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Commonly Misused Words in IELTS WRITING

Posted: March 20, 2019 at 5:55 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

There are many words that are commonly misused. A few of the most common are listed below:

Efficiency/effectiveness: Efficiency  is a  much  overused  word  in essays  and  should  usually  be  replaced with “effectiveness”. Efficiency is how quickly or smoothly an event occurs and effectiveness refers to how good the final result is.

For example: John  completed  his  work  in  a  highly efficient  manner,  however  he  would  be more effective if he paid more attention to detail. It   is   worth   noting   that   in   most   cases   people are   more   concerned   with effectiveness than efficiency. Effectiveness is a word that is a marker of quality for  an  examiner.  It  is  rarely  used and  its  correct  use  will often draw  the attention of an examiner.

Knowledge/Learning/Thinking/Skills “Knowledge” is also a commonly overused word.  In this  case  there  is  a  key cultural difference between developing and developed countries, which causes the overuse of “knowledge”.  In developing  countries education  is  focused  on obtaining knowledge so students will choose this word correctly based on their understanding.  However,  in  the  West  the  education  system  is  based  on  idea and   skills   development   resulting   in   native   speakers   rarely   talking   about knowledge.  Students should generally seek  to  replace  developing  knowledge with words such as “thinking”, “skills” or “learning” 

Enhance/Improve Enhance is arguably the  most  misused  word  in  essays  and should always be avoided. Enhance  is  most  commonly  used  in  advertising,  it  is  emotive  rather  than objective  which  makes it  unsuitable  for  use  in  academic  writing  and  is  most correctly  used  to  describe  additional  features  (not  making  things  better).  It should never be used as a synonym for improvement. Improvement is simply to make things better.  It is a very common word and can be repeated a number of times in an essay.

Drugs/Medicine Drugs and Medicine are commonly misused words in essays because drugs has a very wide meaning that is much wider than in many other languages. A drug is  any  substance  that  has  the  ability  to  modify  the  physiology  of  any  species belonging  to  the  animal  kingdom.  Drugs  include  illegal  drugs  such  as  heroin, cocaine  or  marijuana,  medicines  such  as  aspirin,  panadol  and  morphine  and alcohol. Alcohol  is  a  drug  because  it  modifies  brain  chemistry  and  affects coordination and judgement. A commonly used phrase is “drugs and alcohol” even though this is duplication because many people do not think of alcohol as a drug. Medicine has  a  much  narrow  meaning  when  referring  to  drugs.  It  is  used  for drugs  that  are  beneficial  and  when  referring  to  individual  drugs.  The  correct usage  is  complex  and  generally  should  be  avoided  in  favour  of  the  more general  word.  It  should  be  noted  the  correct  word  for  a  company  that manufactures drugs/medicine is a “drug company” not a “medicine company”.

Popular/Common Popular  is  a  commonly  misused  word  in  essays  because  it  has  a  narrower meaning in English compared to other languages. Popular is  most  commonly  used  in  fashion  and  entertainment.  The  use  of popular often implies that something is in fashion at the moment but is likely to go  out  of  fashion  in  future  rather  than  become  a  permanent  change.  Music, films,  clothes,  brands  and  models  of  cars  or  phones,  holiday  destinations  may all be popular. However, going to university, having a mobile phone or a car or driving  to  school  rather  than  walking  or  riding  a  bicycle  to  school  are  all common and it is incorrect to use popular in these cases.

Children/Kids “Kids” is far too informal to be used in formal writing. The original meaning of a kid is a “baby  goat”,  it  is  the  equivalent  of “kitten” or “puppy”.  It  is  highly informal  and  should  never  be  used  in  formal  writing  and  probably  should  not be used in formal speaking (including an IELTS speaking test).

Punishment/Discipline The purpose of punishment is to cause pain to people who have behaved badly. The  aim  of  discipline  is  to  teach  people  who  have  made  poor  choices.  For children  the  aim  is  always  to  teach,  therefore  children  should  be  disciplined and never punished. Punished is also commonly misused in IELTS questions by examiners to test whether students know the correct language.

Surfing the Internet/On the Internet Students often use surfing the Internet as a general term for using the Internet. Surfing  is  riding a  wave  and  implies  that  a  person  goes where  the  wave takes them with limited control. In an Internet context this means that a person has no set direction and will simply follow links that attract their attention. Surfing the Internet is a leisure activity. When using the Internet for a specific purpose such as research or for work it is incorrect to use surf the Internet. Normally it is “use the internet”, “be on the internet” or simply “be online”.  

Academic study/Education Students often use “academic study” when describing areas of importance for young people; however, this language is imprecise. Studying is an action but it is  always  better  to  describe  the  purpose  of  the  action  rather  than  the  action itself. In this case the purpose of the action is to become educated and it is far more standard to use phrases such as “young people should focus on their education” rather than “young people should focus on their academic study”

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