When you begin writing your dissertation, you will need to decide what style of English to use.
The most commonly used dialects are American English, British English and Australian English. Although these dialects follow many of the same rules, they also have some important differences – especially in relation to spelling.
Why is it so complicated?
After winning their independence from the British, Americans used language as a way to create their own identity. This led to many variations in spelling and punctuation, among other things. Australia also developed its own written conventions, which lie somewhere between those of the US and the UK (although they tend to be more British). Of the three, Australian English is generally the most flexible.
Basic spelling differences
The following “cheat sheet” outlines the preferred spelling of some words that are commonly used in academic writing.
Don’t forget: Consistency is key!
Each word should of course be spelled the same throughout your document. However, it’s also important not to use a mix of English styles.
The defense minister first travelled to China in 2013. (US English/UK English)
The defense minister first traveled to China in 2013. (all US English)
The defence minister first travelled to China in 2013. (all UK English)
In addition, the same spelling should generally be used for all forms of a word.
The organization is headquartered in Osaka, but it usually organizes workshops in Tokyo. (allUS English)
The colours of the samples varied greatly, but smallest sample was the most colourful. (allUK English)
Which type of English should I choose?
Some universities have a preference, so you may wish to check your school’s website for guidance. If you are free to decide yourself, it’s best to pick the style that feels most natural to you. Once you have done so, make sure that this is the language that is set for your document (in Microsoft Word, select Tools à Language).
Further understanding the differences
If you want to know more about spelling and other grammatical differences between these styles of English, the below tables provide more details. Bear in mind that the rules are not always very firm: there are many exceptions, and conventions are always changing!
Spelling: As can be seen, the variation usually relates to just one or two letters.
Punctuation: Here the main differences relate to whether to use single or double quotation marks, and where to put other punctuation in relation to those quotation marks.
Verb forms: The different styles of English do not always agree about whether singular or plural verbs should be used with certain nouns. There is also disagreement about some past forms of verbs.
Abbreviations: There is also disagreement over how to use periods in abbreviations.
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