Here is a brief explanation of the three main features of written academic English:
Everyday language is subjective. It is used to express opinions based on personal preference or belief rather than evidence. For instance, we might say, “Doing coursework is easier than taking exams” or “Watching a DVD at home is better than going to the cinema”. Everyday language is also a vehicle for emotional expression; for example: “He was so mean to me”, or “You are amazing”, or “I was gutted”.
In contrast, the language of academic writing is objective. It is used as a vehicle for logical argumentation, not self-expression or emotional response. Objective language is measured, fair and accurate. It avoids exaggeration and bias, and shows respect for the views of others.
It is important that the language used in academic writing reflects the strength of evidence available to support an idea or claim. Whether you say “The working-age population will fall”, “The working-age population will probably fall” or “The working-age population may fall” will depend on the projections available to you at the time of writing, and your interpretation of those projections. The less certain you are about your claims, the more tentative the language should be. The use of cautious language in academic writing is known as ‘hedging’.
Written academic English is formal. It avoids colloquialisms and slang, which may be ephemeral and subject to local and social variations. Formal language is more precise and stable, and therefore more suitable for the expression of complex ideas and the development of reasoned argumentation. You can find out more about formal language by visiting our pages on academic language and style.