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Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

Writing Your Paper

Academic Writing Conventions

What to Avoid in Formal Writing

Writing formally (for academic essays, business letters, resumes, etc.) doesn't mean trying to sound smarter or using bigger words--you don't want your voice to sound unnatural. Formal writing is more about avoiding certain things: cliches, colloquial expressions, contractions, and commonly misused words. 


A cliché is a phrase, expression, or idea that has been overused to the point of losing its intended force or novelty, especially when at some time it was considered distinctively forceful or novel.


since the beginning of time

since the dawn of time

as luck would have it

beat around the bush

best foot forward

dead as a doornail



easier said than done

calm before the storm

slept like a log

spitting image

wrong side of the bed

in a nutshell



Colloquialism (Slang)

Colloquialisms are slang words or phrases that might be used in everyday conversations but would not be as appropriate in academic or professional writing.


we are talking like                                          



I mean

hanging out





broke (referring to money)

cool or hot (not referring to temperature)


put someone down



Contractions are two words that are joined together using an apostrophe to replace the missing letters.








it’s (you can use the possessive pronoun its)

Commonly Misused Words

There vs. their   arrow   I am going there tomorrow / It is their car.

Our vs. are   arrow   They are similar to our family.

Affect vs. effect   arrow   verb: The writing affected me / You affect your writing / Life affects your writing.

                             arrow   noun: the Doppler Effect, the effects of the storm.

Were vs. where   arrow   They were going to the place where they go every year.

Than vs. then   arrow   You write better than me / First we dance and then we sing. 


Click HERE to see more commonly misused words.