Generally speaking, academic writing is the style used in the academic world to write academic texts (articles, books, theses), and it can differ according to the culture of each country. In some countries a more poetic approach is admissible, and the use of unusual words and complicated text structures is welcome. The idea is that the more difficult it is to grasp a text, the more scholarly it is. In other words, it shows the greatness of the writer.
That is not so in English. English for academic purposes aims to be straightforward, clear, and simple. It does not admit poetic expressions, tortuous and circle structures, or words that few people would understand. Since English is currently the lingua franca, which means that it is the language used for international interactions between no-native people of that language, English rules are dominant. Not only people around the world have to write their academic texts in English, they also have to adapt their way of writing to its academic rules.
Plenty of style books, advices and recommendations, and courses exist in bookshops, the Internet, and universities. One has only to search for “academic writing” on Google search engine. Citation styles, like American Psychological Association (APA) style , Modern Language Association (MLA) style , Chicago style , also offer guidance on how to write and structure the academic text in question. Scientific journals usually state which style they wish authors to follow.
TRANSLATION AND EDITING
When translating and editing, language is the focus. The general structure of the text and citations are not taken under consideration. However, sentences and words can be under the scrutiny and can be changed.
Word meaning and sentence building
While in some languages the subject of the sentence can be omitted, in English it has always to be explicit. Sentences with no verb are not considered grammatically correct, therefore, they should be avoided. Personal pronouns (“it”, for example) should be used carefully. Sometimes it is better to repeat the subject or refer to it by using a general noun (for example: “this subject”, “this aspect”, “such a classification”). As clarity is paramount, the reader must be able to identify the subject with no effort. This is also the reason why sentences should be shorter rather than longer. The writer has to make sure the reader will not “get lost” in the middle of the sentence. In some languages, longer sentences are welcome and many clauses can be introduced, sometimes between the subject and the verb. In English this usually leads to confusion, thus, it is often best to write two or more sentences, using general nouns as previously mentioned.
Since academic texts are formal, informal and colloquial expressions and words should be avoided. In addition, cautious language should be used (for example, “can”, “might”, “may”). All academic texts can be disputed and writers should show their willingness to admit they might be wrong. Opinions should be conveyed through adjectives and adverbs rather than using expressions like “in my opinion”, “in my view”, “I believe”. These expressions are considered subjective, thus, contrary to the impartial tone that the writing should have. This is the reason why passive is deemed to be preferred. Furthermore, words that are easily recognised by most people should be preferred to words that only people in the field would understand – again, academic texts should be clear to all readers. However, technical terms are to be used.
It is better to avoid long strings of adjectives. The sentence may be confused if a noun has more than three adjectives. Also, synonyms should be analysed using examples of their use. Thesaurus and dictionaries list words with the same meaning, but nuances can lead to misunderstandings: the synonyms can be colloquial, thus, not appropriate in academic writing, or can lead to a completely different meaning.
The text should show respect for other people findings, even if the author aims to dispute those findings. Also, focus should be focused on the essential and redundancy or ideas not related to the matter in question should be avoided. English academic writing aims to be precise and to the point. Parallel considerations are deemed to contribute to confusion. Also, two words with the exactly the same meaning should not be together (for example, “a renowned and distinguished researcher”). One word is enough.
Clarity should always be the aim when building sentences. The statement should avoid different interpretations. Therefore, it is better to choose a simple construction (subject – verb – object). Supplementary clauses should be introduced carefully, preferably at the beginning (before the subject) or at the end (after the object). The use of “I” should be avoided, even though it is allowed. “We” should be preferred. “The author”, when referring to the author of the text, should also be avoided. However, it is best to avoid this type of construction and build the sentence in an alternative way. For example, instead of “we concluded that…” the sentence can begin as “This research led to these findings” or “These conclusions were drawn from the research results”.
It is of the utmost importance to avoid bias, discrimination, and being politically incorrect. For example, it is better to avoid “Men” when referring to humanity in general. Also, “race” is not a scientific term except when talking about animals that have different races (like dogs). Humans do not have races, but may belong to ethnic groups. The same principle applies to words or expressions like “crazy person” (it is better to specify the mental disease in question). Also, when referring to a person without knowing if it is a man or a woman (for example, “the reader should be aware that these findings are not conclusive”), it is better to avoid “she”, “her” or “he”, “him”. Plural can be used (“Readers can be aware”), which can lead to the use of “them”.
Acronyms and abbreviations should have their full name explicitly when first appear, for example, HE (Horizon Europe).
As a final note, the author and the translator should talk with each other. Translators usually have no expertise in the field of the text and may fail to understand a term or a sentence. On the other hand, authors may have difficulties to express their thought, especially if they are writing in a foreign language. Misunderstandings can be easily avoided if communication exists.
The use of commas (,), semi-colons (;), and dashes (-) should be used carefully and in moderation. In some languages, people have the tendency to use commas abundantly. Again, in English, two or more sentences could be a better choice. If dashes are used to introduce an additional thought, make sure they are used at the beginning of the break and at the end (except if it ends with full stop). The use of linking words (for example, “therefore”, “nevertheless”, “furthermore”) are encouraged. Numbers greater than 999 have a comma to separate each set of three digits (for example, 1,000 or 1,567,890). Decimals are separated by a period (for example, 10.5).
Attention should be paid to verb tenses. If referring to events in the past (for example, “the research conducted”), describing results (for example, “results showed an increase in this substance”), and referring to other people’s work, it is preferred to use simple past. In some languages, the present tense can be used for this purpose – however, in English it is better to use the past tense. The present perfect can also be used, but only if the event being described has effects in the present (for example, “researchers have worked on this matter”, meaning they started to work in the past and are still working on it today). Present tense can be used when referring to something related to the text (for example, “section one describes the methodology used”) and when describing graphics or tables that appear in the text, presenting arguments, or drawing conclusions.
Attention should be paid to the plural and singular of words. For example, “data” is plural, “people” is plural, “phenomenon” is singular, “phenomena” is plural, “thesis” is singular, “theses” is plural.
American English and British English are very similar and adaptations are not needed. However, consistency should be taken under consideration, i.e., if the text is written in British English, for example, the spelling should respect British English rules (for example, “recognise” instead of “recognize”, which is American English).
American Psychological Association (2010). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition. Location: Washington, DC
Bennett, K. (2007). Epistemicide! The Tale of a Predatory Discourse. The Translator, 13(2), 151-169
Bennett, K. (2009). English academic style manuals: A survey. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 8, 43-54
Check: ACPN relevant work in academic translation
«Academic writing you have to get right. Fiction you have to get plausible. And there’s a world of difference.» Elliott Colla