Researchers January 27, 2021
Abstract or Too Abstract: The Use of Metaphor and Analogy in Academic Writing

English is a hard language to learn. It’s full of rules with exceptions, words with multiple meanings, and figures of speech that make no sense when taken at face value. Still, everyday conversations are drizzled with metaphors, analogies, and other figures of speech that really do drive a point home better than straightforward words could do.

Because we’re taught early that academic and conversational language should be two totally different levels of speech, it’s often considered a no-no to sprinkle metaphors and analogies in research writing. But it’s actually possible, and often impressive, to use an appropriate figure of speech in your technical text, as long as it flows naturally and helps promote an understanding of a concept in a way that scientific jargon might not otherwise allow. However, you have to be careful not to go overboard, as too much “abstract” in your abstract and other parts of your academic paper can detract from the professionalism you’re trying to demonstrate.

Using Metaphors and Analogies to Get Your Point Across

Figurative language isn’t just for creative writing. Consider using it in your academic text to get your point across to your reader better. Remember that, unless they have the same specialized education and knowledge as you do, your reader might not have the foundational knowledge to understand the concept on the level you are trying to impart. Breaking it down just a bit to include a metaphor or an analogy in addition to your academic terminology helps them to use context clues and your description to get a better grip on what you are explaining.

You might even already be using metaphors in your writing without realizing it. Metaphors are a simple way to get an idea across by using a word that means something else but fits in your sentence. For instance, when you discuss temperature, it’s common to talk about the molecules “bumping” into each other. They’re not purposefully moving as living, sentient beings would, but the vibration of the energy exchanged does cause them to interact, and the easiest way to describe this is by using the “bumping” term.

Analogies, on the other hand, get a concept across to the reader by comparing it to a well-known experience. The analogy and the concept must share a specific aspect that you are trying to describe. The analogy must be familiar enough to be understood by most readers. You could use a swimming analogy to confidently get your point across, but if you used a skiing analogy, only those who were familiar with the sport would truly understand your meaning.

Do’s and Don’ts of Abstract Writing in Your Academic Text

You can use figurative speech, or abstract writing, in your academic text if you’re comfortable with it enough to do it well. But there are some do’s and don’ts to be careful of so you don’t make common mistakes, such as:

●      Don’t use a metaphor or an analogy to base the foundation of your content on. It should support your argument, not form it.

●      Don’t use figures of speech that are specific to a dialect or region. This is particularly common in the south, where phrases like “crazy as a sprayed roach” litter the conversations daily and cause confusion to anyone not from the area trying to follow the context.

●      Do use metaphors and analogies that are consistent with your primary audience’s language. If you are trying to spread your reach beyond your natural country of origin, use figures of speech that would be understood by the average person.

●      Do limit your abstract writing to an occasional concept sprinkled into your text. The number of figures of speech you should use will vary based on the length of your article, but they should not consume the paper and distract the reader. They should flow naturally and enhance your content explanation.

Go ahead and use figures of speech in your academic text to get your point across. It’s the sign of a competent writer! But be cautious in your word choices and strategic with your text, always.

Tags Academic WritingAbstractMetaphorAnalogy
About the author
Jason Collins- Writer
Jason is a writer for many niche brands with experience “bringing stories to life” for both startups and corporate partners.
Jason Collins
Jason is a writer for many niche brands with experience “bringing stories to life” for both startups and corporate partners.
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