Writing Features Complexity

Academic Writing

Features of academic writing


Written language is relatively more complex than spoken language (Biber, 1988; Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan, 1999; Chafe, 1982; Cook, 1997; Halliday,1989).

Written texts are lexically dense compared to spoken language – they have proportionately more lexical words than grammatical words. Written texts are shorter and have longer, more complex words and phrases. They have more noun-based phrases, more nominalisations, and more lexical variation.

Written language is grammatically more complex than spoken language. It has more subordinate clauses, more “that/to” complement clauses, more long sequences of prepositional phrases, more attributive adjectives and more passives than spoken language.

The following features are common in academic written texts:


Halliday (1989, p.79) compares a sentence from a spoken text:

You can control the trains this way and if you do that you can be quite sure that they’ll be able to run more safely and more quickly than they would otherwise, no matter how bad the weather gets.

with a typical written variant:

The use of this method of control unquestionably leads to safer and faster train running in the most adverse weather conditions.

The main difference is the grammar, not the vocabulary.

Other equivalents are given below (p.81):

Spoken Written

Whenever I’d visited there before, I’d ended up feeling that it would be futile if I tried to do anything more.

Every previous visit had left me with a sense of the futility of further action on my part.

The cities in Switzerland had once been peaceful, but they changed when people became violent.

Violence changed the face of once peaceful Swiss cities.

Because the technology has improved its less risky than it used to be when you install them at the same time, and it doesn’t cost so much either.

Improvements in technology have reduced the risks and high costs associated with simultaneous installation.

The people in the colony rejoiced when it was promised that things would change in this way.

Opinion in the colony greeted the promised change with enthusiasm.


Try these exercises: Exercise 1Exercise 2.

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