Useful words and phrases

Writers at all levels of proficiency sometimes have difficulties in finding the proper wording for something that they want to say. When writing formal texts, such as academic research articles or formal letters, we often experience quite a wide gap between the thought we want to convey and its appropriate formulation in a given genre.

How do I say what I want?

As discussed in several AWELU sections, e.g. the Writing Process, Sources and Referencing, and the present one, we may conceive of academic writing in terms of a number of tasks that a writer needs to perform.

For example, most research articles will contain an introductory section where the background of the article is outlined, where the topic of  the article is introduced, where the content of the rest of the article is outlined, etc.

Most experienced writers (and not least readers) have at their disposal fixed expressions that can be used to perform a number of such tasks. Less experienced writers, especially if they write in a foreign language, may be helped by collections of expressions organised in terms of tasks that they need to perform. We refer to such collections as phrase banks.

The academic phrase bank at the University of Manchester

The best online phrase bank that we are aware of is located at the University of Manchester. It is organised in terms of tasks associated with research articles. For example, among the tasks performed in the introductory section(s) of an article, we find:

  • Establishing the importance of the topic
  • Highlighting a problem in the field of study
  • Highlighting a controversy in the field of study
  • Highlighting a knowledge gap in the field of study
  • Focus, aim, argument
  • etc

For each such task, the phrase banks lists a number of expressions that can be used to perform it. For example, to establish the importance of the topic, we may use an expressions like:

(1) X is an increasingly important area in Y

The Manchester phrase bank covers a wide range of expressions that are useful to writers of research articles. It is not specific to any one discipline, and the phrases are general enough to be useful to writers within most disciplines, although a certain amount of creativity is required.

Phrase banks on the AWELU site

AWELU contains a number of sections which, although not all of them are labelled as such, can be used as phrase banks. Here we give a (selective) list of AWELU sections of this type: