Informal language is a no go in academic writing. It’s best to avoid words or phrases like nice, weird, and lots of, and to use formal alternatives instead. But how do you find these? Read on to see how Writefull helps.

As you may know, Writefull offers a database of millions of journal articles to browse. This feature, called Language Search, lets you explore how words are used and combined in scientific writing. It is available in Writefull for Word.

When you’re looking for formal vocabulary to use, you might find the following two Language Search options useful.

1. Look for synonyms in context

This option shows you what synonyms of a certain (informal) word suit a phrase. Simply enter your phrase into Writefull with stars around the word you want synonyms for, and you’ll see what synonyms are used most often in your context. For example, instead of a big improvement, we can write a significant / large / major improvement:

It’s always a good idea to do a follow-up search to see how these alternatives are used. In this case, for example, you’ll find that significant is often used to report statistical results, which may not suit your context.

2. Directly compare an informal and formal variant

If you have two words in mind and you have the feeling that one is more suitable for academic writing than the other, you can do a quick check to verify this. Simply enter your phrase with a slash in between the two words, and you’ll see how often each appears in your context:

Note that some words are generally more frequently used than others. It is therefore best to enter a phrase as your search. This way, you see the preferred word within the context rather than on its own.

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About the author

Hilde is Chief Applied Linguist at Writefull.