Academic English

As you've probably guessed, there is a difference between Academic and General English. Even if you're a competent user of English, developing your Academic English skills and vocabulary is a good idea if you're currently studying. 

Academic English Academic English

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Table of contents

    Academic English Meaning

    Academic English (AE) is the specific 'branch' of English we use to read, study, and write about academic subjects. AE typically has its own style, tone, vocabulary, and structure than can differ from everyday English use.

    Although Academic English often contains complex vocabulary and sentence structures, good academic writing should still be clear, concise, and easy to read. After all, who really wants to read a sentence that looks like this:

    "It has been unequivocally deliberated for millennia the precise inception of 'language' amongst scholars and linguists alike, for whom the answer appears ineffable."

    Nobody. That's who!

    An important consideration of Academic English and academic writing is the audience. Generally, when writing an academic piece (e.g., an essay), the intended audience is knowledgeable in the field and is familiar with Academic English. Good academic writers utilize academic vocabulary and structures they believe their readers to be comfortable with and guide them through and explain new or unknown terms and topics.

    Using vocabulary such as framework or paradigm is encouraged and need not be explained in detail within the essay. On the other hand, essay-specific vocabulary, such as sociolect or English as a lingua franca, should be explained.

    Not only does this guide and inform your reader, but it also shows that you fully understand what you're talking about.

    Academic vocabulary can differ across disciplines, and while some vocabulary is shared across all subjects, some are more subject-specific.

    Academic English, Man reading, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Your academic writing should still be enjoyable to read.

    When To Use Academic English

    Using Academic English isn't always appropriate. For example, you wouldn't ask your friends to "Examine the sample results from the group chat and deduce who may be attending the gathering that evening" - that would just sound odd.

    We usually use Academic English in academia (surprise!). Example include:

    • Research and reports

    • Proposals

    • Essays

    • Presentations

    • Books

    • Journals

    • Dissertations

    Features Of Academic English

    Although AE can differ across disciplines, some features of Academic English should always be followed. They are:

    • Formal

    • Avoids contractions, e.g., don't, can't, isn't

    • Avoids colloquialisms and slang

    • Written in the 3rd person, e.g., The linguist David Crystal stated he believed ...

    • Avoids personal pronouns, e.g., I

    • Use of passive voice, e.g., Research was undertaken

    • Cautious and objective, i.e., using hedging words to show how most things are not 100% certain, e.g., could, might, may

    • Evidenced and cited, e.g., There are currently more non-native English speakers than native English speakers (Crystal, 2011).

    • Critical i.e., explores gaps and bias in the knowledge and evidence

    • Explicit, i.e., follows an objective and purpose rather than creativity

    • Linear, i.e., follows a structured plan

    • Balanced, i.e., doesn't contain a lot of emotive language or biased opinions

    • Referenced - most examples of academic writing are accompanied by a reference list

    Academic English Examples

    Before we look at an example passage of Academic English, let's first see some examples of Academic English words and phrases.

    Academic English Words

    Here are some examples of Academic English vocabulary. For a complete list of academic vocabulary, take a look at The Academic Word List (AWL) - a comprehensive compilation of English words often found in academia.

    Cohesive Devices (linking words that show the relationship between ideas) - however, therefore, furthermore, moreover, equally, by comparison, firstly

    Reporting verbs - depicts, shows, suggests, proposed, posited, persuaded, clarifies, disputes, uncovers

    Action verbs - define, interpret, analyze, indicate, compare, contrast, discuss, summarize, synthesize

    Hedging words (to show lack of certainty) - appears to, seems to, may, might, could

    Research - source, method, framework, paradigm, brief, quantitative, qualitative, deduce, data

    General academic words - approach, concept, context, sector, discipline, discriminate, figure, glossary

    Subject-specific academic words - linguistics, discourse, dialect, semantics, denotative, connotative, dialogue, etymology, exposition, perspective

    Academic English Phrases

    Using the correct phrases can help add structure and meaning to your academic writing. Here are some phrases you can use based on your intended purpose.

    • Being Critical

      • The journal/paper fails to analyze/specify/explain/distinguish ...

      • It might have been beneficial to ...

      • A key weakness in this study is ...

    • Comparing and Contrasting

      • There are a number of key differences/similarities between X and Y, such as ...

      • Key similarities/differences include ...

      • By contrast ...

    • Being Cautious
      • It could be suggested that ...
      • It has been reported that ...
      • Recent research suggests ...
    • Defining/introducing terms

      • Previous studies define X as ...

      • The term X was first introduced in ...

      • X is a contested term; however ...

    • Giving Examples
      • A notable example of X is ...
      • Evidence of this can be seen ...
      • This is evident in ...
    • Showing transition

      • With regards to X ...

      • As previously stated,

      • Let us now consider ...

    Academic English, Writing, StudySmarterFig. 2. - Use different phrases throughout your writing to keep it interesting and varied.

    Sample Of Academic English

    Take a look at the following sample and highlight the features of Academic English.

    As previously stated, there are now more non-native English speakers worldwide than native speakers (Crystal, 2011). Therefore, it could be argued that non-native English speakers are having a more significant impact on the future of the English language than native speakers. Research conducted by the linguist Kirpatrick (2018) found that a large number of non-native speakers in Thailand were more concerned with being understood by other non-natives than communicating with native speakers. Compared with the data Crystal collected in 1992, it is apparent that there has been a shift in non-native English speakers' attitudes towards their language learning.

    English For Academic Purposes

    English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is a program or course of study designed to prepare non-native English speakers for their academic studies. EAP is a branch of English Langauge Teaching (ELT) and English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and is often taught to students prior to them starting a university course.

    EAP courses teach academic vocabulary and appropriate grammar, syntax, and punctuation. It also covers academic skills, such as analysis, planning, notetaking, researching, and criticality.

    Although EAP courses are generally aimed toward non-native English speakers, many colleges run pre-sessional courses for all students that focus on developing academic skills.

    Academic English Vs. General English

    Here is a handy table outlining the key differences between General English and Academic English:

    General English Academic English
    Can contain figurative language, such as metaphors and similes Should never contain figurative language
    Often contains contractions, e.g., don'tShould never contain contractions
    Contains emotive language Should be balanced, non-biased, and contain little emotive language
    Contains slang, colloquialisms, and idioms Shouldn't contain slang, colloquialisms, or idioms
    Can be formal or informal Should always be formal
    Often contains personal pronouns, e.g., I, we Should be written in 3rd person

    Academic English - Key Takeaways

    • Academic English (AE) is the specific 'branch' of English we use to read, study, and write about academic subjects
    • Good academic writing considers the audience and uses academic vocabulary whilst guiding the reader through new or unknown terms
    • Key features of Academic English include: formality, written in 3rd person, avoiding slang and colloquialisms, avoiding contractions, being objective and structured, referenced
    • Academic phrases can help add structure and meaning to our academic writing
    • English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is a program designed to prepare non-native English speakers for their academic studies
    Frequently Asked Questions about Academic English

    What are examples of academic English?

    Academic English is the style of English you'll find in academia, such as in essays, dissertations, journals, and research reports. 

    What is the difference between English and academic English?

    Whereas General English is more representative of general everyday English use, Academic English is a more formal and structured version of English used in academia. Unlike General English, Academic English cannot contain slang, figurative language, contractions, first-person pronouns, or colloquialisms. 

    What are the main characteristics of academic English?

    Some of the main characteristics of Academic English are:

    • Formal
    • No colloquialisms or slang 
    • No contractions 
    • Written in 3rd person 
    • Use of the passive voice 
    • Cautious and objective
    • Cited and referenced 
    • Critical 
    • Balanced 

    Why is academic English important?

    Academic English allows researchers and academics to use a standardized version of English that is structured, balanced, objective, critical, referenced, and formal.

    What is Academic English?

    Academic English (AE) is a specific 'branch' of English we use to read, study, and write about academic subjects. AE typically has its own style, tone, vocabulary, and structure than can differ from everyday English use. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Academic English is ____.

    True or false, it's okay to use contractions in academic writing 

    What term best describes the target audience for academic writing?

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    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Academic English Teachers

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    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
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