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Writing Style

Strive for clear communication. You can achieve this by using a tone that conveys the essential points of your message clearly in an interesting manner to engage readers and communicate your ideas more effectively. Here are writing style guidelines taken from APA Publication Manual, sixth edition, sections 3.05 – 3.17.


Writing Style Guidelines

Continuity in Presentation of Ideas

Readers will better understand your ideas if you aim for continuity in words, concepts, and thematic development. Here are ways to achieve continuity:.

  1. Use punctuation marks. Punctuation marks contribute to continuity by showing relationships between ideas. They cue the reader to the pauses, inflections, subordination, and pacing normally heard in speech.
  2. Use of transitional words. These words help maintain the flow of thought, especially when the material is complex or abstract. Transitional words include: time links (then, next, after, while, since), cause-effect links (therefore, consequently, as a result), addition links (in addition, moreover, furthermore, similarly), and contrast links (but, conversely, nevertheless, however, although).

Smoothness of Expression

Aim for clear and logical communication. Abruptness may result from sudden, unnecessary shifts in verb tense within the same paragraph or in adjacent paragraphs. By using verb tenses consistently, you can help ensure smooth expression.


Strive to present ideas and findings directly using an interesting and compelling style and a tone. Differences should be presented in a professional manner. For example, “Fong and Nisbett did not address . . .” is acceptable, whereas “Fong and Nisbett completely overlooked . . .” is not.

One effective way to achieve the right tone is to imagine a specific reader you are intending to reach and to write in a way that will educate and persuade that individual


Wordiness can also impede the ready grasp of ideas. Remove wording that doesn’t aid understanding of the message. Here are examples of wordiness:


  • based on the fact that
  • at the present time
  • for the purpose of
  • There were several students who completed

Revised – Less Wordy

  • because
  • now
  • for/to
  • Several students


Writers often use redundant language in an effort to be emphatic. Avoid wordiness by using only use the words necessary to convey your meaning. In the following examples, the italicized words are redundant and should be omitted:


  • They were both alike
  • A total of 68 participants
  • Four different groups saw
  • Small in size
  • The reason is because
  • Absolutely essential

Not Redundant:

  • They were alike
  • 68 participants
  • Four groups saw
  • small
  • because
  • absolutely – or – essential

Word Choice

Make certain that every word means exactly what you intend it to mean. In an informal style, for example, feel broadly substitutes for think or believe, but these words may not be clearly understood by the audience. In scientific style this may not be appropriate. For example, the word like is often used when such as is meant.

Correct and Incorrect Examples of Word Choice

  • Correct: Articles by psychologists such as Skinner and Watson . . . .
  • Correct: Like Watson, Skinner believed . . . .
  • Incorrect: Articles by psychologists like Skinner and Watson . . . .


The term “jargon” refers to terminology used specifically to the function of a group. For example, individuals who study linguistics will use words like quantifier, voiceless labiodental fricative, intensifier, minimal pair and metonymy. To non-linguists, these words have different meanings or no meanings at all.

Use jargon when appropriate and consider alternative wording as necessary to ensure the language is as clear as possible. Consider the following pairs. The plainer version conveys technical information just as accurately as and more clearly than the jargon-laden version.

Examples of how to rewrite Jargon

  • Instead of riverine avifauna write river birds
  • Instead of involuntarily undomiciled write homeless
  • Instead of The patient is being given positive- pressure ventilatory support write The patient is on a respirator


Slang and Idiomatic Expressions

Avoid using slang (words like y’all, yinz, cool) or idiomatic expressions (“pull someone’s leg,” “spill the beans,” and “something smells fishy“) in formal writing. These words make your writing sound informal and less credible. Furthermore, for non-native speakers of English, these expressions may prove more difficult to understand because of their non-literal nature.

Times do exist, however, when the use of slang and idiomatic expressions are appropriate. Think about who your audience is, what they expect, and how the use of these words may help or hinder your purpose. If you are writing a very informal or humorous piece, slang or idiomatic expressions may be appropriate.

Source: OWL Purdue

Stereotypes and Biased Language

Biased language frequently occurs with gender, but can also offend groups of people based on sexual orientation, ethnicity, political interest, or race.

Stereotyped Language

Stereotyped language is any that assumes a stereotype about a group of people. For example, don’t assume a common stereotype about blonde women:

  • Incorrect: Although she was blonde, Mary was still intelligent.
  • Revised: Mary was intelligent.

Gender-biased Language

Writing without gender bias is sound and effective. You should always consult your professional or disciplinary community standards or imagine what is appropriate to your rhetorical audience or genre. Writing without gender-biased language is necessary for most audiences. How you approach your audience, what assumptions you make or expectations you assume about it are choices you make as a writer. We merely share what our professional associations advocate, among them the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and its Conference on College Composition and Communication. We invite you to explore or ask your own professional or disciplinary organizations for guidance.

The Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Style Guide, and the APA Style Guide all have similar recommendations about inclusive language use in writing (detailed behind pay-walls). NCTE suggests the following guidelines (created, 1975; revised 1985, 2002) that we have adapted and offer only for guidance:

Suggested Generic Terms
Original termAlternative terms
mankindhumanity, people, human beings
man's achievementshuman achievements
man-madesynthetic, manufactured, machine-made
the common manthe average person, ordinary people
man the stockroomstaff the stockroom
nine man-hoursnine staff-hours
Suggested Occupation Terms
Original termAlternative terms
chairmancoordinator (of a committee or department), moderator (of a meeting), presiding officer, head, chair
businessmanbusiness executive, business person
mailmanmail carrier
steward or stewardessflight attendant
policeman or policewomanpolice officer
congressmancongressional representative
male nursenurse
woman doctordoctor
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