’re a student working on an essay, thesis or paper, you might have been told that the writing you’ve poured your heart and soul into is too informal. This vague bit of feedback isn’t much use on its own. But fear not, the Post-Graduate Proof-Reader is here to remove the mystery with some tips which will allow your words to rub shoulders with the greats.

You don’t have to be scared of academic writing any more!

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  • No abbreviations

You may find you’re using more shorthand than you realise. You’re sadly unlikely to be encouraging your readers to BYOB to your essay – but you may well be using eg, ie or etc. These are not good academic language, so always make the following substitutions:

eg = for example

ie = such as

etc = and so on

The only exception to this is acronyms. If you’ve defined a term with an acronym the first time you use it, use that acronym each subsequent time. For example: In this thesis, I have used interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). Smith devised IPA in the mid-90s…

  • Hedging your bets

Research is a tentative world. Experiments are flawed. Some results are replicated, others are disproven. When you’re analysing qualitative data, there is often room for another interpretation. As such, it can be hard to know when you can confidently state that such-and-such a finding is bona fide or when you should be more cautious.

Think about your subject matter, as this will help you decide on your tone of voice. Let’s look at an example from some hypothetical qualitative findings. If a participant you’ve named Emma says:

I finally had to accept that I needed dialysis, and that made me really depressed

you can afford to be bold in how you phrase your interpretation. You don’t need to say ‘It appeared that the thought of dialysis distressed Emma’; she’s telling you in clear and unambiguous language that she was depressed, so it’s fine to state that as a fact.

However, Emma might go on to say:

Although the ward was chaotic, the only company I had was the bleeping of the machines

This is more ambiguous, so reflect that by saying ‘it seems Emma felt isolated.’ You can apply the same logic to the rest of your paper; if an existing finding or theory is uncontroversial, report it as so. Hedge your bets with anything more ambiguous.

Be cautious when describing ambiguous findings – or you could fall into dangerous territory!

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  • ‘The model states…’ – or does it?

Remember that models, papers, theories and chapters are not sentient and cannot suggest, confirm or deny anything themselves. It is always the people who wrote or created those ideas who have the agency.

For example, ‘a recent paper agrees’ is not right, whereas ‘the authors of a recent paper agree’ is. ‘The ANOVA demonstrated’ is not right, whereas ‘our use of ANOVA demonstrated’ is.

This can be a hard one to get right but keep trying and it will become second nature. This article on the issue from Walden University is helpful if you want to read more about this.

  • Humanising language

It’s important for all academics – and especially psychologists – to use language in a way that is respectful of people and mindful of diversity. For example, rather than the unwieldy ‘he or she’, use ‘they’, which is not only neater but also makes space for people who identify as non-binary.

Always state a person’s humanity before other identifying factors, especially factors which might be stigmatising. So rather than ‘HIV patient’, you should say ‘person living with HIV’. ‘Participants’ is a better word than either ‘subjects’ or ‘patients’ as it implies an active rather than a passive stance.

Not only is language like this better for humanity, it is also in line with British Psychological Society (BPS) guidelines and the standards of most journals where you might be sending your work.


Share the love by using language which puts people first

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  • Hire PGPR

If all this feels like far too much like hard work, don’t worry – just get in touch with us via the form below, and we can do all the heavy lifting for you.  

Six Reasons You Should Work with a Proof-Reader

Finally, you have finished writing your paper and it’s ready to check over before you submit it. Well done!

Now you want to make sure that it’s absolutely perfect so you feel confident to send it off to a journal or your supervisor.   

Have you ever considered working with a professional proof-reader to get your fabulous paper looking flawless? Here are a few reasons why you might want to do just that…

1. Proof-readers are trained to catch tiny little details that you might just miss, even on the second or third read-through.

Before you decide to proof-read your own work, ask yourself:

Would you notice if you accidentally type two spaces instead of one?

What about getting the full stop in the right place in every single reference?

Does Microsoft Word notice that you have typed ‘affect’ instead of ‘effect’?

Mistakes like this reduce the quality of your article. You might have created the greatest piece of research known to humankind (we know you have!), but errors like this will make your paper seem unprofessional.

2. Automatic grammar checkers do not replace the eyes of a professional proof-reader.


You might want a robot to do your housework, but do you really want one checking your beautiful, human research?
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Algorithmic programmes such as Grammarly can sometimes pick up if a sentence does not read well, but they usually just check for grammatical or spelling errors. And quite often, such programmes get it wrong.

To make sure your paper has an impact, clarity is vital. Proof-readers can consider how your sentences, paragraphs and sections read as a whole, and advise you on any restructuring that needs to take place.

3. Proof-readers will pick up on anything that might be difficult for your reader to understand.

You have probably become so familiar with your research that it is easy to forget which points might not seem clear to your reader. If anything seems even slightly fuzzy, a professional proof-reader will query what you mean and help you to rewrite it in a way that will make sense to your audience.

4. Proof-readers will check your references and make sure you stick to your style guide.

You’ve slaved away over your APA reference list three times… but have you forgotten to italicise a book title? Or maybe you missed a comma after a full stop in the list of authors. Don’t let your blood boil over emboldened brackets! An eagle-eyed expert can check that everything in your references is in the right place.

The same goes for sticking to your style guide in the rest of your paper. Accidentally started a sentence with ‘37’ instead of ‘Thirty-seven’? No sweat! Your proof-reader has got it covered.

5. You will feel more relaxed when the paper is out of your hands.

You can be sure that after the proof-reader has finished, if they have no queries, the article is ready to submit. Working with a pro-proof-reader means you are not going to be marked down or rejected for formatting or language. So, that means no waking up in cold sweats worrying about whether you had formatted your literature review correctly!


Don’t you hate it when you have a nightmare about whether your paragraphs are too long?
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6. Proof-readers can help you express yourself more precisely if you struggle with English.

If you are dyslexic or English isn’t your first language, it can be difficult to express your ideas succinctly. This is where an expert proof-reader can really help. They can remove clunky phrases, cut sentences down, and replace words to make your paper read beautifully.

So, instead of tearing your hair out over the final readthrough, why not put your feet up and let the Post-Graduate Proof-Reader get your paper ready for submission? 


Get the superhuman eyes of a proof-reader all over your paper!

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