A guide to a strategic use of verbs in academic writing
Academic writing involves a lot of reporting, analysing, paraphrasing and critiquing of other people’s ideas. However, you are expected to do even more than construct your own analysis based on what you have read; you need to report your ideas with some sense of confidence and authority. You cannot just fill your essay with ‘he/she says’ to report the ideas of authors you have read. You need to use a range of more sophisticated verbs that indicate you are reading critically and are able to analyse and evaluate ideas as you go, and that, moreover, you feel confident enough to agree with or reject some of these ideas, based on what you have discovered in your research. This is particularly true of the sort of writing you engage in at postgraduate level.
How do we use verbs in academic writing?
Discussing what you have read and reporting your views is done in a specific way in academic writing. You need to appear neutral or not biased in any way. There is very little or almost no use of phrases such as ‘I think’, but rather many phrases which show your detachment from the subject matter. So in academic writing we will often find phrases such as ‘it would seem’, ‘it appears’, ‘it is likely’, ‘it is possible/probable’, and so on. In other words indirect verbs are used, as they appear to be more objective.
Reporting the ideas of other writers/ researchers
The verbs you use to report the ideas of other authors indicate to your reader whether you are simply transmitting information or being critical about what you have read.
Study the examples below:
Aung (2015) says that the economic crisis will last for some time yet but Little (2016) says that markets will recover very soon.
Aung (2015) states that the economic crisis will last for some time yet, whereas Little (2016) expects that markets will recover very soon.
Although these two sentences are almost identical, and both are grammatically correct, the first one is repetitious and merely reports what authors have ‘said’, whereas the second example uses different verbs, providing a comparison of the two authors’ views, and is more elegant.
The use of different verbs can also make a stronger case, providing more evidence of your critical skills.
Study the examples below:
There is some disagreement about the current market crash. Aung (2015) states that the economic crisis will last for some time yet, whereas Little (2016) expects that markets will recover very soon. Jenkins (2016) does not commit himself to either theory, concluding that we simply do not have enough information, at this stage, to be able to predict an exact outcome.
Verbs that indicate a critical approach
Careful selection and use of verbs to report academic writing projects a critical voice, which is required and valued particularly at the postgraduate level. Examine the use of verbs in the examples below and think about how they can enhance your writing and project the image of a confident writer.
Roberts (2021) concludes that COVID 19 will affect house prices for some time to come and that the development of a vaccine will also impact the market.
Smanovski (2021) also studied the impact of COVID 19 on real estate prices during 2020 and asserts that although the market has suffered, there is a definite recovery expected by the end of 2021.
Multinational teams are considered a challenge by Schuster (2017), who maintains they can only work well if properly trained and the organisation is committed to the benefits of a multicultural workforce.
Alberghi (2017) espouses the benefits of multinational teams, reporting that they enrich project development by bringing to bear a range of perspectives and talents to company projects.
The approach outlined by Senter (2018) achieved great results in marketing. Senter (2018) maintains that very few previous approaches have demonstrated this level of success
Larson (2018), however, dismisses Senter’s views as exaggerated and concedes only a moderate impact on the success of the marketing campaign.
Verb tenses: past, present or future?
Conventions for academic writing are often different to those in other forms of writing. For example, the verbs to report ideas, a common feature of academic writing, are almost always used in the present tense. However you would use a past tense if you are referring to an even that happened in the past. Almost all the verbs under Example 2, above, are in the present tense. Study the examples below:
Several authors (Jones 2005; Hamish 2006; Tarset 2007) state that good communication skills are absolutely essential in the modern workplace. According to them, such skills also include intercultural communication competence.
Roberts & Liu (2017) maintain that intercultural communication skills will be absolutely essential in the future workplace. Whereas in the past other skills were more highly valued, future multicultural workplaces will require workers who can interact comfortably in multinational contexts.
In conclusion, expand you choice of verbs in academic writing and be careful in how you use them to report your ideas. When you read academic articles, take note of how verbs are used, particularly in your field of study.