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8 Ways to make your IELTS essay more academic or formal

Your IELTS essay must have an academic feel to it. That means it must be written using the right sort of language. How do you accomplish that? There are several ways to make your writing academic or more formal. Here are some important tips.

Points to avoid in academic writing

1. Avoid being too informal or non-academic.

Most English words are neutral. That means they can be used in both formal and informal situations. However, some words are mainly used in informal situations. An example is the word OK. In order to make your language more academic or formal, you must avoid using a lot of informal words and expressions.

2. Contractions

Avoid contracted auxiliary verbs and negatives. These are very common in informal speech and writing, but are considered inappropriate in academic writing.

Non-academic: I don’t think that I’m working hard.
Academic: I do not think that I am working hard.

3. Singular determiners with plural verbs

Determiners like each, every, either and neither are singular. They should be followed by singular verbs. Of course, in an informal style, you can put plural verbs after them, but if you do that in your IELTS essay, the examiner will not be too happy with you.

Non-academic: Neither of us like him.
Academic: Neither of us likes him.

4. Avoid idiomatic language

English is highly idiomatic, but idiomatic expressions are not always considered appropriate in academic writing. Of course, it is not easy to avoid all of them and it is not necessary either. You can use some idioms, but you must avoid the more ‘colourful’ ones like ‘raining cats and dogs’, ‘hit the nail on the head’ or ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’. Some idioms, on the other hand, are perfectly acceptable in all kinds of writing.

5. Start sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’

Starting a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’ is sometimes considered inappropriate. A few decades ago it was considered totally unacceptable. Even today you can find several grammar books that advise against starting sentences with these conjunctions. However, the truth is that more and more academic writers now begin sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’. You must, however, make a conscious effort to avoid them just to be on the safe side.

6. Phrasal verbs

You cannot avoid all of them in your writing. It is not necessary either. Just make sure that you do not use a large number of phrasal verbs in your essay.

7. Personal pronouns

Academic writing tends to be impersonal. That means you have to limit the use of personal pronouns. However, sometimes you may want to show that something is your personal opinion. In that case, it is perfectly all right to use I or my.

8. Passives

Passives without ‘agents’ are common in academic and scientific writing. By using passive structures we will be able to limit the use of personal pronouns. Passive structures are also preferred when we want to talk about an action, but are not interested in saying who or what did / does it.

Sections In This Article

How to score well in the IELTS reading section
What not to do during the IELTS Listening section
What to expect during your IELTS test?

IELTS Speaking Test Sample Questions
IELTS Speaking Test Sample Questions - 2
IELTS Interview Sample Questions and Answers
IELTS Speaking test - July 2011
IELTS Speaking Test in Vietnam
IELTS Practice Test
IELTS success tips
How to write a good introduction for your IELTS essay

IELTS Sample Essay

IELTS Sample Essay 1
IELTS Sample Essay 2
IELTS Sample Essay 3
IELTS Sample Essay 4
IELTS Model Essay 5
IELTS vocabulary Exercise 1
See Also
TOEFL Practice Tests
IELTS Practice Tests
IELTS Practice Tests

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