by Elizabeth Watness, Student Consultant, University Writing Center
First off, go re-read a memorable passage from a favorite novel. Or listen to a favorite song, preferably one with words. No, seriously – go right now and queue it up on your iPod or throw in the CD. Pay particular attention to the words. The author or songwriter chose them with purpose and those words probably inspired a particular emotional reaction in you, the audience. You may not have even been consciously aware of why a song or a poem made you feel a certain way, but you had a reaction regardless.
Because of the power that words – all words – can have over our emotions, it is important to pay close attention to how we use them in our academic writing. English professors often advise students to “avoid slang, jargon, or overly informal language”. The reason for this is because slang is often too generalized, too vague, or too emotionally biased to use in academic writing.
For example, consider the following statement: “People from New York are a bunch of blowhards.” Not only is this a broad generalization, it’s kind of insulting, and would be inappropriate in an informative or even a persuasive essay. Because slang and informal language is tossed around in every-day conversation, if you use it in your academic writing, it can give a reader the impression that you haven’t thought much about your topic, or that you don’t really care about it.
Even a statement like, “My dad was always there for me” – which is very common in conversation – is problematic in academic writing, because it’s too vague. What it means to “be there for someone” can be very different from person to person, so simply dropping in that sort of compliment will carry very little impact with your reader. Always try to be as specific and accurate as you can with your writing.