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I have draft where I want to say something like," At first sight, the problem seems intractable, but a careful analysis shows ..."

I feel "at first sight" seems a bit un-academic. Is there a better way to say the same thing?

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    Simply "at first". Not only is that more formal, but you already have it followed by seems anyway, which already implies sight. No need to pile up redundancies. – RegDwigнt May 13 '14 at 14:12
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"Initially, the problem seems intractable,..."

or for a more formal version, if that is the case:

"Upon initial review,...

or

"Upon initial inspection,..."

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Other common expressions are:

At first the problem seems...

At the beginning the problem seems...

The first impression is that the problem seems..

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Consider at first glance and at first blush.

at first glance and at first blush: when first examined; at an early stage.

Alternately, how about "on first consideration?"

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Consider:

Distantly, Remotely. These adverbs are also considered.

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I think using "At first sight" or something similiar is particularly bad in an academic framework because it contradicts the scientific method. Science is not "first-sight" based but relies on careful and thorough examination.

Essentially what you are saying is: "From an un-academic point of view it seems like X but when seen from a scientific approach it is actually Y." But then the question arises why you would even state the unacademic approach. I guess what you want to say is that your results are against intuition, this is imho a much more powerful statement than at first sight. It implies that a preliminary analysis has already taken place whereas jumping to conclusions "at first sight" seems kind of lazy.

I think a way to regard this is to actually state the intuition behind the "first sight" conclusion. Something like "It may seem intuitive to think that X implies Y. However our research shows that this general relationship does not always hold true."

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Kristina's "initially" is what I would choose.

However "superficially" is what I would use if I wanted to convey that it needs a more careful, conscientious, expert or deeper investigation rather then merely a slightly longer one.

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