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Your Guide for Avoiding Writing Clichés in Academic Essays

A cliché is either something that is rendered meaningless by its overuse, or an undesirable repeated action. In academia, there is nothing as off-putting and punishable as work that’s not your own. Think of it like this: plagiarized ideas are to academia as clichés are to writing. Be original. You didn’t invent the words you’ll be using, but you can organize them in new and innovative ways.

Steering clear of idiomatic clichés and colloquialisms

Steer clear of common clichés; avoid them like the plague (case in point). In this article, we can use idiomatic clichés from dusk till dawn, but if we included expressions like the ones we’re abusing in this paragraph, we’d be in serious trouble.

The expressions used above that you as a student must avoid at all cost are:

  • “steer clear”
  • “avoid like the plague”
  • “from dusk till dawn”
  • “serious trouble”
  • “avoid at all cost”
  • These exemplify the invasive nature of how we converse. Remember that your academic essay is not a conversation, but an objective observation.

    Colloquialisms are words and phrases we use informally. An academic essay is by nature formal, so you must omit informality altogether.

    An example of informal speak might be:

    “Historians agree that things would have been different on May 30th.”

    Here is its formal equivalent:

    “Historians agree that events would have been different on May 30th.”

    Structural writing clichés that will harm your academic essay

    An academic essay structure includes elements of grammar, vocabulary and punctuation. Print this article and use it as a guide to avoid the following writing clichés.

    • Be academic.
    • This means never generalize, and always be objective. A good strategy is to use cautious language to create an observational tone that will not err in making false claims.

    • Don’t be too academic.
    • Students make the mistake of trying to use “big words” where “small words” suffice. Focus on correct usage of words you think you know. Understand the difference between effect/affect and other similar word juxtapositions.

    • Clean up sentences
    • Chop up longer sentences; your readers are academics, not marathon readers. Use fewer words to avoid superfluous explanation. 70% of a sentence consists of keywords. Articles, adverbs, adjectives should be minimal. ‘That’ and ‘which’ are both surprisingly unnecessary. The passive voice is entirely acceptable.

    • Understand the requirements
    • Review the assignment. Make sure that you know what the professor expects before getting started. Take notes. The first person is almost never permissible unless a personal reflective essay is required.

    • Avoid repetition
    • You will need to cite experts, so use varied vocabulary. For example, writing “so and so said” will tire quickly, so use synonyms like “states”, “articulates,” etc.

    • Use best practices for structuring the essay
    • Use varied sentence length. Separate thoughts and arguments into distinct paragraphs. Link the ideas within these paragraphs by using signposts: “Another argument for Stein’s hypothesis is…”, and transition words like “Moreover,” “For instance”, “To conclude,” etc.

    • Proofread for punctuation
    • Scrutinize apostrophes. Use commas consistently. For example, if you decide to use the Oxford comma once, use it every time. Check your style guide (MLA, APA, Chicago) to confirm correct usage. Never use contractions like “can’t”, “don’t”, and “we’re”.

    • Prove your points
    • Assertions are mere opinion if they are not supported by fact. In academic essays, always back up your assertions with verifiable evidence.

    Strategies for proofreading your own academic essay

    One of the most common writing clichés to avoid is the assumption that you’ve finished. The best strategy is to set the essay aside, and come back to it later. Show it to a friend. Do anything to get fresh eyes to scan for mistakes. Interestingly, conceptual inaccuracies might be more forgivable in academia than minute grammatical mistakes.