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Common Expressions in Academic Writing

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This resource provides a list of key concepts, words, and phrases that multi-lingual writers may find useful if they are new to writing in the North American educational context. It covers concepts and and key words pertaining to the stages in the writing process, style, citation and reference, and other common expressions in academic writing

Account for

Account for means that you provide an explanation for something. It is mostly used when you provide reasons for something.


Analyze means that you examine a text in detail and discuss the components and parts of a text and talk about how they interact with each other.


Argue means that you say or write something in a way that you can convince or persuade your audience. In your argument, you will provide reasons or any explanation to support your argument. In some situations, you argue to prove your point.


Assess means that you evaluate or determine the value or quality of a given text. In an assessment, you will provide your own judgment of the value of a text and provide explanations and reasons for your evaluation.


Characterize means that you describe the features and qualities of a concept or phenomenon. The features and qualities that you describe should be easily identifiable. When you characterize something, you make it different and distinguished from other things. For example, you could characterize one of the classes that you are taking as “interesting” or “boring.”


Classify means that you organize information by categories or classes. In classification, you should be able to tell the difference between categories or classes that you use, and you should be able to explain why and how you classified the information.


Comment means that you say something about a text or a topic. When you comment on something, you make relevant remarks about a text or a topic and provide your ideas or opinions on the text or topic.


Compare means that you find some similarities or differences among 2 or more things and explain how they are similar or different. When you compare things, you will mostly focus on how you characterize or identify something by explaining similarities and differences.


Consider means that you think about something carefully. You will think about a variety of aspects of a certain topic to develop your ideas or opinions on the topic.


Contrast means that you mainly find differences among 2 or more things and explain how different they are from each other. When you contrast things, it is important for you to explain how you identified differences among the things that you contrast.


Criticize means that you find something that you disapprove of based on your evaluation of a given text or material. When you criticize certain texts, opinions, and ideas, you will make sure to find faults and explain why you disapprove of the things that you found. You will provide reasons and evidence to explain why you criticize certain ideas.


Define means that you explain the meaning of certain words or concepts. While you are explaining the meaning, you will identify the main features and characteristics of certain words and concepts and explain what makes them different from other words or concepts.


Demonstrate means that you prove something by showing explanations, illustrations, and supporting evidence.


Describe means that you explain and specify certain objects or ideas in a way that your audience can easily understand your point.

Differentiate Between

When you differentiate between items it means that you make a distinction between 2 or more things. You will tell the difference between the things and explain how and why you differentiated them.


Discuss means that you think about certain aspects of a topic and explore them in detail in your text.You will often express your opinions or arguments based on the discussion.


Elaborate means that you explain something in more and at greater length. When you elaborate on something, you will illustrate an idea with rich description and explanations for it.


Evaluate means that you assess the value of certain texts or ideas based on your own judgment. In an evaluation of a text, you will see how well the ideas are developed according to certain contexts and audiences.


Examine means that you look at certain texts or ideas carefully and critically study them so you can make your own evaluation or arguments based on your judgment from the examination.


Identify means that you define certain concepts by providing identifying characteristics of them, or provide descriptions or explanations for certain concepts or words. For example, some assignments will ask you to “identify the meaning of a concept A.”


Illustrate means that you explain and describe certain characteristics or aspects of something. When you illustrate something in your text, you will provide relevant explanations and examples to make it clearer and understandable for your audiences.


Indicate means that you point out or show something. Some assignments will ask you to indicate specific information about something, such as “indicate the name of the author, or book” and some assignments will ask you to “indicate the meaning of certain ideas.”


Interpret means that you explain your understanding of certain ideas in a more comprehensive way. Some assignments will ask you to write about your own interpretation of certain data or texts. You will provide your own judgment and evaluation of them and explain how and why you were able to interpret a given subject.


Justify means that you prove your point by explaining reasons for it. You will defend your ideas by providing logical explanation to justify your point.


State means that you clearly express something about certain topics. For example, some assignments will ask you to state your opinions.


Synthesize means that you combine information in a way that could coherently and effectively present your ideas or opinions. In some assignments, you will be required to synthesize sources or ideas. This means that you will combine the sources and ideas and organize them in a way that is appropriate and approachable to your readers.


Verify means that you prove something by showing evidence or information. It could also mean that you check and see to make sure certain information is correct and accurate.