Taboo Words – What to Avoid in Your Paper

07.03.23 Academic language Time to read: 4min

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In academic writing, certain words that might be permissible in casual conversations or informal pieces are deemed unsuitable. When crafting a research paper, thesis, or any scholarly document, it’s crucial to sidestep these potentially problematic terms.
This article delves into the realm of words considered taboo in scholarly compositions.

Taboo Words ­– In a Nutshell

  • Taboo words in academic writing may be appropriate for informal writing and conversations.
  • Some examples of taboo words in academic writing are extremely informal, unsophisticated, ambiguous, idiosyncratic, and exaggerated words.
  • The guidelines for taboo words in academic writing do not apply when you are quoting directly from a source.
  • Taboo words may not be inappropriate in some contexts, like in argumentative essays that take a less formal tone.

Definition: Taboo words

Taboo words are expressions, phrases, and specific words that are not permitted in academic writing. Some of these words are okay to use in conversations, texts, and informal writing. However, more formal language is expected in academic writing.

The following words are taboo in academic writing:

  • Extremely informal
  • Exaggerated
  • Ambiguous
  • Subjective

Scientific written papers are especially more specific when it comes to word choices than non-academic ones.

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Taboo Words: Words and phrases to avoid

Academic writing requires attention to detail and specific word choice. Sometimes, identifying taboo words is hard because you are exposed to them every day, and they seem natural or common.

Some categories of words and phrases you should avoid in academic writing are:

  • Jargons: Difficult terminology that only readers from a specific field will understand
  • Cliches: Overused words or expressions
  • Slang: Informal expressions and words like cops
  • Everyday abbreviations like info, ASAP
  • Generally incorrect words
  • Gender-biased languages, like chairman and fireman
  • Derogatory words
  • Redundant expressions that do not add meaning to the text

Below are other forms of taboo words you ought to avoid in academic writing.


Academic writing is a formal type of writing. Therefore, too much informality is taboo in academic writing.

The following informal words are considered taboo words in academic writing.

Taboo words Usage example Substitute
A lot of/ a couple of A couple of sources
A lot of sources
Many/several/ five (precise number) sources
A bit The scheduling process was a bit hard The scheduling process was hard/ somewhat hard
Can’t, wouldn’t, doesn’t, don’t, would’ve. Should’ve (other contractions) He doesn’t He does not
Sort of/ kind of The sources were sort of reliable The sources were somewhat reliable/ reliable to some degree
You, your (second person point of view) You can see the graph One can see the graph
Till From January till November From January until/to November

It is worth mentioning that some words may be acceptable in specific contexts but not at the beginning of a sentence.

For instance, words like plus, so, and, besides are taboo words when used at the beginning of a sentence. However, they may be okay to use in the middle of the sentence.


Vagueness in academic writing makes your points imprecise. As a result, readers may not interpret the content as you intended. This is why vague words are considered taboo words.

Furthermore, vagueness takes away from your academic paper’s quality.

Taboo words Usage example Substitute
A while The subjects waited for a while The subjects waited for thirty minutes
Thing The researchers discovered many things The researcher discovered many recommendations/ findings/concepts/conclusions
Stuff The subjects gathered their stuff The subjects gathered their belongings/items/personal effects


Academic writing needs to be direct and unembellished. Therefore, over-exaggeration is discouraged in academic writing.

Words like adverbs of frequency (never and always) and intensifiers (really, extremely) are examples of exaggeration because they are too dramatic. Additionally, they are not usually accurate.

For instance, you cannot claim for sure that something never happens or is flawless. While these words are applicable in some contexts, it would be wise not to use them often in academic writing.

Taboo words Usage example Substitute
Always, never The interviewers never ask personal questions The interviewers rarely/infrequently ask personal questions
Perfect, flawless They found the perfect sample They found the ideal/best sample
Super, extremely, so, really The test is extremely important The test is crucial/vital/paramount/important


Unsophisticated words make your writing seem elementary. Additionally, excessive use of random and simple terms in your academic paper can make it feel less serious.

In contrast, sophisticated vocabulary leaves a lasting impression on your professor. Using alternative words instead of repeating the same ones throughout your paper can also add to the quality of your paper.

However, it is worth noting that your paper does not need to have extremely complex words to be sophisticated. You can use simple and short words with concise meanings, or use varied language for sophistication.

Taboo words Usage example Substitute
Indicate The graph indicates The graph shows
Figure Figure 2 below Structure/table 2


Subjective words are considered taboo words because they reveal your bias. Academic writing does not hinder you from expressing your opinions. However, it is only appropriate in specific sections of a research paper or specific forms of academic papers like personal statements and argumentative essays.

Therefore, using subjective language in some contexts is incorrect. Instead, let the facts in the content speak for themselves.

Taboo words Usage example Substitute
Boring, attractive, beautiful, great, wonderful, ugly, fantastic The source features many fantastic articles The source features many relevant/useful articles
Naturally, of course, obviously, undoubtedly The sources obviously indicate The source clearly indicates
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Exceptions: Taboo words in your research paper

Certain forms of academic writing do not have strict vocabulary rules. For instance, reflective reports and personal statements permit less formal language and tone.

Certain sections of academic papers also do not follow strict taboo word restrictions and language guidelines. For instance, the preface or acknowledgment section of a dissertation or thesis allows a less formal or personal voice compared to the rest of the paper.


  • Informal,
  • unsophisticated,
  • exaggerated,
  • subjective,
  • and generally incorrect words

are considered taboo words in academic writing.

Subjective language reveals your bias. It shows that you have already formed an opinion. The facts in your paper should speak for themselves.

Taboo words can diminish the quality of your paper. For instance, unsophisticated and exaggerated phrases can influence your paper’s quality. Taboo words can also affect how readers interpret your content.

Yes, you may be allowed to use taboo words in personal statements, argumentative essays, and reflective reports.