Strategy 1: Using synonyms
The word synonym is frequently misunderstood. Synonym does not mean ‘having exactly the same meaning’ but ‘having a similar meaning’. This difference is extremely important. You cannot simply delete one word from your text and insert another and think they have an identical meaning. Although words may have the same denotation (core meaning), they will almost certainly have a different connotation (secondary, suggested or implied meaning). For example,
all these words have the same denotation, i.e., friend, but the connotation is very different:
• colleague: ‘someone who you work with’
• mate: informal term for ‘friend’
• acquaintance: ‘someone you have met (often a “friend of a friend”) but do not know that well’
• comrade: ‘a member of the same communist or socialist political party; fellow-soldier’
• ally: ‘a country that has agreed to help another country, especially in a war; a person who supports someone in a difficult situation, especially a politician’
A similar pattern may be seen for the other synonyms, outlined in part A. Check the specific meaning of these words using a dictionary or an o n l in e corpus .
When deciding how similar one word is to another, there are four criteria which should be considered.
1. Context: when and with whom you would use the word e .g ., is it a word in general use or is it a piece of jargon ?
Investigation: suggests a piece of work done by the police.
2. Formality: is the word formal or informal?
Legwork: this is quite informal, and more appropriate in a spoken context.
Forensic analysis: conversely, this is too formal for the context.
3. Value judgment: does the word have any bias or additional meaning (e.g., criticism)?
Exploration: whereas research is a neutral word, exploration is more positive in tone, implying a wide range and focus.
4. Collocation: are there any particular words which go together to consider?
Piece of study: although study and research have very similar meanings, study does not collocate with piece of. In addition, a common mistake is to substitute a word with one from the wrong word class. Research, for example, is both a noun and a verb. The student has used seek – a synonym for the verb only.
Strategy 2: Change word class
Changing the word class can help avoid unnecessary repetition. Although you might be using the same root , it won’t be identical. Typically, this involves nouns and verbs since they are the two major types of content words , which are commonly used in academic writing. For example:
• changing the word class can be a useful strategy
• strategically, a change of word classification can be of use
When doing this, it is important not to invent English words which you think might or should exist. For example, not every adjective can be made into an adverb by adding ~/y. If you try changing word class, it is important to check that the word does actually exist.
Strategy 3: Learn from others
When you are reading articles, books and so on, you should be reading for two main purposes.
First and foremost, you are reading for content – to understand the information which the text contains. Secondly, however, you should also be reading to develop your academic style and your knowledge of academic vocabulary.
There are a number of ways in which you can acquire new language. Whatever mechanisms you use, you should be aware of their respective strengths and weaknesses.
These are presented below.
Advantages: Reading the definition of a word in context (and in the target language ), makes it more likely to be remembered in the future.
Disadvantages: Definitions can be difficult to understand; it is not always clear what you need to look up.
Advantages: They are quick and easy to use.
Disadvantages: Students can become over reliant on them. They may also simply insert the longest/most complicated word they find, rather than the word which is most appropriate.
Advantages: Can help you check to see if the word is commonly used in academic English.
Disadvantages: Can be challenging to use if you are unfamiliar with them.