Commonly Misused Words in IELTS WRITING
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”