Grammar for Academic Writers: Creating Scholarly Tone with Strategic Verb Choice -->

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Grammar for Academic Writers: Creating Scholarly Tone with Strategic Verb Choice

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Many international, multilingual, and native English speaking students come to Walden with highly proficient English language skills, but the truth is that it takes a lot of time (and we mean a lot - some researchers say 7-10 years beyond basic communicative proficiency for language learners) to master the complex vocabulary and language use norms of American Academic English.

Title image for today's blog post. Polish Scrabble, anyone?

Vocabulary Choice and Scholarly Tone
One common challenge area that many people experience when gaining proficiency in a new language and in academic English is understanding what vocabulary and wording to use in which contexts. Some textbooks or sources might refer to this topic as register or formality. To better understand what we’re talking about, think about the language and phrasing you use when talking to different people. For example, consider how you talk to a course instructor, grandparent, best friend, police officer, or child. Chances are that you use different vocabulary, tone, sentence structures, and levels of formality with these individuals. You might also think about how your communication would be different if you were communicating with them in writing instead of speech.

Of course, there will be variation from person to person and culture to culture about the formality expected when communicating with different groups of people or in different contexts. There may also be significant differences between oral communication and academic writing, so noticing and understanding the expectations in an American academic writing context will help ensure success in your coursework and writing at Walden.

Verb Choice
With that, let’s take a look at a strategy to create an appropriate academic tone in academic English writing:

  • Avoid or reduce the use of phrasal verbs (sometimes called multi-word verbs), which are often accompanied by prepositions such as for, on, up, into, at, etc.
  • Favor English or Latin-based verbs, which are typically single-word verbs

Here are some examples of how avoiding phrasal verbs creates a more scholarly tone in your writing:

Informal: For the interviews, the participants and I will meet up at a local library. (meet up = phrasal verb)
Better: For the interviews, the participants and I will meet at a local library. (meet = single-word verb)

Informal: The patient got better quickly after receiving the injection. (got better = phrasal verb)
Better:  The patient recovered quickly after receiving the injection. (recovered = single-word verb)

Informal: For this assignment, students need to look into a topic of their choice. (look into = phrasal verb)
Better: For this assignment, students need to investigate a topic of their choice. (investigate = single-word verb)

Choosing English or Latin-based verbs not only helps academic writers be more concise by reducing wordiness (which is highly valued by APA), but it also helps to be more precise. These verbs often have a more specific meaning than their phrasal verb counterparts. You can see some examples of how phrasal verbs can have various meanings, depending on the context, whereas English and Latin-based verbs typically have more precise meanings on our page on Scholarly Voice: Verb Choice.

Speaking of learning the norms of American Academic English, did you know that the Walden University Writing Center has various resources for international and multilingual writers learning the norms of academic writing at Walden? Some of them include webpages with grammar tutorials, webinars on grammar and mechanics, and information about U.S. academic writing norms on the "For Multilingual Students" section of the Writing Center website. After checking these resources out, let us know if you noticed any topics or resources about academic writing in English that we’re missing in the comments section below.

Editor's Note: Amy B. will be co-presenting a brand new Live Webinar on Thursday, September 15th at 12pm Est. Join her for "Grammar for Academic Writers: Identifying Common Errors" to broaden your understanding English grammar. The Live Webinar will feature expert instruction and plenty of opportunities to practice these skills. Register for this event by following this link to our Webinars homepage. See you there! 

Amy Bakke
 is a Writing Instructor and one of the Coordinators of International and Multilingual Student Writing Support at the Walden University Writing Center. She has been teaching English to speakers of other languages (ESOL) and academic writing since 2008. When not working, she enjoys sewing and spending a lot of time with her family and dog.

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