Essay Words and Phrases to Avoid in Your Next Paper

essay words

Is writing an essay a complex and difficult process for you? If so, don’t worry — you’re one of the millions of students who find this activity extremely stressful and boring. Although most learners perceive essay writing as unpleasant, time- and energy-consuming work, it teaches us to organize our thoughts and express our opinions properly. Yet, following specific tips and focusing on appropriate words to use in essays can make this process easier and more enjoyable.

Have a look at the following sentences. Which one would you choose for your writing?

  • Essays writing is a big problem for students throughout the world.
  • Writing the essay is a challenging and complex activity for students worldwide that requires gaining valuable knowledge and experience to succeed in this field.

Undoubtedly, the second sentence is more appropriate for an essay, since it contains college-level words and provides more specific information that allows the reader to understand the author’s idea. Do you want to improve your writing skills and receive the highest score on your next essay? Let’s focus on several tips that will help with writing a paper!

College Level Words: What are They?

College-level words are also known as Tier 2 vocabulary. Unlike everyday words (also known as Tier 1 vocabulary), Tier 2 vocabulary is more academic, nuanced in nature and subject specific. It is also learned on purpose and requires explicit training, while Tier 1 vocabulary is usually acquired implicitly.

Leticia Adamson, Head of ESL program at

Your time at college and university is an excellent opportunity to learn new words to use in essays and improve your overall vocabulary skills. A formal essay requires students to use strong academic words that have clear meanings and allow readers to understand the author’s point of view. Learners often use vague phrases and words, such as “good,” “best,” “beautiful,” “perfect,” “absurd,” “bad,” “worst,” etc., to increase the word count and add emotions to their writing. Such words can be used in an informal essay, while in formal ones, students are expected to concentrate on smart words.

Always consider the context and try to choose the best words for writing

Importantly, many simple adjectives can be replaced by more academic words to make you sound more professional. For example, students typically use words like “bad,” “poor,” and “awful” to describe a particular object or phenomenon. If you need to provide a subject or situation with a negative connotation, use good essay words such as “unacceptable,” “inadequate,” or “inappropriate,” depending on the context of the sentence. Likewise, a weak essay contains such words as “good,” “fine,” and “nice,” while strong words to use in an essay include terms like “acceptable,” “adequate,” “appropriate,” etc.

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Worst Words to Use in an Essay

Your score significantly depends on essay vocabulary, and it’s therefore better to avoid writing words that don’t meet academic requirements. In addition, try to use words that provide readers with precise and detailed information to help them understand what exactly you aim to say. The best words to use in an essay include terms that give the readers a clear understanding of the topic you’re discussing and exclude the possibility of any misunderstanding or confusion.

The table below shows the words that should be replaced in your essays and provides fancy words to use in writing.

Words and Phrases to Avoid in EssaysHow They Can Be Improved ExplanationExamples
I, We, YouWriting in third personA formal essay should be written in third person because you’re focusing on the facts and relevant data rather than your personal opinion.YES:Lying is morally wrong.

NO:We all know that lying is morally wrong.

AboutApproximatelyAn essay must give precise information, not your suggestions.YES:They built approximately 25-30 houses in the town last year.

NO: “They built about 30 houses in the town last year.

Good/bad/small/largeDetailed information about the topic discussed in the essayFormal writing requires students to be as clear as possible.YES: “They bought an area of 2 hectares to build a house there.

NO:They bought a large area to build a house there.

Don’t, can’t, won’tDo not, cannot, will notEssay words cannot include contractions; it’s better to use full forms.YES:He cannot meet his family today.

NO:He can’t meet his family today.

So on / etc.Clear examples depending on the contextThe words “so on” and “etc.” show your inability to provide more examples related to the topic you’re discussing.YES:She grows various flowers, including roses, irises, daisies, tulips, and peonies.

NO:She grows various flowers, including roses, irises, etc.” 

Very, quite, totally, really.No alternativesIt’s better to avoid using such words because they add your emotions to the essay rather than provide critical information.YES:The author discusses a few of the interesting factors causing this phenomenon, including…

NO:The author discusses really interesting factors.

Passive voice (be discussed, be analyzed, was visited)Active voice (discuss, analyze, visit)Using active verbs for essays makes your statements clear to readers.YES:John Smith analyzed that issue to determine the reasons for such misunderstanding.

NO: The issue was analyzed by the expert.

This is, it isNo alternativesSuch structures make your essay wordy.YES:The students cannot complete this task.

NO:This is a task that the students cannot complete.

In spite of the factAlthoughThe phrase “In spite of the fact” is wordy and non-academic.YES:Although they achieved the established goals, they were unsatisfied with their teamwork.

NO:In spite of the fact that they achieved the established goals, they were unsatisfied with their teamwork.

Best Words to Use in an Essay

It’s really important to know good words to use in an essay to receive high scores on your writing assignments. Good word choice will help you express your thoughts clearly and avoid wordy structures that make an essay difficult to understand.

If you analyze a scientific article and need to explain an author’s findings, you may use the following words:

  • Demonstrates
  • Identifies
  • Shows
  • Argues
  • Emphasizes
  • Highlights
  • Explains
  • Analyzes
  • Examines
  • Explores 

For example, “James Wight emphasizes the importance of following established laws and explains that violating social norms can cause significant conflicts among members of a society.

Likewise, you can use adjectives to give more specific characteristics of the objects or issues you discuss in your essay. However, try to choose the most appropriate essay words to explain exactly what you mean:

  • Low-income” instead of “poor
  • Significant” or “considerable” instead of “big
  • Compelling” or “fascinating” instead of “interesting
  • Vital” or “crucial” instead of “important
  • Various” or “multiple” instead of “different

Some simple words can be replaced by more academic alternatives to make you sound professional:

  • Factor” or “aspect” instead of “thing
  • Since” or “due to” instead of “because
  • Numerous” instead of “many” or “a lot of
  • Incorporate” instead of “include
  • Predominantly” instead of “mostly

The more you read scientific literature, the faster you learn formal words to use in an essay. These changes will considerably improve the quality of your papers and will help you receive the highest score.

Leticia Adamson, Head of ESL program at

Are You Using Good Transitional Words?

Transitional words help you combine different ideas in your essay to make the text smooth and readable. Good transition words help writers compare opposite opinions, add more details to the issues they have already discussed, and change the reader’s focus. 

You can use the following connecting words to add specific information or let the reader concentrate on additional points you want to discuss:

  • Firstly
  • Secondly
  • Thirdly
  • Finally
  • Moreover
  • In addition
  • Furthermore
  • Likewise

If you want to discuss an opposite idea, focus on these words to use in your paper:

  • However
  • Nevertheless
  • On the other hand
  • On the contrary
  • Although

Likewise, it’s important to summarize your ideas at the end of every paragraph as well as at the end of the essay. Have a look at the words to use in an essay to make the reader understand that you are going to make some conclusions:

  • Therefore
  • Thus
  • Hence
  • As a result
  • In conclusion
  • Consequently

There is no need to use transitional words in every sentence because they can make the essay difficult to understand. However, try to add them to make your writing smooth and clear and help the reader understand all of your points.

Bonus! Big Words for Essays

It’s always a good idea to learn new big words to use in essays to sound competent and professional. Check the meanings of new words to use them correctly depending on the context and ideas you want to explain. Here is a list of big words for essays and their synonyms:

  • Advantageous/beneficial (favorable)
  • Anomalous (strange)
  • Believe/consider (think)
  • Challenges/difficulties (problems)
  • Decline/reduce (decrease)
  • Encourage (promote)
  • Engage (participate)
  • Enhance (improve)
  • Enormous (big)
  • Essential (important)
  • Establish (set)
  • Extend/advance (increase)
  • Immense (large)
  • Influence (impact)
  • Global (common)
  • Primarily (mainly)
  • Provide (give)
  • Regulate (manage)
  • Transform/evolve (change)
  • Unequivocally (absolutely)

Remember, practice makes perfect! Try to change words in an essay and replace them with the ones you have learned with us today, and you will see how the quality of your writing improves every time you practice your skills. Good luck!

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Lauren Bradshaw
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Lauren started writing in 2003. Since then, she tried her hand in SEO and website copywriting, composing for blogs, and working as an academic writer. Her main interests lie in content marketing, developing communication skills, and blogging.