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Use These Better Verbs in Academic Writing

If you're new at academic writing, or simply trying to become a better academic writer, there are a few key elements that you need to focus on to develop your skills. First and foremost, you need to be aware of the ten main features of academic writing and why they should all be present in every scholarly article or essay. These are:

  1. Complexity—Academic writing is purposefully more complex than other types of prose. Your word choice should reflect a higher reading level, and it's common to incorporate a lot of passive verbs and subordinate clauses.
  2. Formality—Academic writing carries a certain tone of formality and should avoid colloquial language, slang expressions, or extensive use of contractions.
  3. Precision—When you're presenting research, it's important to be precise and thorough with your presentation of it. This means that nuances of words are important, and synonyms should be carefully considered to find the best one. This is especially true for verbs, which we will cover later in this article.
  4. Objectivity—Scholarly research should be conducted and written objectively, rather than incorporating personal biases and opinions. In such, there will be fewer words that address the reader or refer to the writer; rather, the emphasis will be on the information provided within the essay or article and the clarity of that information.
  5. Explicitness—Your academic writing needs to be explicit and clear, which makes it possible for other researchers to replicate your study or pick up where you left off. This means that vague wording should be avoided and transition words should be incorporated to connect ideas and paragraphs.
  6. Accuracy—Since academic writing focuses on established methodologies for research, the words you choose to use need to be accurate. This means that you might need to find words that have narrower meanings that their broader counterparts.
  7. Hedging—This goes along with the idea of avoiding vague writing by making clear assertions. Hedging refers to having a clear stance on a topic and relating that stance in your writing. If the data you are examining shows patterns, you must clearly state that, even those patterns go against your initial hypothesis. If prior research you are using as sources shows gaps or biases, it's important to clearly state that, as well.
  8. Responsibility—Academic writers must, above all else, be responsible. Academic research is conducted and published to help inform everything from legislation to diet to parenting and more. In other words, as a scholarly writer, you have a responsibility to provide accurate information that is as unbiased as humanly possible. If you are using a source to inform your research, you must clearly state that and avoid plagiarism of others' ideas.
  9. Organization—Your academic writing must be well organized and logical to ensure your reader understands your research process, your proposed hypotheses, and the conclusions you've drawn from your study.
  10. Planning—Research requires adequate planning and is often conducted in stages that must occur in a certain order, so your academic writing must be well planned. For example, you can't write a review of literature without first finding sources related to your research. Likewise, you can't comment on the biases or gaps that might be present in prior studies if you haven't first explored the scope and quality of literature available on a topic.
Academic writing requires precision, planning, and focusing on the nuances of verbs
Academic writing requires precision, planning, and focusing on the nuances of verbs. Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash.

Better verbs for better scholarly writing

Between jargon and overused phrasing, and the requirements listed above, academic writing can seem stiff, boring, and repetitive if you read and write enough of it. Scholarly writing can be more limited than other styles of prose, mainly because it needs to maintain an objective point of view, provide clarity on a topic, and be organized in such a way as to allow another researcher to apply the same methodology to replicate the results.

The good news is you don't have to stick with the same, commonly used verbs in your academic writing. In fact, in most situations, there are better, more appropriate verbs that can be used than the ones that are standard across research.

Sometimes, a simple thesaurus search can result in replacements and rephrased statements that create a stronger, more nuanced connection or example, which is one of the primary goals of academic writing in the first place. In this way, eliminating weak, overused verbs will make your scholarly writing tighter, less repetitive, and better overall.

Let's start first with some commonly used phrases that could have better options. While I don't suggest that you rid your writing of these phrases entirely, make a point to mix it up with stronger alternatives if you find that you use them repetitively.

Aims to

You'll often see an abstract or introduction containing the words "This paper aims to …" or "This study aims to …". In most cases, it is unnecessary and repetitive, and could be replaced with a verb that will usually follow "aims to" anyway. For example, instead of writing "This paper aims to evaluate the longitudinal research related to XYZ," you could skip "aims to" and write, "This paper evaluates the longitudinal research related to XYZ."

Other potential replacements are:

This paper/study/research…

  • analyzes
  • advances (the work of/the idea that)
  • assesses
  • challenges
  • considers
  • conveys
  • discusses
  • disputes
  • dissects
  • establishes
  • explores
  • evaluates
  • highlights
  • identifies
  • illustrates
  • introduces
  • investigates
  • offers
  • outlines
  • proffers
  • proves
  • reveals
  • scrutinizes
  • strengthens (the position that)
  • supports
  • unveils

Much/little is known about

This common phrase in academic writing is another example of repetitive wording that can be replaced with more powerful verbs. Instead of noting that "much is known about [x, y and z]," eliminate the passive be verb and replace it with an active one.

Here are some good alternatives:

  • Academic research has explored [x, y and z] extensively.
  • Multiple researchers have posited that [x, y, and z] are…
  • Previous studies have shown that…
  • Numerous researchers have found that [x, y, and z]…
  • Few studies have been conducted on [x, y and z].
  • Current literature on [x, y, and z] does not explore how…
  • However, prior studies have failed to consider [x, y, and z].

The data suggests/These findings suggest

When detailing information that is gathered from research, these expressions are often used and can become repetitive.

Here are some good alternatives:

  • We can extrapolate from the data that….
  • These findings show evidence that…
  • We can surmise from these findings that…
The findings suggest is an example of an overused phrase in academic writing
"The findings suggest" is an example of an overused phrase in academic writing. Photo by José Alejandro Cuffia on Unsplash.

Verbs based on purpose of use

Dr. Elaine Khoo, from The Writing Centre at the University of Toronto at Scarborough, offers the following suggestions for academic verbs to use based on the intent of your sentence.

Showing change or difference


  • broaden
  • enlarge
  • exceed
  • expand
  • generate
  • improve
  • maximize
  • optimize


  • decline
  • deteriorate
  • erode
  • minimize
  • narrow
  • reduce
  • worsen

Difference or varying:

  • alter
  • contrast
  • convert
  • deviate
  • differ
  • differentiate
  • distinguish
  • diverge
  • evolve
  • modify
  • revise
  • transform

Showing stability

  • maintain
  • sustain

Showing keeping within a certain range/ keeping under a certain level

  • confine
  • inhibit
  • prohibit
  • restrict

Showing in-depth study

  • analyze
  • examine
  • investigate
  • observe
  • survey

Stating, restating or reemphasizing ideas & concepts


  • acknowledge
  • argue
  • attribute
  • comment
  • propose
  • establish
  • identify
  • mention
  • note
  • observe
  • state


  • elaborate
  • expand


  • emphasize
  • stress

Describing phenomenon or data

Describing phenomena:

  • acquire
  • define
  • impact
  • signify
  • symbolize

Describing data:

  • approximate
  • demonstrate
  • indicate
  • levels off
  • reflect

Stating position


  • advocate
  • hold the view that
  • hypothesize
  • propose


  • deny
  • dispute
  • negate
  • reject

Showing uncertainty or an extrapolation of information


  • predict
  • speculate

Extrapolation of information:

  • deduce
  • imply
  • infer
  • project

Showing components

  • comprise
  • consist
  • constitute
  • incorporate
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