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Making your essays clearer

Improve your work and make your assignments easier to understand with clear writing

This page has information about writing coherently. We provide general tips for using linking words and phrases, explain what connectives and transition signals are, and provide examples various words and phrases you can use in your writing. Using connectives properly makes your writing easy to read and understand, but using them unnecessarily can confuse readers and make it unclear what you're trying to say.

General tips

  • Learn your subject’s technical and theoretical terms. This won't happen overnight and will continue throughout your degree.
  • Don't try to make your writing look more academic by using fancier words and phrases, just to sound more academic. Make sure that you understand the word or phrase and how to use it first.
  • Avoid using a thesaurus. There are very few exact synonyms in English, and some terms have very specific meanings in particular fields, especially technical and theoretical terms.

Connectives and transition signals

Connectives link sentences, phrases and ideas to take your reader through what you are saying. Transition terms are a type of connective, but they are used more specifically to indicate some kind of change or development.

Connectives can be used to show the reader:

  • your analysis and criticality
  • the flow of your work
  • the development of your material
  • a different angle on the same point
  • a complete change in direction

Examples: 

  1. The first claim, [topic] can be explained by…..
  2. For example...
  3. However; in contrast; on the other hand...
  4. Nonetheless; despite this; although...
  5. In addition; furthermore...
  6. Therefore; consequently; as a result...
  7. Similarly...

Appropriate assertion

Avoid terms like 'obviously', 'undeniably', 'certainly' and 'definitely' (unless you are quoting someone else) because you can't be certain that you've explored all possibilities surrounding your statement. You should use academic caution when putting forward conclusions and citing authors.

Here are six examples of what you could say:

  1. This shows...
  2. It is evident that...
  3. It is therefore possible to conclude that...
  4. The argument strongly suggests that...
  5. This is supported by...
  6. This demonstrates...

Instead of using everyday terms such as 'surely' or 'everybody knows', it is best to say something like 'It is common knowledge' or 'generally accepted'.

Being cautious

Academic caution is about not making absolute statements of fact. 

Four sets of examples:

  1. Seems to; tends to; looks like; appears to show; indicates; could be seen as...
  2. Thinks; assumes; believes; suggests...
  3. May; might; could; perhaps...
  4. Probably; possibly; perhaps; conceivably...

Expressing doubt

Doubt can be expressed on, for example, the evidence, an argument, or a claim in the literature. It can also be about what you, yourself, are saying.

Five examples of phrases:

  1. It is possible that this means...
  2. This could indicate that...
  3. The argument is plausible because...
  4. This claim is debatable because...
  5. Therefore, it is an implausible argument...

Using evidence

Evidence can come from a range of sources as appropriate for your field. It could come from data, results, findings, newspapers, databases, documentaries, or sound logical thinking and argument.

Six examples of phrases:

  1. The evidence shows...
  2. Table 1 demonstrates...
  3. Figure 2 indicates...
  4. According to the results...
  5. The argument suggests...
  6. The author implies that...

The writer implies something, while the reader infers something.

Expressing what comes first or is most important

Ensure that you really are talking about the most important thing or element of a thing.

Five examples of phrases:

  1. The primary issue...
  2. The key point...
  3. The principal argument...
  4. The main point...
  5. First, this essay will...

Expressing sequence

It is important that the reader should be kept in touch with where they are in your written work. It can be easy to lose track when reading your extended writing.

Importantly, expressing sequence also demonstrates that you are thinking logically and systematically, to present your points or argument soundly, through keeping in touch with how elements relate to each other.

Seven examples:

  • Previously...
  • Next...
  • Secondly...
  • Furthermore...
  • Subsequently...
  • In addition...
  • Moreover...

Expressing finality

Five examples:

  • Lastly...
  • Finally...
  • Overall...
  • Ultimately...
  • In conclusion...

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