Sibia Proofreading Blog

Writing in the Appropriate Academic or Formal Tone

Dona Le - Friday, December 18, 2009

When proofreading academic and business documents, Sibia Proofreading editors pay special attention to the tone of the text.  Some people write the way they speak, and many people speak – as expected – conversationally, and thus, informally. However, your PhD dissertation must feature academic language, just as a business letter should adopt a consistently formal tone. What do we mean?

Nix All Contractions

This is a strict rule that we’ve mentioned in previous blog posts. Unless it is contained within a direct quote or is part of a character’s dialogue, using a contraction is generally inappropriate.

Avoid Colloquial Descriptions

Sure, you might describe the latest action flick you saw as “awesome,” but refrain from writing that you would like to “attend ---- University because it offers an awesome PhD program.” Instead, you could describe the program as “highly respected,” “excellent,” “high caliber,” and so on.

“Great” is another overused adjective, but instead of saying that some author presents “a great argument,” you should write that the author presents a “very strong” or “compelling” argument.


Really is another conspicuous word because it is not sufficiently formal and can usually be replaced by a better and more accurate word. For example, an applicant may write that she is “really excited about the opportunity to work for Company X.”  This could be better expressed as “truly” or “extremely” excited.

A researcher might emphasize the importance of his study results by describing them as “really surprising.” Instead, he should write that the study results are quite/very/rather/extremely surprising. These alternate word choices retain the emphasis on the nature of the study results without resorting to overly casual language.

Other simple replacements to refine your language and make it more formal are as follows:

Instead of:

            “to look at” – investigate, explore, examine, consider

            “to say that …” – argue, claim, propose, put forth, state

            “I want to …” – would like to, am interested in, look forward to, hope to

            “I will …” – aim to, plan to, intend to

For more expertise on this subject, send your document to Sibia Proofreading! Our knowledgeable editors are experts at revising text to ensure it employs the appropriate tone for your target readers.


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