What is Academic English?

Academic English is a specialised genre of English found in journal papers, academic books, PhD theses, dissertations and essays. It’s a style of English that is objective, cautious, formal and evidence-based. In this blog post, I’m going to talk about four key features of academic writing.

1. An objective viewpoint

Being objective is an essential component of academic English. It involves writing about a topic without letting your own personal biases and opinions influence your academic ideas or how you structure an argument. Everything you say should be backed up by factual evidence.

2. Specialised vocabulary

Each academic field has its own specialised vocabulary. It’s important to know and use this vocabulary in your own work. For example, in my field of sociolinguistics I used terms such as language ideology, indexicality, linguistic diffusion, dialect levelling, phoneme, monophthong and diphthong in my academic writing.

But as well as discipline-specific ‘academic jargon’, there are certain expressions that are used to describe, analyse and evaluate information. I’ll explain these in more detail in a later blog post, but examples include argues that, comments that, suggests that, demonstrates that, in contrast, therefore, it seems to be the case that, it could be argued that, and so on. Having a good awareness of academic stock words and phrases will help you to write academic English.

3. Formal language

Another key component of academic English is the use of formal language. Academic writing does not contain verbal contractions such as there’s, don’t, doesn’t, didn’t, isn’t, won’t and who’s. Informal, chatty forms are also avoided such as really, great, nice, loads of, lots of, etc. Sentences tend to be long, with arguments expressed cautiously. There is also frequent use of the passive voice, which allows the focus to be placed on the result of an action rather than the agent of an action – e.g. the objects were classified (passive voice) / they classified the objects (active voice).

4. Referencing other work

Academic writing requires you to back up your ideas and arguments with evidence from other studies or other available data. And this evidence needs to be referenced, both in the text and in a reference list at the end of your document. The work is referenced according to a specific referencing style – popular ones being Harvard and Chicago.

If you have any comments about your experiences of learning or using academic English, please feel free to share them below. :)

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