Whether in high school or already attending college, you have many academic writing assignments ahead of you. You’ll write research papers, opinion pieces, argumentative essays, lab reports, thesis statements, analyses, and more. Improving your writing is a must if you want to be successful.

When writing an academic paper, you’re expected to use formal, academic language and write well-cited content. There are many words to avoid in academic writing. Follow the writing tips below to figure out which words not to use in a research paper and formal writing.

Personal Pronouns

You should avoid personal pronouns like “I,” “me,” and “my” in almost all academic writing. In most cases, your work will be research- or evidence-based. Inserting yourself reduces your paper’s credibility, as professors want ideas you can source.

Even most opinion pieces should not contain personal pronouns. Again, you’re arguing using research-backed logic, not your personal opinions.

You should also avoid using the word “you” or directly addressing your audience. Instead, use the word “one,” such as, “One must always . . .”


Cliches are phrases that have been so overused that they no longer feel fresh or unique. Some common examples of wordy cliches include “thinking outside the box” and “better safe than sorry.” 

When you use a cliche, it makes it hard for your professor to take you seriously. The more cliches you use, the worse it gets. Cliches weaken any research you’ve done and your credibility as a writer.

Cliches often make your essays wordier than it has to be. Look for other ways to get your point across, and try to stick to your own voice as much as possible.

Contractions & Abbreviations

Contractions and abbreviations have their place in writing but never in academic writing. A contraction uses an apostrophe to shorten two words into one word. “Don’t” and “could’ve” are examples of contractions.

Abbreviations are shortened forms of words. Here are a few examples:

  • Dept. (department)
  • Rd. (road)
  • Univ. ( university)

Abbreviations are often used to shorten proper nouns and longer words.

Both contractions and abbreviations are informal and don’t fit with academic writing. Even if you have high-quality research and arguments, contractions and abbreviations can take away from the formality of your work. They also disrupt the flow of your writing and make it look clunky.

Weak Modifiers & Overused Adverbs

Weak modifiers and overused adverbs often seem helpful when you’re using them but do nothing to strengthen your points. A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause used to strengthen, clarify, or intensify meaning in a sentence. Weak modifiers do not add to the meaning of a sentence and can even detract from it. Examples include “merely,” “rather,” and “fairly.”

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. Below is a list of words considered overused adverbs:

  • Really
  • Very
  • Totally
  • Usually
  • Typically

Professors consider weak modifiers and overused adverbs filler words because they add to the word count but not the meaning. You can often improve a sentence by taking out these words. If the sentence is still lacking in meaning, try a stronger adjective or verb.


Idioms are phrases that have a meaning that can’t be figured out by knowing the meaning of the individual words. Meanings are figurative, not literal. Idioms are usually only understood by members of a certain culture or speakers of a specific language.

Common English examples include:

  • “Raining cats and dogs”
  • “Under the weather”
  • “Once in a blue moon”

Idioms are best left to informal writing, as they can take away from the integrity of academic work. 

There’s also a chance that a non-English speaker may read your work. While they may understand English, they likely won’t understand all the idioms.

Passive Voice

Understanding passive voice can be challenging. In a sentence, you will often have an actor and a receiver of the action. When you make the receiver the subject of a sentence and the actor the object, it doesn’t read well.

Consider these two sentences:

  • Active voice: Liam took Jakob to the movies.
  • Passive voice: Jakob was taken to the movies by Liam.

You’ll notice that in the active example, the first person mentioned is the one doing the action. The second person is the one receiving the action. It reads much more clearly than the second example. 

It’s crucial to avoid passive voice when possible. You should even try to avoid passive voice in informal writing, as it almost always makes your writing awkward and difficult to read. 

Transitional Words

Writers use transitional words to move from one idea to another. Some transitional words have a place in writing as they can connect two ideas. Transitional words like “however” serve a purpose in writing.

Some transitional words are unnecessary. Students often think they’re making transitions between ideas or paragraphs but are just adding filler content. Examples of unnecessary transitional words include “in conclusion” and “furthermore.”

When using a transitional word, ask if it’s necessary to understand your thought. If it isn’t, you should take it out.

Colloquial Terms

Colloquial terms are words and phrases that we use in everyday speech. Colloquial terms are often slang words and can overlap with idioms. Words and phrases like “kinda,” “y’all,” and “go nuts” are all colloquialisms.

Colloquialisms take away from the formality of scholarly writing. Your professor may even think you have a poor vocabulary.


For academic writing, stick to academic language. Otherwise, your writing suffers, and you may get lower grades. Don’t forget these writing tips.

To recap, here are some phrases and words to avoid in academic writing:

  • Personal Pronouns: Putting yourself in a paper weakens your research-based evidence. 
  • Cliches: Cliches are overused and aren’t formal enough for a college essay.
  • Contractions & Abbreviations: Shortening words is not appropriate for academic writing.
  • Weak Modifiers & Overused Adverbs: These words are unnecessary and may imply that you’re trying to pad your word count.
  • Idioms: Not everyone knows all idioms, especially non-English speakers.
  • Passive Voice: Passive voice adds unnecessary words and makes your writing difficult to understand.
  • Transitional Words: Certain transitional words aren’t needed, as they add nothing to your meaning.
  • Colloquial Terms: These words/phrases aren’t appropriate for the formal tone required by academic writing.

Before submitting your assignment, check for formatting and do some proofreading. You should also use a plagiarism checker. Even if you didn’t copy, you may sometimes unintentionally plagiarize. Check your school’s style guide because you will probably need to use APA or MLA. Quetext’s software can help you create citations at the click of a button, all for free.