Clear Vocabulary

Communicating clearly in writing involves choosing words that a non-expert reader can understand. Even though your reader may be an expert on your topic, it is important to show that you really understand what you mean!

Here are some golden rules for using a clear vocabulary in your writing for GSA:

Keep it brief.

George Orwell advised ‘if it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out’ and ‘never use a long word when a short one will do.’george-orwell

Do use discipline-specific and technical vocabulary, but clearly explain what these terms mean. Don’t use non-English words or jargon without providing a definition in simple English.

Using long, obscure and foreign words can make your writing difficult to read, and seem pretentious if you overdo it.

However, sometimes specialist vocabulary (such as ‘heteronormativity’ or ‘displacement’), can convey meaning more precisely than more commonplace words. This can also be the case for words with no direct English equivalent (such as Bildungsroman or jouissance). Correct use of such terminology will make your writing more sophisticated, as long as you provide an everyday English definition with the first use of the term in the piece of writing.

Don’t over-use the thesaurus

English has lots of words that mean the same thing, termed synonyms. Using a thesaurus (print or online) or the thesaurus function of your word processing program to find a variety of equivalent words can be a tempting way to try to make your writing more interesting. However, synonyms often have slightly different meanings, or don’t belong in every context. When writing about specific topics and contexts, it is best to stick to a few key terms, clearly defined, rather than varying them for the sake of it.

Don’t use clichés

A cliché is a phrase that is very commonly used, particularly an idiom or metaphorical expression; for example ‘the calm before the storm’, ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ and ‘every cloud has a silver lining.’ These expressions have become trite through over-use over time, and will make your writing less clear.

Use Linking or Signposting Words

If your writing ‘flows’ well, the reader will move easily from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph. Certain words and phrases will help your reader follow your argument and go from one theme to another.

introduce a contrast or indicate a move to an opposing point of view but


on the other hand


by contrast


indicate an illustration for example

for instance

such as


extend or expand an idea similarly


in addition

indicate a result of something therefore



as a result

summarise or conclude in conclusion

to conclude

to summarise