ENC1101 First-year Composition




Formal Academic Language



Sentence Structure

  • More complex and fewer simple sentences

  • Avoiding rhetorical questions (Did you know that spoken and written language are very different?)

Punctuation/ Mechanics

  • More use of commas to offset modifying phrases, introductory phrases etc.

  • Use full forms, not abbreviations (versus, not vs.; etcetera, not etc.)

Word choice

  • Concise and precise words, not vague ambiguous words (nice, good, pretty)

  • Polysyllabic words

  • Tentative - to avoid making unsupported generalizations (‘a possible cause of the company collapse may have been …’)

  • Single word verbs, not phrasal verbs (arrange vs. set up, investigate vs. look into, stand vs. get up)

Establish Authority

  • Documented sources, not personal experience

  • More facts, not opinions

Use Nominalisation

  • Fewer verbs and more nouns per sentence than informal English (It resulted in three fatalities vs. three men were killed).

  • Complex noun phrases as subjects of sentences

Use Linking words

  • Formal linking words (thus, moreover, whereas, for example)

  • Limited use of coordination (and, but) to link ideas

  • Frequent use of subordination to link ideas together (while, because, which, etc.)

Avoid Impersonal reference

  • Third person (he, she, it, they)

  • Occasional use of first person (I, we)

  • Absence of second person (you)

Avoid Spoken

  • Colloquial and slang vocabulary (‘bucks’ for ‘dollars’)

  • Emotional or attitudinal connotations (‘disastrous’, ‘exciting’, ‘tremendous’)

  • Expressions that exaggerate the truth (‘everyone knows’, ‘it is obvious’)

  • Contractions (don’t, isn’t), abbreviations (etc., i.e.)


Adapted from: Swales, J. & Feak, C. B. 1994, Academic Writing for Graduate Students. University of Michigan Press