In academic writing (when writing to a journal), should I stick to the same terms throughout a paper, e.g.

Twenty participants participated to the study. The participants received monetary compensation for participating in the experiment.


Twenty participants participated to the study. The participants received monetary compensation for participating in the study.


It doesn't matter which one I use.

  • I think it does not matter in cases like you show. I do not have much logical explanation though. When alternative words for previous expressions are used, it could be international. But, this may not always be true.
    – 243
    Jun 13, 2014 at 19:22
  • 1
    Participated in the study (not to).
    – Drew
    Jun 14, 2014 at 4:10

4 Answers 4


In an academic paper you should not use words interchangeably.

Once you start referring to an experiment or to a study, then you should use the same term throughout the paper.

In the example you give, a study may be part of an experiment and so the words would have different specific meanings in the context of your paper. You should define your use of the words early and stick to them.

You may well find that an academic referee will reject a paper that changes terminology in mid flow.

Normal conversation, of course, is much less rigourous.

  • 1
    +1. Even more important: Concentrate first on the ideas, not the wording. Write short sentences. It does not matter how unnatural the result of doing that might sound. Getting the ideas and logic right is by far the most important thing. It is also the greatest aid to, later, coming up with a more natural wording, believe it or not. The last thing you want to do is say something other than what you really want to say, because you concentrated prematurely on words instead of your message. Say what you want to say clearly and simply.
    – Drew
    Jun 14, 2014 at 4:17

No, you shouldn't. Actually, you mustn't.

EDIT/EXPLANATION: In formal writing, it is not permitted as scopes of theoretically synonimical words may not actually overlap in various fields of science. That is why it is not uncommon to begin a paper with a chapter on terms used and their definitions.

In real life situations, whether you say (of top of my head) contract or agreement is irrelevant. In writing, on which readers will rely for precision, and which may be the basis for their further writing, legal actions, scientific research, etc. it's your duty to be univocal.

Plus, if you use "interchangable" terms in your writing, and it ever gets published, and if the publication ever gets translated, you'll give the translator a real hard time. Not to mention readers abroad.

If you fear boring, repetitive sentences, don't. If what you're writing is coherent, relevant for the reader, and to the point, you'll be fine. Or try recasting your sentences, which usually means they become shorter=clearer=better.

  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 14, 2014 at 4:41
  • What I meant was I do not recommended it, and it is forbidden in academic writing.
    – jules
    Jun 14, 2014 at 5:08
  • Could you then please explain why in your post, thank you. :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 14, 2014 at 5:12
  • I surely can and I gladly will :)
    – jules
    Jun 14, 2014 at 5:30

I'd just recast the sentence, so you don't have two of the same words appearing so closely together. "Twenty participants participated to the study, for which they received monetary compensation."

  • This is the correct answer. There is no question of 'boring the reader with the same word' if an unnecesary repetition of the underlying idea is avoided.
    – Merk
    Jun 14, 2014 at 5:56

I don't think you should, especially when the sentences are right next to each other. They just don't flow.

Just rephrase it to something like:

The twenty participants participating in the study received monetary compensation for their involvement.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.