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What is academic English? Developing academic English

You may be confident in using English in everyday situations, but the kind of English you need for study is rather different. It is what is known as 'academic English' and is the type of English you need for

  • reading and understanding your study materials
  • writing about your subject.

Academic English is different from everyday spoken English. It may be used to

  • describe an object or situation
  • describe a process or how something works
  • explain something.

Much of academic English is about expressing the relationship between ideas. Although the language may be more complex than in everyday English, good academic writers aim to be as clear, precise and simple as possible. They think about what their readers know already, and aim to guide them towards less familiar areas and topics.

The ability to write in an academic style is something you develop as part of your university study. It is difficult to give overall 'rules' on the way to write for a university course, as academic subjects vary in

  • their vocabulary and expressions
  • the types of text used (for instance essays, reports, research articles or summaries)
  • how these texts are structured and organised.

In the following video, OU tutors talk about writing for university.

Academic English


Darron Board: With academic English one of the areas that students need to develop generally is the actual language needed to achieve the tasks that are expected of them in their disciplines and that depends a lot on the discipline that they're studying.

Zoe Doye: Its vital to do that because if you are going to continue in that discipline, if you're going to really communicate within the discipline you've got know how to communicate using the language that it uses.

Chris Lee: Essay writing is not taught directly in many schools now and so actually structuring an argument and developing steps in an argument can be difficult for students.

Darron Board: At work, they're used to writing reports and writing emails and they apply those same rules of what's expected of them there when they write their essays. What they have to remember of course is that you have workplace English and you have academic English.

Darron Board: Unless you actually teach people specific language, specific expressions, and give them lots of examples of where a writer has done that successfully, its very hard for students just to pick that up; that's not something they can just learn overnight.

Main features of academic English

  • is usually formal in tone and impersonal in style
  • avoids contractions or shortened forms of verbs, such as won't, doesn't or it's
  • avoids using a linking word such as 'and' or 'but' at the beginning of a sentence
  • avoids personal pronouns such as I, me, you, your
  • may use the passive form of verbs
  • avoids verbs that are composed of multiple words, such as 'give up', 'put up with'
  • tends to employ a cautious way of explaining findings, using expressions such as 'may', 'it is possible that...', 'could'
  • may use specialised vocabulary.

Last updated 6 months ago