This is my sentence, and I was hoping to make it sound more academic:

The aim is to ascertain whether or not the actors from the two films analysed can be considered to be heroes

Is there a better, more academic way of saying 'whether or not'?

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    Just whether would do; any other changes, and you're likely to change the meaning. Apr 19, 2013 at 21:34
  • The way you used it sounds more emphatic to me.
    – skuntsel
    Apr 19, 2013 at 21:42
  • I'd say it this way: "The aim is to determine whether the characters in the two films can be considered heroes". "Ascertain" is stilted & pretentious academic prose; "or not" is superfluous, & "whether" is more formal than "if" (and I like it better: it's a matter of style & aesthetics, not grammar); "to be" is superfluous; & "analysed" is probably unnecessarily redundant. If you're analyzing heroes in films, then you're probably discussing the characters rather than the actors, unless playing the characters was dangerous for the actors.
    – user21497
    Apr 20, 2013 at 15:56
  • @Bill: whether or not ascertain is stilted and pretentious, unnecessarily redundant is redundantly unnecessary. Apr 20, 2013 at 21:32
  • @TimL: Language is filled with redundancies. E.g., Chinese proves that the copula is redundant whenever the S has a predicate ADJ, but it's idiomatically necessary in English. Words like "whence" prove that for some, at least, repeating the meaning by adding the unnecessary "from" ("From whence did you come?") is necessary redundancy. And whenever ideas are difficult to grasp, redundancy seems necessary to ensure that they're understood. We have two kidneys & two lungs (if one fails, the other can take over), but only one heart. Even nature feels redundancy is sometimes necessary.
    – user21497
    Apr 20, 2013 at 23:54

2 Answers 2


It OK to want to use language that's appropriate for your audience, but when one wants to "sound academic" one runs the risk of sounding artificial as well. It's best to write in as natural a style as possible, while remaining clear, and then to root out anything that's plainly inappropriate. There's nothing about whether or not that's unsuitable for an academic audience, though you could lose the or not without disadvantage. You could also replace whether [or not] with if.

The aim is to ascertain if the actors from the two films analysed can be considered to be heroes.

or better

The aim is to determine if the actors from the two films analysed can be considered to be heroes.

I like determine better here because ascertain is usually related to establishing facts, while here you are concerned with coming to a subjective judgment.

Now that I think about it, I'd also omit to be before heroes. Say out loud

The aim is to determine if the actors from the two films analysed can be considered heroes.

and see if it isn't more pleasing than the alternative

The aim is to determine if the actors from the two films analysed can be considered to be heroes.

  • 2
    Thanks! My tutors and professors usually have problems with my writing style...I guess I should be more careful with the way I phrase things. I have omitted the 'to be' and used 'determined' instead of ascertain....thanks a lot!
    – Timer
    Apr 19, 2013 at 22:37
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    I hope, Timer, that I don't get you into trouble! It's always possible that your tutors and professors really like language that I should consider pompous, artificial, verbose and unnecessarily abstruse or even obscurantist. Apr 19, 2013 at 22:52
  • 1
    No worries! My tutor (for this piece) advised me to be more simple and clearer with my writing. I guess I can't go wrong if I write to the point, right? Thanks for the help though!
    – Timer
    Apr 19, 2013 at 23:05
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    Yeah, I routinely have to prune stuff. Things like in my opinion, x seems to be y would usually be much better if one lopped off expressions such as in my opinion and said instead x seems to be y. Just for funsies, would maybe more simple and clearer be better as simpler and clearer? Apr 19, 2013 at 23:13
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    @Animadversor: While I agree with your distinction between ascertaining a fact versus a subjective judgment, I don't agree with using determine, as it implies fact over judgment as well. "To determine" is defined as "ascertain or establish exactly by research or calculation" (again implying facts), and then there's derivations like "determinism", which argues that no free will (and by extension no real subjectivity) exists. It seems better to avoid the implication altogether ("to see if ...") or expressly state that it is a judgment ("to judge if ...").
    – Flater
    Aug 31, 2017 at 12:39

You could say "to ascertain the extent to which the actors can be considered...."

Or just say "whether", and drop the "or not".

  • 1
    Thank you, I like the way you have phrased the answer...it indicates there is no right or wrong answer.
    – Timer
    Apr 19, 2013 at 22:35

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