Taboo Words to Avoid in Academic Writing

Writing for academic purposes entails writing literature that is formal in tone, objective, structure-wise complex and contains a fair amount of academic jargon. As such, there are certain words and phrases, collectively called taboo words, that academic writers omit when writing manuscripts. Academic writing encourages their elimination to maintain the “formality” of academic documents. This article discusses the definition of taboo words to avoid and examine their use cases.


Taboo Words to Avoid in Academic Writing

Writing for academic purposes entails writing literature that is formal in tone, objective, structure-wise complex, and contains a fair amount of academic jargon. As such, there are certain words and phrases, collectively called taboo words, that academic writers omit when writing manuscripts. Although people use these words and phrases in everyday conversations and informal writing sans any apprehension, academic writing encourages their elimination to maintain the “formality” of academic documents.

This article will shed light on the definition of taboo words to avoid and examine their use cases. In addition, it will suggest alternatives to aid writers in writing better academic texts.

What are taboo words?

As per the definition in Merriam Webster dictionary, a taboo is anything that is “forbidden on the grounds of social customs, taste, religious beliefs, or other such categories.” Hence, in the context of academic writing, taboo words are considered words and phrases whose usage is frowned upon in academic texts.

As to why these taboo words are considered “taboo,” several reasons can be attributed to them. But prominently, it is because they lend a sense of vagueness and uncertainty to academic texts. Consequently, such texts appear less precise and straightforward, leaning more toward the “informal” side and this is against the very ethos of academic writing.

Taboo words: Classification

The table below shows some taboo words grouped according to the nature of their perception. However, it should be noted that this compilation is not exhaustive.

Words denoting ambiguity





Several things will go into this experiment.

Several chemicals/hours will go into this experiment.


Some stuff came out of the test tube.

A yellowish powder came out of the test tube.

A while

Scientists have been exploring deep space for a while.

Scientists have been exploring deep space for over 70 years.

A great deal of

Evolution takes a great deal of time.

Evolution takes millions of years.

Words indicating Informality




Speed up

Particle accelerators speed up elementary particles.

Particle accelerators accelerate elementary particles.

Call off

The doctors called off the operation.

The doctors canceled the operation.

Sort of, kind of

These elements are sort of less abundant on the surface.

These elements are comparatively less abundant on the surface.

Ain’t, can’t, isn’t, and similar contractions

This lab’s apparatus ain’t working.

The apparatus in this lab is not working.

Second person pronouns

You can ascertain its workings using the manual.

One can ascertain its workings using the manual.

A bit, a little

Add a little bit of this chemical.

Add a minuscule amount of this chemical.

Words that are too rudimentary





The data show a lack of funding.

The data demonstrate/reveal lack of funding.


The data here check the assumptions.

The data here verify/confirm the assumptions.


A big survey.

A/an sizeable/extensive survey.


Soufli gets a lot of tourists.

Soufli attracts many tourists.


A bad outcome.

A negative outcome.

Words that signify hyperbolism




Very, extremely, and other such intensifiers.

This sample is very important.

This sample is crucial.

Superlatives such as biggest, most, and perfect.

The perfect candidate.

An ideal candidate.

Always, never, endlessly

Always wear a mask.

Wear a mask without fail/regularly.

Subjective taboo words and phrases




Adjectives such as beautiful, ugly, horrible, and good.

This is a horrible research report.

This is a disagreeable research report.


The scientists were naturally impressed.

The scientists were impressed.

No doubt, obviously, of course

The samples obviously deny the presence of microbial life.

The samples (clearly) deny the presence of microbial life.


Bonus “taboo words” classes

Apart from the aforementioned words, academic writing discourages the usage of the followings:


An idiom is any group of words that renders a sense of profundity and depth to a piece of text. However, such depth takes away the unequivocal nature of academic texts. Hence, one should avoid using idioms while writing for academic purposes.


Cliche phrases, such as “it’s only natural,” “better safe than sorry” are so commonplace that their usage makes a text seem less credible than it objectively is. Thus, academic writers should dissuade themselves from using them in their manuscripts.

Rhetorical questions

Rhetorical questions might be useful in philosophical essays. But, in the context of academic writing, which seeks to impart valuable information to readers in an upfront manner, such questions only work toward increasing the word count without contributing toward anything significant.


In the whole gamut of formal writing, the usage of slang words and phrases is not just inappropriate but also “offensive” to a certain degree. Thus, one should eschew using “dope,” “crazy good,” etc., in one’s academic manuscripts.


The statutes of academic language propose that any academic text should state its contents explicitly. Taboo words, such as the ones listed above, “subvert” this “explicitness” by deterring the readers from discerning the crux of any academic text. Therefore, it is necessary, especially for amateur academic writers, not to include such words in their works.

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