In academic writing, using literal word choices whenever possible is of the utmost importance. As the writer, you want the explanation of your research to be shown as exact and true in regard to your findings, and although some expressions and words may popularly and colloquially mean one thing, their true definitions may mean another. When editing dissertation content, be on the lookout for the following 5 words to make your intention of meaning as clear as possible.
The word since denotes the passage of time—something occurred in the period since something else occurred. The word because denotes cause and effect—the result of X is because of Y.
Incorrect: The researchers included only participants in their area since the experiment required a small sample size.
Correct: The researchers included only participants in their area because the experiment required a small sample size.
In its literal sense, while should be used to refer to X occurring while Y occurs. However, writers regularly use it in the place of although, though, or even though depending on your intent.
Incorrect: While the limitations are reasonable, the research is practical.
Correct: Although the limitations are reasonable, the research is practical.
Regard, typically preceded by the preposition in, should be used to denote X concerning Y. Regards is typically a valedictory, or the closing section of a letter, such as sincerely.
Incorrect: In regards to past findings, the researcher came to similar conclusions.
Correct: In regard to past findings, the researcher came to similar conclusions.
When it comes to the difference between affect and effect, most writers know there is a difference—it’s just a matter of remembering what that difference is that trips them up. The difference can be subtle at times, but in its simplest form, affect is a verb and effect is a noun (except in rare cases where effect means to create a result; you can usually ignore this case). A trick you can use to remind yourself is: “The effect is the result of affect.” Also, if an article (a, an, the) precedes affect/effect, you should most often expect the correct usage there to be effect (an effect, the effect). This will be helpful when editing dissertation content.
Incorrect: The affect of this managerial style on employees is well documented.
Correct: The effect of this managerial style on employees is well documented.
–impact/influence, effect, affect
When editing dissertations, the misuse (and overuse) of the word impact is undoubtedly the word-choice error I see the most as a copy editor. In academic writing, impact should be reserved to mean a literal collision. Depending on the construction of the sentence, influence, affect, or effect can usually be used in its place to convey a precise connotation.
Incorrect: Roberts et al. (2013) described the impact of socioeconomic status on youths in inner-city Tampa.
Correct: Roberts et al. (2013) described the effect of socioeconomic status on youths in inner-city Tampa.
Train yourself to think critically about the words you are writing. If it seems a word could have more than one meaning, take the time to look it up, and remember that using literal word choices is a key to academic writing that increases the reliability and trustworthiness of your research. To quickly scan for and correct word-choice issues when editing dissertation content, you can use ctrl+f on the Windows platform or command+f on the Apple platform to find and replace.
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