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a style guideline

Sentential relative clauses


Sentential relative clauses, usually introduced by “which”, are very common in formal and academic writing, and should be used in preference to conjoining clauses with “and so” or “and that”.

No: The world is getting smaller and smaller, and that means that people understand each other better.

Yes: The world is getting smaller and smaller, which means that people understand each other better.

Referring to authors by their last name


In English, whenever we refer to an author, we use the author’s last name, not his or her first name:

No: Jonathan writes that…

Yes: Freedland writes that…

The impersonal "you"


Avoid using the impersonal “you” in any sort of formal writing:

No: If you aren’t careful, you can have lots of problems.

Yes: If one is not careful, many problems may occur.

Using the present tense to refer to authors


When describing what an author says in a text, we usually use the simple present rather than the present progressive (or the past tense).

No: In his article, Freedland is arguing that…

Yes: In his article, Freedland argues that…

Overly informal language


In academic writing, essays, etc., you should avoid using words associated with informal writing or informal speech. There is very often a more formal word that is more appropriate to the genre.

No: Things would be different if Sweden were a bigger country.

Yes: Things would be different if Sweden were a larger country.

No: The immigrants had a lot of trouble learning the language.

Recounting your own thought path


Do not simply describe your own thought path for the reader.

When you write, you should think first, and write later. While you think about the topic, you will craft your essay into an appropriate form. It is almost always wrong to simply narrate your thinking about a topic from beginning to end, since it will not be structured the way an essay should be structured.

No: The first thing that comes to mind when I think about poverty is taxes.

Overly personal writing


An essay is an impersonal form. As such it should have very few references to the author. Try to use impersonal constructions more than personal ones, and only mention yourself when it is relevant.

No: I think the main problem is poverty.

Yes: The main problem appears to be poverty.

Omitting the conjunction "that"


The conjunction that should rarely be dropped in writing.

Although it is possible to drop that in many contexts, it is often impossible. Furthermore, in formal writing you should almost never drop that. So as a rule of thumb, keep it.

No: This is so common we no longer notice it.

Yes: This is so common that we no longer notice it.

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