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Lost for words? Improve your academic writing with the Manchester Academic Phrasebank

Historically, whenever my academic writing gets a little stuck, I’ve turned to the Manchester Phrasebank.

Let me introduce you to this absolute gem of a writing tool, and run through a worked example of how to use it.

To skip ahead, use the Table of Contents drop-down menu, or continue reading.

What is the Manchester Academic Phrasebank?

It’s a resource developed by the University of Manchester to provide students and researchers with a range of academic phrases for use in their written work.

The Academic Phrasebank can aid you in writing reports, essays, dissertations and other pieces of writing.

It contains example phrases that can be used in various parts of academic writing, such as introductions, conclusions, methods sections, and reporting results.

The phrase bank also provides advice on structuring an argument and using evidence to support a claim. Using it can help you develop a better understanding of the mechanics of academic writing.

Although it was designed for non-English speakers, it can help all academic writers to become more confident in expressing their ideas in written form.

Below, I’ll share some of the benefits I’ve received from using the resource, and walk you through how it can be used in practice.

How do I get a copy of the Academic Phrasebank?

It’s available online at https://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/

Is Academic Phrasebank free?

The free (lite) version is available to use on their website but it’s a bit limited. You can find versions of it floating around the internet though (see Additional Resources below)

The much more detailed version can be purchased as a .pdf download or Kindle e-book.

👉 .pdf download

For £5 (roughly 9 Australian dollars, give or take currency fluctuations), you can purchase a 155-page navigable pdf, which includes hundreds more phrases, as well as advice for enhancing your writing style, and assistance with understanding punctuation, and paragraph structure. Download a copy at:

The five-pound fee reportedly goes towards funding further work on the resource for its continued improvement.

👉 Kindle e-book

There’s an e-book version by John Morley, for use on an Amazon Kindle device or via the Kindle app on your computer or phone.

Write your research papers using Academic Phrasebank

Consider a scenario where you want to introduce another scholar’s ideas into your literature review. But, you want to do so in a way that creates some distance between what that scholar has claimed, and what you believe. Maybe you want to be clear that you’re not overcommitting to the scholar’s ideas, or perhaps you wish to raise some doubt as to the generalizability of their idea. You know what you want are trying to do, but you’re just not quite sure how to write it in a way that communicates your intention.

The Manchester Academic Phrasebank helps you to craft the perfect sentence for achieving your goal because it offers you prompts (i.e. introductions), from which you can build out your writing.

Let’s walk through an example together…

Note. to follow along, use a laptop – the experience is completely different on a phone.

First, navigate to the Manchester Academic Phasebank main page.

On the left-hand side of the screen, you’ll see the heading ‘General Language Functions’. Underneath the heading, you should see a column of boxed text options (as shown in Image 1).

In our scenario, we’re looking to write cautiously when introducing someone else’s ideas. As such, we’re going to click on the ‘Being cautious’ box (Image 2).

After you click on the box labelled ‘Being cautious’, the left-hand side of the screen will display an explanation about what ‘Being cautious’ means in terms of academic writing (see: Image 3)

I find it useful to read the explanatory text because it helps to build academic writing literacy.

Underneath the explanation, you should see another column of expandable boxes (as shown in Image 3 i.e. the grey boxes with + signs).

Click on the box (grey + and text description) that best describes what you are trying to achieve with writing your scientific journal papers.

For instance, if you are looking for writing prompts that help you to distance yourself from the scholar’s proposition, you would click on the ‘Devices that distance the author from a proposition’ box.

Once you click on the ‘Devices that distance the author from a preposition’ box, you’ll be shown several options (see Image 4) of phrases that can be used to begin writing your sentence.

Pick the introductory sentence that resonates with you, and use it as a starting block from which to continue writing.

You can also try playing with a few different phase options before arriving at the sentence that will make it into your report, dissertation, or scientific journal papers. For example, start writing a sentence using one of the academic phrases e.g. ‘It is thought that…‘ Then try writing your thoughts again but using another one of the academic phrases e.g. ‘It has commonly been assumed that…‘ Even though they are similar, you might end up generating different writing ideas.

The Academic Phrasebank gives you writing ideas and starting points for academic phrases from which to build out your thoughts.

This comes in handy when you’re not sure where to start.

Is using Academic Phrasebank to write your research paper cheating?

Using the phrases in the resource does not constitute plagiarism. Let me explain why…

Because the phrases in the Academic Phrasebank are widely used in academic papers (published papers exceed 50 million!!!), it is fine to use the phrasing as is. You will not be accused of plagiarism for introducing a sentence with the phrase ‘It has been reported that…’ as it is a widely used phrase in academic writing, which for all intents and purposes has no citable origin. It is the equivalent of using ‘Kind regards’ to sign off an email.

The one exception, as stated in the resource, is as follows:

“Some of the entries in the Academic Phrasebank, contain specific content words which have been included for illustrative purposes. These words should be substituted when the phrases are used.”

Substitute any bolded text in the resource with content relevant to your own research 🙂

Can I use Manchester Phrasebank in my discipline?

The Academic Phrasebank can be used in any discipline. However, I suggest becoming familiar with disciplinary norms, and the nature of how the written word, sentences and paragraphs are constructed in your discipline to ensure your prose hits the mark.

Benefits of using the Academic Phrasebank for academic writing

The Academic Phrasebank can be used to dramatically improve the quality of written work by providing students and researchers with the language necessary to express their ideas in a professional and academically sound manner.

The Academic Phrasebank is helpful for structuring an argument because it provides plenty of examples that can be used to create effective paragraphs and logical transitions between them.

Whenever my writing gets stuck, the resource is there to help 🙂

How does it help, exactly?

Among other things, the resource provides lists of academic phrases to kick off your writing, targeted to whatever it is you’re trying to communicate.

Using the Academic Phrasebank effectively

Some tips for using the Phrasebank effectively:

  • To make effective use of the Manchester Academic Phrasebank, it is important to use the phrases in a natural and appropriate manner.
  • The Academic Phrasebank should not be used as a substitute for thinking critically about your argument, but rather as an aid to help express and articulate ideas more effectively.
  • It is important to vary the range of phrases used and to avoid repeating the same phrases. This will help to keep your content interesting and engaging.
  • It is also important to make sure that the language and phrases used are appropriate to the context in which they are being used.

NEW: AI Phrasebook for Academic Writing

While the Manchester Phrasebank remains an important resource in my academic writing toolkit, I’ve recently upped my writing game by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools, like ChatGPT, to overcome the struggles of staring at a blank page. Introducing… The AI Prompt Phrasebook for Academic Writing.

It’s my new resource for academic writing!

The AI Prompt Phrasebook for Academic Writing is a comprehensive resource with over 500 ‘prompts’ (i.e. those text instructions you use to get ChatGPT to create content) and it’s designed to help you overcome common academic writing challenges.

The phrasebook is specifically crafted to provide targeted prompts that address common writing obstacles faced by academics, such as generating ideas, developing thesis statements, strengthening arguments, rephrasing written content, coming up with answers for ethics applications, and more!!!

The AI Prompt Phrasebook for Academic Writing is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats, including Kindle Unlimited (i.e. read it for free with your Kindle subscription!) 

Get your copy 🔗 https://bit.ly/academic-phrasebook

Book cover, titled 'Academic Writing AI Prompts Phrasebook'

In summary, the Manchester Phrasebank can be an invaluable resource for any student or researcher. It provides a range of professionally written phrases and language which can help to improve the quality of written work. Additionally, it can be used as an aid to help structure arguments and convey ideas more effectively. Finally, it is also beneficial for those with English as a second language (non-native speakers)as it provides the means to become more proficient in the English language.

FOR MORE DIGITAL TOOLS FOR ACADEMIC WRITING 👉 Read my blog post: 50+ Tools for PhD students and Scholars.

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Additional resources

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