How to write effective headings

The goal of using headings in a document is not only to divide information, but also to allow easy navigation of the document. In academic writing, headings help readers find the specific information they want while retaining a sense of how that information fits with everything else in the document.

To test for overall heading clarity, ask yourself the following: from reading your headings in sequence, would an informed reader understand…

  • The content of the document as a whole?
  • The specific content of each section?
  • How each section fits with the others?

If not, your headings need some improvement.

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Common word choice confusions

There are words that you should avoid in academic writing, but some other words are simply misused or misunderstood, creating confusion in your writing.

This article discusses some of the most frequently misused and confused words in English. Learning the rules to distinguish between them can quickly improve the clarity and quality of your writing.

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Common mistakes in sentence structure

Sentence structure determines how the different parts of a sentence are put together, from its punctuation to the ordering of its words. As well as following basic word order rules, there are many other things you have to consider to write correctly and clearly structured sentences.

There are two especially common sentence construction mistakes:

  • Run-on sentences: incorrect punctuation used to join different parts of a sentence
  • Sentence fragments: missing necessary components to form a full grammatically correct sentence

Sentence structure is not just a matter of grammar, but also of style and flow. Strong academic writing uses a variety of sentence lengths and structures. It’s important to avoid overly long sentences that can be confusing for readers, but too many very short sentences can make your text feel choppy and disjointed.

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47 phrasal verbs and their one-word substitutions

The following is a list of commonly deployed phrasal verbs that find one use or another in academic texts. These (and others) can be acceptably used in academic texts. Along with these examples, however, are a number of one-word substitutions to illustrate that in each case the phrasal verb can be easily replaced.

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Phrasal verbs

A phrasal verb combines two or more words to describe a specific action. Phrasal verbs can be difficult to get right, as their meaning usually has nothing to do with the definitions of the component words.

This means that phrasal verbs must be treated as distinct pieces of vocabulary. You have to learn them as a single unit of meaning, just like you would learn any single word.

Phrasal verbs are extremely common in everyday speech, but in academic writing, it’s best to replace them with one-word alternatives where possible.

47 phrasal verbs and one-word alternatives

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Word Order Rules in English

In theory, English sentences take a simple form much of the time. The basic rules for which words appear in a sentence can help you with most of the sentences you’ll need in academic writing.

If we push on these rules, we’ll find many exceptions, but the point here is only to provide a kind of template that can be followed much of the time.

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Exclamation points (!)

Even rarer than question marks, exclamation points are almost never used in academic or formal writing. They owe their rarity in academic writing to the spirit of dispassionate discussion that formal writing usually requires.

The excitability communicated by an exclamation disqualifies the exclamation mark from acceptable use.

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