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Posts Tagged ‘word choice’

Affect vs. Effect

Affect vs. Effect

The easiest way to remember the difference between affect and effect really depends on your learning style. I’m a functional learner, so it’s easiest for me to remember that affect is usually used as a verb, whereas effect is usually used as a noun.

The following examples illustrate this common usage:

Grammar Comic

The rainy conditions affected the outcome of the baseball game. In this case, affected is the verb. The conditions did something to the outcome. What did they do? They affected it.

The rain had a devastating effect on the pitcher’s ability to control the baseball game. In this case, effect is a noun. The rain had something. What did it have? It had an effect on the pitcher’s ability to control the game.

There are some cases in which effect is also used as a verb, rather than as a noun. When effect is used as a verb, it means to bring about or introduce something. Consider the following example: The general manager effected change in the momentum of the game by swapping out pitchers.

To differentiate between affect and effect when they’re both used as verbs, consider their object. Affect usually impacts or changes something tangible, whereas effect usually creates something or brings it into being.

If memorizing functions and definitions isn’t quite your style, try a mnemonic device to help you with the beginning letters such as, “The arrow affected the aardvark; the effect was eye popping.”

When all else fails, bookmark the Everything English blog where you can come get answers to all your common grammar questions!

Translating Vernacular into Academic

Of the millions of people in the world who study English as a second language, quite a few of them would be able to order food at a restaurant or have a conversation about the weather. But what if they were asked to write a literary analysis, a scientific report, or a researched policy document? The number of English students capable of this second sort of task would drop dramatically.

There are many factors which explain the difference between these two kinds of communication, but a lot of it comes down to register. A register is a type of language used in a particular context. Academic writing calls for a more formal register than conversational speaking, which results in certain differences in tone, syntax, and word choice.

Of course, English is not the only language possessing multiple registers. Most languages operate under different expectations and norms depending on the social situation. For the purposes of this blog, I’d like to cover some of the most common words in English vernacular and how they are usually translated into academic writing.

1. about vs. approximately

I’d venture to say that there is no meaningful semantic difference between the words “about” and “approximately.” Connotatively, though, “about” somehow seems less precise or even less confident than “approximately.”

Less formal: Out of the 900 participants, about 32% reported feelings of discomfort.

Slightly more formal: Out of the 900 participants, roughly 32% reported feelings of discomfort.

More formal yet: Out of the 900 participants, approximately 32% reported feelings of discomfort.

2. done vs. conducted, complete, completed

Leave it to English academic style to reject a simple, single-syllable word in favor of a longer, more technical one. Even if you are carrying out top-notch experimental work, fellow scholars may not take you very seriously if you say “After the test was done.”

Less formal: After the first analysis was done, the second experiment began.

More formal: After the first analysis was conducted, the second experiment began.

3. get vs. receive

“Get” belongs almost exclusively to the vernacular register. People use it all the time when they’re talking among themselves, but in writing it usually becomes “receive” or another appropriate synonym.

Less formal: After the participants got the survey in the mail, they had 14 days to complete the questions.

More formal: After the participants received the survey in the mail, they had 14 days to complete the questions.

4. get vs. become

It’s quite possible that “get” is unpopular among academic writers because it has so many different uses. When the same word can mean “receive” in one sentence and “become” in the next, it’s no wonder that scholars try to steer clear.

Less formal: From an economic perspective, the country was getting less and less independent.

More formal: From an economic perspective, the country was becoming less and less independent.

5. big vs. large, significant, substantial

As with many English words, the connotative difference between “big” and “large” has something to do with their etymology. Generally, words with Latin or Old French origins are perceived as more elevated than those with Old English or Germanic origins. (That’s why, for example, the animal is called “chicken” [Old English roots] while the meat is called “poultry” [Old French roots].)

Less formal: Figure 5 shows a big increase in exported goods in 2005.

Slightly more formal: Figure 5 shows a large increase in exported goods in 2005.

More formal yet: Figure 5 shows a considerable increase in exported goods in 2005. (Other acceptable substitutions at this register include “significant” and “substantial.”)

6. huge vs. enormous, immense, massive

This one has nothing to do with etymology (as far as I am aware); it’s just that there are a lot of words related to size that do not fit within the formal academic register.

Less formal: The late 1980s saw a huge proliferation of personal computers. (“Gigantic” also resides at this lower register.)

More formal: The late 1980s saw an enormous proliferation of personal computers. (“Massive” and “immense” are similar in meaning and register to “enormous.”)

7.  pretty vs. fairly, somewhat, generally

Some speakers use the word “pretty” to denote “fairly” or “somewhat.” In the academic register, stick to these alternatives rather than use “pretty.”

Less formal: The boiling temperature remained pretty consistent.

More formal: The boiling temperature remained fairly consistent.

8. really, very vs. extremely, greatly, dramatically

Cranky English teachers (in whose ranks I consider myself) are almost singlehandedly responsible for making anathema of the words “really” and “very.” The basic argument is that “really” and “very” do not actually add any meaning to a sentence. In fact, the best recommendation when revising those words is probably to remove them altogether. If, however, you feel compelled to keep some kind of adverb in your sentence, consider these alternatives:

Less formal: The chemical compounds in this type of plastic were found to have very negative health effects.

More formal: The chemical compounds in this type of plastic were found to have extremely negative health effects.

(Again, many writers would say that removing the adverb altogether is the best option here: “The chemical compounds in this type of plastic were found to have negative health effects.”)

Setting the Right Tone in Academic Papers

How to set the proper tone in academic writing? Certain words are standard, while others should be avoided. Some standard (and generally interchangeable) terms are:

Examined, considered, studied, explored

  • Nordlund examined the effects of …
  • Nordlund considered the effects of …
  • Nordlund studied the effects of …
  • Nordlund explored the effects of …

Association, relationship, correlation

  • … to determine whether there was an association between income and standardized test performance.
  • … to determine whether there was a relationship between income and standardized test performance.
  • … to determine whether there was a correlation between income and standardized test performance.

The previous sentences could also be written as:

  • … to determine whether income was associated with standardized test performance.
  • … to determine whether income was related to standardized test performance.
  • … to determine whether income correlated with standardized test performance.

Noted, observed, mentioned, cited, explained

  • Previous literature has noted the discrepancy in …
  • Previous literature has observed the discrepancy in …
  • Previous literature has mentioned the discrepancy in …
  • Previous literature has cited the discrepancy in …
  • Previous literature has explained the discrepancy in …

Argued, contended, asserted, held

  • Jones argued that
  • Jones contended that …
  • Jones asserted that …
  • Jones held that …

Unlike, by contrast, departing from

  • Unlike Genovese, Hughes argues that …
  • By contrast, Hughes argues that …
  • Departing from others in his field, Hughes argues that …

In addition, moreover, what is more, furthermore

  • In addition, numerous studies have mentioned …
  • Moreover, numerous studies have mentioned …
  • What is more, numerous studies have mentioned …
  • Furthermore, numerous studies have mentioned …

Like, likewise, similarly, agrees

  • Like others in his field, Davis argues that …
  • Likewise, Davis argues that …
  • Similarly, Davis argues that …
  • Davis agrees that …

“Too” and “also” may be used in academic writing – but generally only in certain ways:

  • Davis, too, contends that there is an association.
  • Davis also contends that there is an association.

But not:

  • Also, Davis contends that there is an association.
  • Davis contends that there is a relationship, too.

Other words/phrases to use sparingly (if at all): “pointed out”, “a lot of”, “lots of”. Instead of “a lot of” or “lots of”, try “numerous” or “many”.