DOs & DON'Ts

Writers often want to know, for instance, if and when it is possible to use personal pronouns such as I, we, and you?

This is a good question and unfortunately, it does not hold a simple answer. According to Björk, Knight and Wikborg (1992), the use of I, we, you is generally the informal choice. However, some disciplines may accept the use of these pronouns or recommend that they only be used in the introduction and conclusion of the text.

To avoid any misunderstandings, it would be advisable to check for style guidelines before starting any writing process. Within the university, it is important to check the departmental guidelines for instructions and/or read widely to gain an impression of the choices discipline specific scholars make.

The following is a chart that supplies the standard DOs and DON'Ts of academic writing at university. Some of these points may vary depending on the writing style and the departmental guidelines. Always check for style guides before starting the writing process to ensure that there are no additional style requirements or variations in preference.


What not to do


           What to do

Do not use slang, jargon, colloquialisms, or sexist language.

Use formal language

Do not use shortened verb forms (contractions), such as they're, isn't, can't.

Use the full verb form instead, e.g. they are, is not, cannot

Do not use common vocabulary, such as have got, a lot, nice, the other thing.

Make more formal vocabulary choices, e.g. have found, a great deal , attractive/ advantageous,  the other issue/problem/notion/idea/topic etc..

Do not use conversational opening phrases, such as Well, you see, Yes…, Let's move on.

Leave out conversational phrases. Use appropriate connectors and introductory phrases.

Do not write I think - especially not at the beginning of a sentence, i.e. do not write, for example, I think James (2008) believes that global warming will…

Leave out I think, e.g. James (2008) believes that global warming will…

Do not use personal pronouns e.g. I, you, we (unless specifically required), i.e. do not write We think that you should be able to compete.

Be non-personal, e.g. It should be possible for everyone  to compete.


Do not use sweeping generalisations

State main ideas clearly and concisely in your own words in topic sentences.

Do not use bullet points or lists, unless it is in a report.

use complete sentences and link these into logical paragraphs.

Avoid making assumptions or giving your opinion (unless specifically asked).

Be objective.

Avoid waffling or repeating yourself.

Be clear and concise.

Do not plagiarize (see the AWELU section on 'Academic Integrity').

Provide references whenever you say something that is not your own (see the AWELU sections 'Academic Integrity' and 'Sources and Referencing').

Do not take for granted that the spell check on your computer is accurate or will spot all spelling mistakes, since for example, your spell check will not pick up on whether vs weather.

Check spelling, grammar and punctuation etcetera.

Proofread and use a dictionary.

Ask somebody to proofread your text for you.

Do not pose (direct) questions in the running text, that is, do not write, for instance Can carbon emissions be reduced?

Convert questions into statements, for example, The possibility of carbon emissions being reduced is questionable.

Do not mix words and numbers unsystematically.

Use words for numbers nine and below and numbers for 10 and above.

Some of the information in the table above is from Björk, Knight, & Wikborg (1992).