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?

  • 2
    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

"Initially, the problem seems intractable,..."

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

"Upon initial review,...


"Upon initial inspection,..."


Other common expressions are:

At first the problem seems...

At the beginning the problem seems...

The first impression is that the problem seems..


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?"



Distantly, Remotely. These adverbs are also considered.


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."


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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