“Different from” versus “Unlike”

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I see this commonly in scholarly papers, so I figured I’d make a quick post about it.

Often I will see a sentence that begins with the words “Different from.” Although this phrase works well in the middle of sentences, in my opinion it is not very good for starting sentences.

For instance, in the example sentence below, the author wishes to show a difference between two models.

“Different from previous studies, this study controls for socioeconomic status.”

The meaning of course is that Model 1 does not include the controls, Model 2 does include the controls, and that that is the difference being pointed out in this sentence.

Although “different from” is correct, it soundsĀ unnaturalĀ to me, and it is not the most concise option. A better option for opening a sentence like this is “unlike.”

“Unlike previous studies, this study controls for socioeconomic status.”

There are other ways to reword the sentence of course, but there is no need to do so. You can keep your structure and just make this minor change, and it will sound more natural and direct.

Note that you can use the term “different from” naturally in the middle of a sentence. Oxford has a nice post on that, so I won’t repeat it here.

However, for the example sentence above, you would write, “Model 2 is different from Model 2 in that the former includes controls for socioeconomic status and gender.” Although this is fine, it is not as concise as the second example above, which is the best option for a scholarly paper.

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Rocky Citro

Hi, my name is Rocky, and I am a technical academic editor with over a decade experience editing for professors and graduate students in prestigious universities. I have also taught writing at the graduate and undergraduate level and have several years' TEFL teaching experience.