Editing Tip: Introductory Phrases in Academic Writing
- Introductory phrases can be tricky to use properly
- Some introductory phrases are better for contrasting, others for highlighting similarity
In academic papers, introductory clauses are often used to emphasize the relationships between the ideas presented in two sentences or within a paragraph. These clauses can really help the flow of a paper, but their usage can be tricky. Here are a few commonly misused introductory clauses and examples of their correct and incorrect uses:
“On the other hand”
Ideally, this phrase should be used in conjunction with “On (the) one hand”, and it must be used to highlight the contrast between two opposing ideas:
- “On (the) one hand, grouping students by ability (“leveling”) allows students to absorb material at their own pace. On the other hand, mixing students of all abilities has been shown to boost the performance of students with low skills.”
- NOT “Grouping students by ability (“leveling”) allows them to absorb material at their own pace. On the other hand, leveling is easier for teachers because they do not have to tailor their lessons to many different levels of understanding.”
This usage is incorrect because both statements are in favor of leveling and thus are not contradictory.
If you are not sure whether “On the other hand” is being used properly, try “Conversely”, “In contrast”, or “However” instead. If none of these phrases fits, “on the other hand” is probably wrong, too. These can also be good alternative options in cases where “On the other hand” feels too informal or has been overused.
Using “also” as an introductory clause can sound colloquial or make it seem as though the following sentence is an afterthought. Consider “In addition” or “Furthermore” to introduce a sentence that contributes to the same point as the previous one.
- “Grouping students by ability (“leveling”) allows them to absorb material at their own pace. Furthermore, leveling is easier for teachers because they do not have to tailor their lessons to many different levels of understanding.”
This phrase is commonly used to introduce the conclusion of a paragraph or a summary of results. However, be sure to specify what is being taken together:
- "Taken together, these data show that our in vitro system successfully reproduced the in vivo conditions."
- “Taken together, our results and previously published findings show that WASP activation is critical for actin cytoskeleton remodeling.”
- NOT “Taken together, our in vitro system successfully reproduced the in vivo conditions.”
We hope these examples will help you be more confident in your use of introductory clauses. Are there other phrases like this that are confusing? Let us know, and we can address them in future tips!