I'm writing a policy-relevant paper with policy recommendation. My supervisor (non-native in English) told me that I should not use a word 'should' for writing sentences for policy recommendation because the term is too strong in academic papers. An example of the sentence is like '..., the *** should be taken into account.' Do you have any suggestions for alternative words/phrases for 'should'?

5 Answers 5


The word "should" is not appropriate if you are recommending a policy action.

It is not, as you suggest, that it is too strong. It is too weak. The word does not carry the nuance of recommendation, only of opinion.

I would recommend that you use the word "recommend", as that is what you are doing.


I don't think this boils down to a simple question of word-choice; you should structure your writing so that you avoid overt dictates of this sort and use analytical forms to convince readers of the 'rightness' of your position. For example, instead of saying:

..., the *** should be taken into account.

it's better to say something more intellectually authoritative, like:

..., *** is an important factor; the presence of *** gives us insight into (yadda-yadda-yadda).

In other words, don't tell people what they should do; lay out that which is rational and effective, and allow people to decide for themselves whether they should do it. No one likes to be told what to do, but most people will respond to a good, reasonable argument.


Samuel Johnson famously said that people more often need to be reminded than instructed. This approach avoids offending readers who might already agree with you and may flatter others into that you assume they are already cognizant of the issues. Sometimes the final result is that your readers adopt your conclusions thinking it was wholly their own idea.


The answers here are good, and do give good solutions; instead of saying what they should do, you tell them what you recommend they do, or, you simply lay out the facts and let them decide on their own.

Here's another alternative. Assume a few premises, give reasons for those assumptions, and then make an "should/ought" statement based on those premises.

Example: Your spouse suddenly starts wanting a dog, and asks you what you think about it.

(1) You could say: "We shouldn't get a dog, because it demands a lot of time and resources."

(2) Or, you could say: "We are both feeling quite stressed out by all of our workload recently. That, in addition to all of these community programs we're involved in, we sure are quite busy nowadays. And then there's the wage cuts we've had, and our car broke down, which was a blow to the wallet. A dog would take away even more time and money. Given that we're struggling with too little time to relax, and not enough money, I don't think we want to worsen that. Based on that, I don't think we should get a dog."

Ought-statements are written in bold, is-statements written in plain text and the assumptions italicized. What's the difference between (1) and (2)? The reasoning seems identical, the formulation however, is not. In (1), we have an ought-statement and an is-statement; the assumption is only implied. The problem by not explicitly stating the assumption—and in the process, treating it as an assumption—is that you wind up implying the opposite; it isn't an assumption. With a formulation akin to (1), you take the assumption as a given; as self-evident. If one takes one's own assumptions as naturally/automatically/self-evidently correct, then one is being authoritative and egocentric. When one formulates oneself similar to (1), this is the impression that is given off, even if the recipient isn't necessarily consciously aware of this impression.

Now, the recipient may actually agree with the assumption that's implied in (1), but due to the authoritative and egocentric manner in which it is formulated, they may feel almost automatically opposed to it; people don't like being told what to do and people don't like when others assume they're just correct.

With (2), you make it painstakingly clear what the ought- and is-statements are, and you also show your assumption and put it on the table as something that can be questioned. You give off humility and come across as someone wanting to discuss, not command. This will make the recipient much more prone to objective discussion and earnest consideration; they'll look at the assumption and be much more likely to realize they agree with it. Now, (2) was perhaps formulated in a bit of an unnatural way, given the casual scenario. In academia however, the formulation of (2) is actually a lot more befitting. I chose the casual scenario because it was easier to come up with. Hope this helps.


I'm going to be simple here. Should is used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone's actions or to indicate what is probable.

Use Thesaurus. com and search for the synonyms for 'Should'

Results: Could, might, would, shall, ought-to, may

I hope this helps.

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