Powerful Essay Verbs

The academic community can be conservative when it comes to writing styles, but your writing shouldn’t be so boring that people lose interest midway through the first paragraph! Given that competition is at an all-time high for academics looking to publish their papers, we know you must be anxious about what you can do to improve your publishing odds. To be sure, your research must be sound.  But it also must be clearly explained. So, how do you go about achieving the latter?

Below are a few ways to breathe life into your writing.

1. Analyze vocabulary with word clouds

Have you heard of the website, Wordle? It’s a word-cloud generation site, and if you click on “Create your own,” copy and paste your draft manuscript into the text box that appears, you may quickly discover how repetitive your writing is!

Seeing a visual word cloud of your work might also help you assess the key themes and points readers will glean from your paper. If the Wordle result displays words you hadn’t intended to emphasize, then it’s a sign you should revise your paper to make sure readers will focus on the right information. *Your browser will need access to Java to run the Wordle applet.

As an example, below is a Wordle of our recent article entitled, “How to Choose the Best title for Your Journal Manuscript.” You can see how frequently certain terms appear in that post, based on the font size of the text. The key words, “titles,” “journal,” “research,” and “papers,” were all the intended focus of our blog post.

2. Study language patterns of similarly published works

Study the language pattern found in the most downloaded and cited articles published by your target journal. Understanding the journal’s editorial preferences will help you write in a style that appeals to the publication’s readership.

Another way to analyze the language of a target journal’s papers is to use Wordle (see above). If you copy and paste the text of an article related to your research topic into the applet, you can discover the common phrases and terms the paper’s authors used.

For example, if you were writing a paper on links between smoking and cancer, you might look for a recent review on the topic, preferably published by your target journal. Copy and paste the text into Wordle and examine the key phrases to see if you’ve included similar wording in your own draft. The Wordle result might look like the following, based on the example linked above.

3. Use more active and precise verbs

Have you heard of synonyms? Of course you have, but have you looked beyond single word replacements and rephrased entire clauses with stronger, more vivid ones? You’ll find this task is easier to do if you use the active voice more often than the passive voice. Even if you keep your original sentence structure, you can eliminate weak verbs like “be” from your drafts and choose more vivid and precise actions verbs. As always, however, be careful about using a thesaurus to identify synonyms. Make sure the substitutes fit the context in which you need a more interesting or “perfect” word.

To help you build a strong arsenal of commonly used phrases in academic papers, we’ve compiled a list of synonyms you might want to consider when drafting or revising your research paper. While we do not suggest that the phrases in the “Original Word/Phrase” column should be completely avoided, we do recommend interspersing these with the more dynamic terms found under “Recommended Substitutes.”

 

A. Describing the scope of a current project or prior research

PurposeOriginal Word/PhraseRecommended Substitute
To express the purpose of a paper or research
  • This paper/ study/ investigation…
This paper + [use the verb that originally followed "aims to"] or This paper + (any other verb listed above as a substitute for “explain”) + who/what/when/where/how X. For example:
  • “This paper applies X to Y,” instead of, “This paper aims to apply X to Y.”
  • “This paper explores how lower sun exposure impacts moods,” instead of, “This paper aims to address the impact of lower sun exposure on moods.”
To introduce the topic of a project or paper
  • The paper/ study/ article/ work…
  • Prior research/ investigations…
  • surveys
  • questions
  • highlights
  • outlines
  • features
  • investigates
To describe the analytical scope of a paper or study
  • The paper/ study/ article/ work…
  • Prior research/ investigations…
  • considers
  • analyzes
  • explains
  • evaluates
  • interprets
  • clarifies
  • identifies
  • delves into
  • advances
  • appraises
  • defines
  • dissects
  • probes
  • tests
  • explores

*Adjectives to describe degree can include: briefly, thoroughly, adequately, sufficiently, inadequately, insufficiently, only partially, partially, etc.

To preview other sections of a paper
  • covers
  • deals with
  • talks about
  • outlines
  • highlights
  • sketches
  • assesses
  • contemplates

[any of the verbs suggested as replacements for “explain,” “analyze,” and “consider” above]

 

B. Outlining a topic’s background

PurposeOriginal Word/PhraseRecommended Substitute
To discuss the historical significance of a topic
  • Subject/ Mechanism…
  • plays an important in [nominalization]
  • plays a vital role in [nominalization]
Topic significantly/considerably +
  • influences
  • controls
  • regulates
  • directs
  • inhibits
  • constrains
  • governs

+ who/what/when/where/how…

 

*In other words, take the nominalized verb and make it the main verb of the sentence.

To describe the historical popularity of a topic
  • …is widely accepted as…
  • …is widely used as…

 

  • Widely accepted, … [to eliminate the weak be verb]
  • The preferred…
  • Commonly/Frequently implemented,… [to eliminate the weak be verb]
  • The prevailing method for…
To describe the recent focus on a topic
  • Much attention has been drawn to
  • …has gained much importance in recent years
  • Discussions regarding X have dominated research in recent years.
  • …has appealed to…
  • …has propelled to the forefront in investigations of Y.
  • … has dramatically/significantly shaped queries on X in recent years.
  • …has critically influenced academic dialogue on Y.
To identify the current majority opinion about a topic
  • The consensus has been that…
  • Prior research generally confirms that…
  • Several studies agree that…
  • Prior research substantiates the belief that…
To discuss the findings of existing literature
  • indicate
  • have documented
  • have demonstrated
  • have shown that
  • contend
  • purport
  • suggest
  • proffer
  • have proven that
  • evidence
To express the breadth of our current knowledge-base, including gaps
  • Much is known about…
  • But, little is known about…
  • The academic community has extensively explored X…
  • Prior research has thoroughly investigated….
  • However, little research has been conducted to show…
  • However, prior studies have failed to evaluate/ identify / (any other word suggested to replace “analyze” above)
To segue into expressing your research question
  • Several theories have been proposed to explain…
  • To solve this problem, many researchers have tried several methods
  • Recent/Previous studies have promoted…
  • Prior investigations have implemented/ queried diverse approaches to…
  • A number of authors have posited…

 

C. Describing the analytical elements of a paper

PurposeOriginal Word/PhraseRecommended Substitute
To express agreement between one finding and another
  • This paper/ study/ investigation
  • substantiates
  • confirms
  • corroborates
  • underlines
To present contradictory findings
  • This paper/ study/ investigation
  • challenges
  • disputes
  • rebuts
  • refutes
  • disproves
  • debunks
  • invalidates
  • rejects
  • questions
To discuss limitations of a study
  • The limitations of this paper include:
  • These investigations, however, disregards…
  • This method/ approach fails to…
  • This study only…
  • …falls short of addressing/ identifying / illustrating…
  • A drawback/disadvantage of this framework is…
  • This framework, however, solely pertains to…

 

D. Discussing results

PurposeOriginal Word/PhraseRecommended Substitute
To draw inferences from results
  • The data…
  • These findings…
  • extrapolate
  • deduce
  • surmise
  • approximate
  • derive
  • extract
  • evidence
To describe observations
  • [Observed event or result]…
  • manifested
  • surfaced
  • materialized
  • yielded
  • generated
  • perceived
  • detected

 

E. Discussing methods

PurposeOriginal Word/PhraseRecommended Substitute
To discuss methods
  • This study…
  • X method…
  • applied
  • administered
  • employed
  • diffused
  • disseminated
  • relayed
To describe simulations
  • was created to…
  • was used to…
  • was performed to…
This study/ research…
  • simulated
  • replicated
  • imitated

+

“X environment/ condition to..”

+

[any of the verbs suggested as replacements for “analyze” above]

 

F. Explaining the impact of new research

PurposeOriginal Word/PhraseRecommended Substitute
To explain the impact of a paper’s findings
  • This paper/ study/ investigation
  • illustrates
  • proves
  • evidences
  • strengthens (the position that)
To highlight a paper’s conclusion
  • This paper/ study/ investigation
  • attributes
  • illustrates
  • advances (the idea that)
To explain how research contributes to the existing knowledge-base
  • This paper/ study/ investigation
  • ushers in
  • proffers
  • conveys
  • promotes
  • advocates
  • introduces
  • broach (issue)
  • reveals
  • unveils
  • exposes
  • unearths

Additional writing resources

For additional information on how to tighten your sentences (e.g., eliminate wordiness and use active voice to greater effect), check out the following articles:

How to Strengthen Your Writing Style

Avoid Fillers If You Want to Write Powerful Sentences

How to Improve Your Writing: Eliminate Prepositions

How to Improve Your Writing: Avoid Nominalizations

Articles about how to draft specific parts of a research paper can be found here.

Additional grammar tips can be found here.

Good writers seem almost to compose by faith and intuition, confident that their instincts rather than their knowledge of grammar will guide them towards the best diction and syntax. When we write well, we learn to “feel” our way through an essay rather than pull up a rote system of rules and regulations to guide us.

That said, many find it helpful to turn to lists when they write, either because they find the word they’re looking for on the list or because the act inspires them to think in relation to a class of words they’re looking for. In fact, as writers become more specialized within a field, they turn again and again to mental or physical word lists to write effectively. Read a good weather forecast and you’ll find the weather patterns described with such active verbs as “hammered,” “trounced,” “sliced,” and “eased.” Read a good sportscast and you’ll find gleeful discussions of how a losing team was “throttled,” “bashed,” “whipped,” or “humiliated.”

Active verbs in particular are useful tools for writers of personal essays, because they help you to (1) efficiently summarize your achievements, and (2) describe relevant phenomena, which may be in the form of research that you’ve completed. Below is a list of commonly used active verbs in these two categories, organized randomly to emphasize that these lists are not to be used in the way that many blindly use a thesaurus—as though one verb can be swapped for another. In fact, in assembling these lists I chose verbs that are unlike each other in meaning, to emphasize that writers should always be aware of both the denotations and connotations of their chosen words. Consider both the meaning and usage of any active verbs you choose to be certain that your writing has maximum muscle. When unsure of a verb’s usage and meaning, always look it up in a well-thumbed dictionary.

Verbs to Summarize Achievements

Verbs to Describe Phenomena

Achieved
Determined
Observed
Managed
Inspired
Checked
Empowered
Allocated
Lectured
Encouraged
Analyzed
Validated
Enforced
Provided
Measured
Engineered
Conveyed
Appraised
Denounced
Led
Diagnosed
Communicated
Computed
Translated
Mediated
Supervised
Systematized
Persuaded
Calculated
Prioritized
Navigated
Screened
Simplified
Originated
Counseled
Indexed
Integrated
Presented
Witnessed
Recorded
Demonstrated
Catalogued
Implemented
Controlled
Generated
Improved
Taught
Converted
Improvised
Pioneered
Improved
Invented
Effected
Grouped
Experimented
Judged
Defined
Modeled
Researched
Facilitated
Transcribed
Recommended
Maintained
Advised
Interviewed
Undertook
Noted
Verified
Sorted
Wrote
Founded
Tabulated
Discharged
Exchanged
Emitted
Converged
Invaded
Bonded
Deposited
Oriented
Accelerated
Interacted
Transmitted
Mixed
Quickened
Originated
Enriched
Saturated
Restored
Superimposed
Crystallized
Transferred
Halted
Behaved
Plunged
Fused
Evolved
Ascended
Bisected
Disintegrated
Mutated
Accessed
Stood
Overlapped
Competed
Forced
Led
Separated
Curbed
Collapsed
Coalesced
Isolated
Fractured
Elongated
Absorbed
Scattered
Propelled
Radiated
Bombarded
Deteriorated
Permeated
Ceased
Lagged
Circulated
Divided
Ruptured
Propelled
Disseminated
Surrounded
Constrained
Slowed
Traversed
Rotated
Fell
Cut
Penetrated
Linked
Froze
Exerted
Fought
Exuded
Guided
Inverted
Exchanged

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