Blog de Comunicación Académica

Técnicas de comunicación académica en español e inglés como lenguas extranjeras

British and American spelling

English spelling is difficult in itself, but to make matters worse there are two standard spelling systems, generally known as British and American spelling. When you choose the version of English that you use in Word, the program will automatically underline the words that are wrongly spelled. But it is still important to understand why those words are not right. Let us take a look at some of the main differences between British and American spelling.

Colour and color

In British English, some words end in “our”: labour, humour, flavour, colour, rigour, neighbour, candour. In American English, these words are written: labor, humor, flavor, color, rigor, neighbor, candor.

Theatre and theater

In British English, many words end in “re”: theatre, centre, litre, fibre, metre. In American English, these would be written: theater, center, liter, fiber, meter.

Defence and defense

In British English, some words end in “ence”, such as licence, offence, defence, pretence. In American English, these are written: license, offense, defense, pretense.

Analyse and analyze

British English users always write: analyse, catalyse, breathalyse, dialyse, paralyse. American users write: analyze, catalyze, breathalyze, dialyze, paralyze.

Travelled and traveled

Most of the time, when the final syllable of the root word is not stressed, the final consonant is not doubled when a suffix is added. However, in British English, the final consonant is always doubled if it is an “l”. So we write: travel, travelling, travelled, traveller, signal, signalling, signalled, signaller. American English is more logical, because the words ending in “l” follow the same rule as words ending in other letters: the last letter does not need to be doubled because the last syllable of the root word is not stressed. In American English it is correct to write: travel, traveling, traveled, traveler, signal, signaling, signaled, signaler.

Anaemia or anemia

British English preserves the “ae” and “oe” spellings used in classical Latin for scientific terminology: anaemia, haemoglobin, oedema, oestrogen. In American English these spellings are usually spelled with an “e”: anemia, hemoglobin, edema, estrogen.

Analogue or analog

The British English spellings analogue, catalogue, dialogue and monologue are sometimes maintained in American English, but sometimes the final “ue” (which is silent) is omitted. In American English it is quite acceptable to write: analog, catalog, dialog, monolog. Strangely enough, analog and catalog seem to be standard in American spelling, whereas dialogue and monologue are still found more often than their shorter equivalents.

The ise / ize difference is strictly speaking not a difference between British and American spelling: see ise and ize.


Which words always start with a capital letter?

It can be difficult to understand when we should begin a word with a capital letter in English, since the texts we read often seem to be following different rules or systems.

There are basically two types of rule governing capitalization. There are rules which are broadly accepted as features of the language, and other rules which admit variation according to the house style of the particular publisher or journal.

Let us look first at some of the basic rules which nearly always hold good:

  • For personal names, titles and proper names: Tony Blair, Field Marshal Montgomery, London, Bayswater, the Thames, Essex.
  • For points of the compass in geographical names with recognised status, such as East Africa, North Korea (but not for unofficial descriptions like northern England).
  • For days and months, and for important days or festivals: Monday, January, Christmas Day, Easter, Whitsun. However, we do not use capitals for seasons: summer, winter.
  • For political parties or their representatives: Conservative, Democrat, Scottish Nationalist.
  • As a matter of protocol, when referring to the monarch, we write Her Majesty, and we call her son HRH the Prince of Wales.
  • In street names: 221 Baker Street.
  • For some wars: the First World War, the Wars of the Roses.
  • For the names of God: the Holy Trinity, God, Jehovah, Our Lord, Allah.
  • For religious affiliation: Muslim, Catholic, Baptist, Orthodox, Jewish, and for religions and related institutions: the Roman Catholic Church, Christianity, Islam.

Other rules may vary according to house style – in general, the more conservative the house style, the more likely the publication is to require capitalisation in the following cases:

  • For adjectives derived from proper names, such as Homeric, Darwinian, Marxist. However, if the connection between the person and the adjective is felt to be remote or conventional, this is not usually done: quixotic, chauvinistic, roman numerals, etc.
  • For historical eras: the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Jurassic era. But not archaological or geological eras: neolithic, palaeolithic.

One particularly complicated area is that of titles. In book titles, all the content words usually begin with a capital letter: Great Expectations, The Name of the Rose. When citing a book title, it is usual to follow this convention. The same holds for the names of poems, songs or paintings: The Charge of the Light Brigade, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, The Haywain. On the other hand, although this rule is easy to understand, it is inconvenient when we are citing works with long titles, and so we find an increasing tendency for the titles of academic articles to use lower case throughout (except the first letter and any proper names). So journal articles are often referred to as follows: ‘Some lesser known problems in Tacitus’, or ‘Does memorizing lead to better learning?’

How to write the “highlights” for a research paper

One of the most recent innovations in academic publishing is the “highlights” section, which often appears immediately after the article’s title in online journals. Some authors may wonder why they now have to produce a “highlights” section as well as an abstract, and how they should go about writing it.

In fact, this is a very new development. Elsevier journals started inserting highlights sections around 2010 and gradually phased this feature in across their whole range. Since Elsevier is the largest publisher of scientific journals, currently running around 3000 titles, its decision to introduce highlights has had a major impact on the sector as a whole. Now that the “highlights” sections are mandatory, Elsevier has now moved on to the second stage of what is evidently a long-term plan: in January 2014 Elsevier launched a “Research Highlights app” which is designed to make it easy to consult research papers on a smartphone – something that would not be possible if information were not available in the condensed, schematic format provided by the title and “highlights”.

So what exactly should the “highlights” section contain? Since this is a new genre, there is a certain amount of confusion among authors, and a high degree of variation can be observed between the “highlights” sections of different journals and papers, which range from lists of keywords displayed with bullet points, to detailed and complex accounts of results. According to the official Elsevier authors’ website, highlights are “a short collection of bullet points that convey the core findings” and provide researchers with a quick overview of the article in text form. Moreover, according to the same authors’ website, highlights should “describe the essence of the research (e.g. results or conclusions) and highlight what is distinctive about it”. Yet a cursory glance at the examples provided on the authors’ website is enough to tell us that this is not the whole truth. In fact, the examples provided by the publisher itself seem to suggest that the highlights can best be understood as a highly condensed abstract foregrounding the design of the study, on the one hand, and the results, on the other.

In particular, two features of the examples recommended by Elsevier should be noted. First, in these examples, the first one or two sentences in the “highlights” are used to orientate the reader as to the nature of the study, while the rest are a summary of the main results. Second, even though the characteristic format of the “highlights” section is the use of bullet points, in Elsevier’s examples the highlights themselves are expressed in full sentences, rather than making use of the more schematic style permitted in English when using bullet points. Taken together, these features suggest that when writing highlights, it is best to think of them as a kind of short abstract, than as either a summary of results or a list of points.

Perhaps the best advice is to allow yourself to be guided by the comment made by one researcher who found that the highlights were “quick to read and gave me a flavour of the research without giving me too much to sift through”. The aim of the “highlights” section is that researchers who glance at their mobile phone in search of information should able to read something comprehensible on a field they know little about. So you should start with a sentence that orientates the reader as to the nature of the study. Then move on to explain your most interesting findings in simple terms. Finish with a sentence that summarizes what your study contributes to the field. The language should be clear, concise and to the point, and you should use full sentences

For examples, see:


Problems with word order

In English, the order of the words is more fixed than it is in Spanish. It is usual to begin with the subject, followed by the verb, followed by the object, and then add any extra element in the sentence:

  • Lucy speaks German very fluently.
  • The driver could not keep the car under control.

Adverbs of frequency, amplifiers and downtoners are often placed before the main verb:

  • Hospitals are regularly visited by inspectors.
  • People frequently use the infinitive to indicate purpose.
  • I absolutely refuse to listen to them.
  • His mother mildy disapproved of his new friend.

It is important for Spanish speakers to remember that adverbs of manner generally go after the verb, or if there is an object, after the object:

  • He speaks very well.
  • He speaks German very well.
  • She plays badly.
  • She plays the piano badly.

Adverbs are never placed between the verb and the object.

Word order is more difficult in the case of questions. In simple, direct questions, the subject and verb are inverted, and if the verb is not a modal verb, the inversion is made with the substitute verb “do”:

  • Are you a good swimmer?
  • Can you swim?
  • Do you know how to swim?

The problem comes when the question is not a direct question, but is incorporated into another sentence. In such cases, there is no inversion: in other words, we return to the normal subject – verb – object structure:

  • When are you going out?
  • He asked me when I was going out.
  • How many books do we need to read?
  • We asked them how many books we needed to read.
  • What time is it?
  • He asked me what time it was.

Another issue that causes difficulty is what is known as “negative inversion”. This is used for special emphasis, usually to stress a negative or dramatic word.

  • I have never seen such an untidy room. (normal word order)
  • Never have I seen such an untidy room. (negative inversion)

Since negative inversions function rather like question forms, if the first verb is not a modal verb, the inversion is performed with “do”:

  • Wiggins not only won the Tour de France, but he also received a gold medal in the Olympics.
  • Not only did Wiggins win the Tour de France, but he also received a gold medal in the Olympics.

For more information on adverbs, see: Adverbs
And to practise negative inversions, see: Negative inversion practice exercise

Me quedaré POR dos días

Al ocuparse de la preposición por, las gramáticas señalan su empleo con complementos de lugar (Andar por el campo / Estaremos por esa calle) o de tiempo aproximado (Vendrá por marzo).

Existe, por otra parte, un uso en el que por se utiliza en expresiones temporales que marcan la duración mediante una cantidad determinada:

  • Estaré de viaje por tres meses.

Este tipo de expresiones resulta especialmente característico en

  • hablantes de las variedades del español de América:

Luego de permanecer por 14 años en la calle San Juan Bosco, Marino’s abre una sucursal, que luego se convirtió en la principal, en la Plaza Intercaribe, en la calle Lope de Vega esquina Rafael Augusto Sánchez, en Naco.

  • hablantes de inglés como lengua materna o segunda que aprenden español, como traslación del uso de for:

Me quedaré en España por dos meses.

Sin embargo, en los últimos años se ha observado un incremento en el empleo de estas construcciones también en hablantes del español peninsular:

  • “Una mano asesina consiguió acabar con su vida, pero el poso de su labor permanecerá por mucho tiempo” (La Vanguardia, Cartas de los lectores 30/1/1995).

Es cierto, como señala la Academia en su Gramática, que este uso de por en español se encuentra ya en los textos antiguos, por lo que no puede decirse que su presencia en nuestra lengua se deba únicamente a la influencia del inglés. Ahora bien, este recrecimiento de última hora y su especial incidencia en el lado americano llevan a relacionar este fenómeno con el influjo externo.
En consecuencia, para un uso adecuado de estas construcciones habrá que tener en cuenta que:

  1. se trata de expresiones correctas en todas las normas cultas del español;
  2. el español peninsular prefiere, por más espontáneas y frecuentes, las expresiones con durante o sin preposición, dependiendo del interés del hablante por marcar la duración:


  • Estuvo con él todo el día / Estuvo con él durante todo el día
  • el español americano conoce cualquiera de las tres opciones (por, durante o sin preposición);
  • el uso estilísticamente más adecuado será aquel que se muestre de acuerdo con las preferencias de la norma culta en la que se desenvuelve el hablante, según las indicaciones que acabamos de presentar.

En el español de los hablantes extranjeros suele darse, además, un uso muy próximo al ya visto, con el mismo tipo de complementaciones, que procede de la confusión entre por y para. Se trata de la utilización incorrecta de por con valor de finalidad:

  • ?Vendré a España por dos meses/ Vendré a España para dos meses

Estas construcciones con para nacen de la elisión de un verbo (estar o quedarme en el ejemplo).

En esta ocasión se considerará correcto únicamente el uso de para.

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Uso y abuso de la pasiva

Desde hace tiempo se viene denunciando cierto abuso de las construcciones pasivas con auxiliar en el lenguaje periodístico, donde se vincula a la traducción apresurada y directa de noticias de agencias internacionales. Últimamente se advierte también en géneros académicos, y no solo en trabajos redactados por alumnos no hispanohablantes, sino también en aquellos de hablantes nativos de español que realizan una versión demasiado literal de fuentes manejadas en lengua inglesa:

  • Causas variadas han sido señaladas para este fenómeno que solo recientemente ha sido descrito.
  • Por ejemplo, del director de Dal’stroy fue dicho que “su palabra era ley a lo largo de los vastos territorios de las tierras del noreste” (Conquest 1990).

En la mayor parte de estos casos resulta preferible la pasiva con se, mucho más natural: “Se han señalado causas variadas para este fenómeno que solo recientemente se ha descrito/ha sido descrito”, “del director de Dal’stroy se dijo que…”.

Por otra parte, la perífrasis de pasiva puede contribuir al estilo nominal si se combina con otros elementos que alargan innecesariamente el texto, en un tipo de discurso claramente artificioso:

  • Con el trabajo ya concluido, esperamos que los conocimientos del lector hayan sido aumentados y este es invitado a llevar a cabo la consulta de la bibliografía en aras de una mayor profundización en el tema.

Aunque el complemento agente puede no estar expreso, lo cierto es que la pasiva con auxiliar tiende a emplearse normalmente cuando el agente es relevante y, por tanto, se hace explícito:

  • El trabajo fue traducido por un especialista de renombre internacional / ?Los trabajos serán recogidos en la oficina correspondiente (Los trabajos se recogerán en la oficina correspondiente)

Además, parece clara la preferencia en ciertos contextos por el uso de la pasiva con agente si este designa una pluralidad y no un individuo específico:

  • Los informativos de la televisión pública son criticados por mucha gente /?Los informativos de la televisión pública son criticados por el profesor de géneros periodísticos (El profesor de géneros periodísticos critica los informativos de la televisión pública)
  • El libro fue comentado por los alumnos/?El libro fue comentado por mi compañero (Mi compañero comentó el libro)

En cambio, son raros –y generalmente vinculados al lenguaje jurídico- los casos de pasiva refleja con agente:

  • En su día se dictó sentencia por el tribunal competente.

Ciertamente, el discurso escrito formal admite la pasiva con auxiliar en mayor proporción que la comunicación informal, pero habrá que evitar usos claramente artificiales o la acumulación innecesaria de estas construcciones, especialmente cuando se parafrasean fuentes en inglés.