At the beginning of the dissertation writing process, many students have yet to develop an appropriately academic writing style. They may seek to impress the committee with their use of overly formal vocabulary, including jargon. Alternately, the writer may draw on colloquial words and phrases, resulting in an inappropriately informal tone. Learning to write clearly and succinctly in an academic style takes time; however, working with an editor can help you accelerate that process and gain confidence in academic writing.

The power of persuasive writing

Your primary job as an academic writer is to persuade. You need to convince the reader that your topic is worthy of study and that you have chosen an effective method of exploring it. In addition, you need to demonstrate your knowledge not only of the related literature but also exactly how it has informed your study. Finally, it is crucial that you establish the validity of your findings.

Persuasion is difficult to accomplish if your reader doesn’t understand what you mean or if they perceive you to be less than serious in your approach to the subject. This is why it is of paramount importance that you develop a style of writing that is neither overly complicated nor too informal.

Jargon alienates more often than it impresses

When writing a dissertation we want to sound smart, erudite, and conversant with the terminology associated with our topic. The trouble is that this can result in language that alienates the reader.

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association defines jargon as “the continuous use of a technical vocabulary, even in places where that vocabulary is not relevant” (APA, 2010, p. 68). The authors also warn against the use of euphemistic phrases to replace familiar terms. Familiar is the key word here. If you are going to convince the reader of the validity of your argument they need to comprehend it. Overly sophisticated vocabulary is more likely to confuse the reader than impress them.

You need to consider your choice of sophisticated vocabulary carefully. You must be sure you understand the word and that it is the only one that can describe the concept or action under discussion. This may be because it is a technical term related to the topic of your dissertation, or one commonly used in the literature of your discipline. If you feel strongly about your word choice, you should then consider if your intended audience will understand it. If there is any doubt, you should provide a definition the first time you use it. Many universities require a list of definitions in the first chapter in which you can include these terms.

Colloquial language creates doubt as to the seriousness of the writer and their subject

The use of colloquial language weakens your argument by suggesting that you have not considered the subject under discussion seriously. Writers sometimes adopt this language from less formal publications such as popular periodicals and blog posts, or they may incorporate colloquialisms used in business contexts. In these cases, you should substitute a more formal way of expressing the same meaning. Examples include substituting approximate for ballpark, or saying manifest instead of play out. Text devoid of colloquialisms may seem dry, but this is the nature of academic writing and a professional, scholarly tone.

What is scholarly tone?

Advisors often cite scholarly tone as a criticism in their evaluations of dissertation drafts. Your immediate inclination may be to reach for a dictionary or thesaurus to strengthen your vocabulary with more sophisticated words. Another option would be to utilize academic editing services.

Tone describes a way of approaching the subject rather than a particular vocabulary. Your advisor may have given you this note because they perceive your language as being too informal. A tone that is too casual may be created by the frequent use of colloquial words or phrases. What such criticisms don’t suggest is compensating with overly complicated language. Your language should instead be clear, concise, and free of both jargon and colloquialisms.

Our dissertation consultants are available to help you to develop a persuasive academic writing style. Our editors can also review and revise your drafts to address uses of jargon and colloquialisms. In the process, you will learn to develop an academic writing style that will persuade your committee and future readers of the worth of your work.