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Reporting Verbs

In academic writing (and to a lesser extent, academic speaking) it will often be necessary to refer to the research of others and to report on their findings. In order to do so, we have to use reporting verbs such as 'Evans (1994) suggests that....'; 'Brown (2001) argues that....'.

The difficulty with using reporting verbs is that there are many different verbs, and each of them has slightly different, and often subtle shades of meaning. Using the correct words relies, as much as anything, on making the correct interpretation of what the writer you are studying is saying.

1. What are the different reporting verbs that can be used?

Reporting verbs differ in terms of their strength; for example, 'to suggest' is much weaker, and more tentative, than 'to argue'. The two verbs convey very different pictures about how the author you are studying sees his or her materials and research.

Some reporting verbs are used principally to say what the writer does and does not do. These verbs do not indicate any value judgement on the part of the writer; they are called 'neutral' reporting verbs.

A second group of verbs is used to show when the writer has an inclination to believe something but still wishes to be hesitant; we call these 'tentative' reporting verbs.

Finally, if the writer has strong arguments to put forward and is absolutely sure of his or her ground, we can use 'strong' reporting verbs to refer to these ideas.

Obviously, it is important (when we read) to ensure that we interpret the writer's ideas correctly. For instance, if we say 'Jones (1999) argues' rather than 'Jones (1999) suggests', this is a major difference of meaning. The first indicates strength, the second tentativity. It is very important, in academic writing, not to misinterpret a writer's intentions when we are reporting them.

In the table below, the main reporting verbs in English are classified in terms of their function, and their strength.

Function and strength

NEUTRAL: verbs used to say what the writer describes in factual terms, demonstrates, refers to, and discusses, and verbs used to explain his/her methodology.

Example verbs

describe, show, reveal, study, demonstate, note, point out, indicate, report, observe, assume, take into consideration, examine, go on to say that, state, believe (unless this is a strong belief), mention, etc.

Function and strength

TENTATIVE: verbs used to say what the writer suggests or speculates on (without being absolutely certain).

Example verbs

suggest, speculate, intimate, hypothesise, moot, imply, propose, recommend, posit the view that, question the view that, postulate, etc.

Function and strength

STRONG: verbs used to say what the writer makes strong arguments and claims for.

Example verbs

argue, claim, emphasise, contend, maintain, assert, theorize, support the view that, deny, negate, refute, reject, challenge, strongly believe that, counter the view/argument that, etc.

 2. What are some of the main language points that need to be considered when using reporting verbs?

  • The structure of sentences when using reporting verbs can vary, and can be flexible; for example:
Jones (1999) argues, in his study of thermodynamics, that...
As Jones (1999) argues in his study of thermodynamics,...
In his study of thermodynamics, Jones (1999) argues that...
  • It is possible (and often quite attractive stylistically) to invert the subject and verb when reporting:

e.g. Thermodynamics, argues Jones (1999), is..

  • Reporting the work of others often needs an extra sentence introduction or 'lead-in':
e.g. In considering Smith's discussion on thermodynamics, Jones (1999) argues that ...
  • It is important to remember to put the final 's' on the verb when the subject is 'he/she'.
  • Very often, in academic writing, reporting takes place in the present tense, as in the examples above; this is because of the need to bring past research into the present moment.
  • If you have used the verb 'said' very often in your writing, try to replace this with something more descriptive and precise.
  • The words 'mention' or 'reckon' are informal and are often best replaced with a more formal equivalent.
  • Other informal verbs of saying that are best avoided in academic writing are: 'come up with', 'guess', etc.
  • As regards referencing, it is usually best to put the year of publication straight after the name used, before going on with the sentence. The page reference can then be placed at the end of the sentence.

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