Introduction to Academic English

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Lessons (2): English for Academic Purposes

University library
Academic English

English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is a style of writing.
It's used in universities, and in professional books and articles.

I teach academic English; to find out more about me, please click here.
I also proof-read articles for publication in professional journals.


What does academic English look like?

Ordinary English: “It's mainly working-class women who smoke while they are pregnant. There haven't been many scientific studies of why they do or don't stop smoking.”

Academic English: “Although smoking prevalence amongst pregnant women is highest amongst those of lower socio-economic status, the factors associated with cessation in this high risk group are poorly documented.”

Even British and American students aged 18 are unable to write academic English or read it easily. They know the basics, and they will learn the rest at university. This will take at least two years of regular reading, practice and correction. If English is not your first language, nobody expects you to write good academic English at the age of 18. However, if you want to study in Britain or America, you need to know some.


You need to learn academic English if:

  • You want to take the IELTS, TOEIC or TOEFL examinations. IELTS means International English Language Testing System. The IELTS Academic exam uses extremely academic English.
    Even the IELTS General Training exam is very academic; to get a perfect score you may need to know words and expressions that most people in London and New York don’t know. For example plagiarise, transcribe and peer group
  • You want to go to a British or American university.
  • You want to write articles for international scientific or academic journals.
  • There are two ways to learn academic English:

    1) Slowly and naturally. If you learn English at school in the usual way, you will automatically start to learn academic English as you go from Intermediate to Upper Intermediate (CEFR B1 to B2).
    2) Fast and with a headache. Students at B1 and B2 level can learn academic English by studying books and CDs that are specially made for IELTS and PET students.


    Where do you find academic English?

    English for Academic Purposes is used for university writing, and it’s essentially the same as a lawyer's formal written English. Not the letters we write to you, the client; the other kind!

    I have many years practical experience of EAP. I was a lawyer for 20 years, I wrote and proof-read a legal textbook for the Law Society, and I have proof-read and corrected scientific and academic articles for professional journals including:

  • Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (Plast. Reconstr. Surg.)
  • Annales de Chirurgie Plastique Esthétique (Ann Chir Plast Esthet)
  • Health Information Management Journal (HIMJ)
  • Revue Neurologique (Rev Neurol, Société Française de Neurologie)
  • Explorations in Economic History (Elsevier)
  • Annals of Economics and Statistics (ADRES)

      Typical characteristics of academic English

    • EAP should be precise, with measurements and percentages, not vague adjectives like more and very.
    • EAP should say what we know, and what we don't know. That's why it often uses indirect English with modal verbs (may, might, could) and qualifications (according to, it may be that, there is evidence that) if a thing is possible, not definite.
    • EAP is usually impersonal and objective. That's why it uses the passive voice a lot, to avoid saying "I did this" or "We did that".
      Unlike ordinary English, EAP does not contain social signalling. ("This is the kind of person I am; this is the kind of person I think you are.")
    • EAP and formal written English both avoid contractions like can't, won't and don't; they say cannot, will not and do not.
    • An abbreviation is usually defined the first time it appears in the document.
    • EAP and formal written English both use long words and phrases (become, initiate, verify) instead of common short words (get, start, check).
    • They often use long sentences. However, short sentences are much easier to understand. We'll look at this point again.
    • Academic documents often have a particular structure. Start with a title, using common search terms for your subject; then author information; then your abstract (background, methods, results, conclusions); then your keywords; introduction; materials & methods; results; discussion; acknowledgments, if any; bibliography; and finally any appendices.

    I have a whole series of lessons on academic English, and they're not all on this page. However, we’ll look at most of these points in more detail below.


    Why do people use academic English?

  • Most university tutors and examiners prefer students to use academic English. If you can’t read some academic English, you probably won’t get into university in Britain or the USA.
  • There are perhaps 20 major scientific and academic publishers in the world. They all reject articles in ordinary English.
  • Most scientific journals in the world are written in English. For example, the Journal of Forestry Research is based in China, and the Annals of Forest Science is based in France. They are both published by Springer, which is based in Berlin, but they are published in academic English.

    In the Netherlands, 45 academic articles are written in English for every 1 in Dutch. In Italy and Russia the ratio is 30 articles in English for 1 in Italian or Russian. In Germany, France and Spain the ratio is 8 to 1. Even in China, more scientific articles are now published in English than in Chinese (source: SCOPUS on

    Even though scientific and academic authors usually speak excellent English, most articles are checked and corrected by a native English speaker before publication - because academic English is a particular style.

    University quad

    Who else uses academic English?

    Apart from university tutors and scientific publishers, academic English is popular with:

  • Intellectual magazines like The Economist and the New York Review of Books.
  • Wikipedia. Lots of Wikipedia articles are very difficult to read unless you went to a British or American university. Some Wikipedia articles are also in what they call “Simple English”, but this often leaves out most of the information, because Simple English is not only for people who are learning English. It’s also for children and adults with mental problems (“cognitive deficits”).

    Good and bad academic English

    Many people feel that academic English should be difficult. They say that if ordinary people can read it without aspirin and a dictionary, it is not academic English. It’s a point of view, but personally I agree with Albert Einstein’s comment that “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

    Academic English is a style, but there are many varieties. You should learn the kind of English that is used by your profession. Doctors and engineers usually write letters and articles in fairly easy English. Lawyers are more formal and harder to understand. Social workers and occupational therapists often write very difficult English.

    Each profession has its little conventions and codes. For example, one orthopaedic surgeon writing to another about a patient will usually describe him as "this pleasant man". If the surgeon just calls the patient "this man" it means the patient is unpleasant, possibly unhygienic and probably dishonest.


    Characteristics of academic English

    In ordinary English, we use: In good academic English, we use:
    That very flexible verb, to get. Longer verbs (to become, to obtain, to achieve, to arrive, to understand)
    Short, common verbs:
    to think
    to want
    to end
    Longer verbs (and see below):
    to consider
    to be interested in, to prefer
    to finish, to terminate, to conclude
    Short, common phrasal verbs:
    to get rid of .......
    to come up with .....
    to go back...........
    to look for..........
    to look up...........
    to figure out........
    to make a note of ...
    Single, less common verbs:
    to remove, to eliminate
    to devise, to produce
    to return
    to seek
    to research
    to deduce, to calculate
    to record
    Direct personal writing using the active voice:
    We designed a questionnaire to...
    We were able to / We couldn’t ...
    I did the survey because I wanted to test my idea that...
    I was surprised because...

    Indirect, impersonal writing using the passive voice:
    A questionnaire was designed to...
    It was found possible to / It was not possible to...
    The purpose of the survey was to test the proposition that...
    This conflicts sharply with...
    it wasn’t
    he didn’t
    they won’t
    it can’t
    No contractions:
    it was not
    he did not
    they will not
    it cannot
    Imprecise words and phrases:
    The wind was quite strong
    Precise words: additional 2 cc... possibility considered by Smith et al. [23] is that...
    The wind was Force 6 Beaufort.
    Open definitions, often ending with etc or and so on.
    The study examined injuries caused deliberately, accidentally, etc.
    Typical pets include cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, and so on.
    Closed definitions.
    The study examined accidents caused both deliberately and accidentally.

    Typical pets include cats, dogs, rabbits and hamsters.
    Wide, general, dogmatic assertions:
    1. It is known that ... / Everybody knows that...
    2. Dogs evolved from wolves.
    3. This is very interesting...
    4. This is because...
    5. 80% of cats prefer Miaow...
    Restricted assertions (“hedging”):
    1. It is widely believed that...
    2. There is evidence that dogs evolved from wolves.
    3. This may be of interest to...
    4. This is apparently because...
    5. In a 1998 study by Smith et al [14], 80% of cats were found to prefer Miaow...
    Extremes and superlatives:
    literally [unless you mean literally*]
    unique [unless it is unique*]
    Either avoid them (which is usually best) or use more formal equivalents such as:
    *Literally means really. It does NOT mean metaphorically, so you can’t say “I had a terrible headache, my head literally exploded.” At least, not in academic writing. *Unique means “there is ONLY ONE like this in the world”. Unless you’re a real estate agent, in which case you can say things like “we have thirty absolutely unique houses for sale”.
    Subjective language:
    good, bad, very
    Objective language.

    A professional person wants the facts; he or she probably doesn’t want to hear our personal opinions or feelings. It may be appropriate to use more formal equivalents such as remarkable or striking; or high(ly) or poor(ly).

    Does acceptable or satisfactory mean “complies with the criteria set for this study"?
    Subjective language about conclusions:
    of course
    This shows...
    Objective language about conclusions:
    These figures demonstrate that...

    This is supported by statistical analysis showing a significant correlation between...
    Humour and jokes. No humour and no jokes. Really.
    Colloquial and regional expressions:
    The writer may be pulling your leg.
    They are looking to increase production by 15%.
    Expressions that people in China, Russia and Kuwait can understand:
    The writer may not be entirely serious.
    They intend to increase production by 15%.
    Slang words:
    OK, fine
    More formal alternatives:
    very large
    inconvenient, undesirable
    Informal words:
    a bit
    lots of / a lot of
    at the end of the day...
    More formal alternatives
    much / many/ several / seven
    to sum up...
    large, substantial, useful
    larger, more substantial, increased
    equipment? possessions?
    point, issue, object, item, purpose, concept
    ... there are endless possible alternatives for thing.
    But, So, And, Or or Indeed to start a sentence:

    But we found this was not the case.
    So there’s more risk of infection.
    And there are other disadvantages, like...
    Or possibly a third risk, of...
    NOTE: These words are "conjunctions" because they are used to connect two sentences. But(!) let's not be too pedantic; it’s OK to start 1% of your sentences with these words, except for “Indeed” which should be at 0%.
    More formal alternatives such as However, It follows that, Thus, Therefore and Alternatively:

    However this was found not to be the case.
    It follows that the risk of infection is higher.
    In addition there are other disadvantages, such as...
    There may also be a third risk, of...
    Unhelpful abbreviations:
    ... C2H5OH++...
    Ordinary words:
    ...excess alcohol...
    Abbreviations with no explanation:
    ... an LVHR...
    Does CA (or Ca) mean cancer, calcium, calcium agonist, carcinoma, cardiac arrest, catecholamine, chromatic aberration, cyanoacrylate, chartered accountant, civil aviation, Court of Appeal, Crédit Agricole, Canada...?
    Abbreviations with an explanation:
    ...a laparascopic ventral hernia repair (LVHR)...
    Rhetorical questions:
    Why do these rocks resist erosion?
    More formal statements:
    It is relevant to ask why these rocks resist erosion.
    Direct instructions to the reader:
    Note that this value is higher than in previous studies.
    Indirect suggestions:
    It is noteworthy that this value is higher than in previous studies.
    No citations:
    8 out of 10 cats prefer Miaow...
    Theodore Roosevelt was US president from 1901-1909
    Formal citations:
    Smith et al. [23] found that 80% of cats prefer Miaow...
    Theodore Roosevelt was US president from 1901-1909.
    (This time it’s fine; we don’t need a citation if a fact is common knowledge.)
    Our favourite words and phrases:
    There’s no dictionary definition of X.
    Conventional academic words and phrases:
    X remains a poorly defined term.

    You can find a superb list of phrases in the Manchester University Academic Phrasebank here:
    Odd punctuation:

    emojis, emoticons, the exclamation mark!, rows of full stops..., smileys
    Conventional punctuation:
    This means conventional English punctuation. English uses a full stop (a period) for decimals, so it is 35.7% not 35,7%; and there's usually a comma for thousands (6,250 not 6 250); and there is no space before an exclamation mark (Hi! not Hi !) or before a colon (:) or semi-colon (;).
    English writers don't use a row of dots ... at the end of a list ("Cats, dogs, rabbits...". If the list is complete, we write and or or before the last item in the list ("Cats, dogs and rabbits"); if the list is incomplete, we write etc after the last item ("Cats, dogs, rabbits, etc").


    Typical mistakes

    What are the typical mistakes of a university student aged 18? They understand that coursework and academic articles need an introduction, a logical structure with headings and references, a conclusion and a bibliography. They read the question carefully, and they answer that question. They’re intelligent people, so their coursework doesn’t contain words and phrases like 24/7, cool or sh*t. However they are a little insecure about their writing style.

    Problem 1) Young students use unfamiliar long words instead of ordinary short words, and this is fine if the long words are reasonably common like propose, examine and overcome. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use very unusual words like verisimilitude, vitiate or vicissitude. There is a list of 200 undesirable words at the end of this page. Try not to use highly technical words like ontology or epistemology unless you really have to, for example if you are writing about philosophy. Some words are archaic or rare; the verb “to acidulate” exists in the dictionary and is sometimes suggested by translation software. It means "to make more acid", but it is not used when writing about general chemistry, only in the brewing industry and by some cooks. Some words are often misused in professional writing, just because people think they sound better than the usual word. I quite often see the word concomitant used in medical articles as a synonym for simultaneous, but these words are not synonyms (they don't mean exactly the same thing).

    a) When you read textbooks and articles for your special subject, note and re-use the special vocabulary (well, perhaps not concomitant!)
    b) Don’t avoid all common words. If you mean “cat” or “car”, don’t say “feline” and “vehicle”.
    c) In case of doubt, you can check an unusual phrase on Google. Is it correct to say “create pneumoperitoneum”? Is “establish pneumoperitoneum” better? Is it "infective risk" or "infectious risk"? Type it into Google, and put it in quotes as a Boolean search. If you get only 2 Google hits for that phrase, it’s definitely wrong. If you get 200 hits it’s either wrong or a very specialist phrase. If you get 2,000 hits, it’s probably safe to use. If you get 20,000 or 200,000 you can relax. It’s real English.

    Problem 2) Young students use very long sentences. Lord Denning wrote the clearest English of any lawyer. He usually wrote short sentences, and so did Einstein. 20 or 30 words is a good length for a sentence. If your sentence has more than 2 subordinate clauses, you’ve got a problem. If it has more than 150 words, you’ve definitely got a problem. If it has 7 subordinate clauses and 225 words, your reader will probably have to read it two or three times.

    Solution: Divide your long sentence into two or three shorter sentences.

    Problem 3) They use the passive voice every time. Yes, we use the passive a lot in academic writing, but we don’t use it all the time. Here’s a good reason for using it - to be objective. In science, at least, our own personal beliefs and opinions are irrelevant. We want a universal scientific rule. We want to say what was done, but we don’t want to say who did it. We don’t want to say who the “agent” was.

    Here’s a bad reason for using it - just because you think it sounds good. Many university tutors say that students must never use the words I, my, our, we or us. That means you have to use the passive voice. We don’t say “I then heated the mixture to 250°C”; we say “The mixture was then heated to 250°C”. This sentence is OK; it’s part of the style of academic English. However it is too extreme to say that you should always use the passive voice. I have a separate lesson about the passive voice, but let’s just look at six sentences:


    Voice / agent Example Comment
    Passive voice without agent “A gap less than 2mm wide was not considered to be significant.” Whose opinion is this? A textbook writer's? The national safety authority's? Yours?
    Passive voice with agent "A gap less than 2mm was not considered by us to be significant.” This is clear, but it's not very elegant English.
    Active voice “We did not consider a gap less than 2mm to be significant.” This is the active voice; it's clear, and it's good English.

    If we need to say that a particular person did a particular thing, the active voice is often better:

    Voice / agent Example Comment
    Passive voice without agent “Many women activists were arrested during the first years of the 20th century. Golf courses were ruined and meetings were interrupted as they fought for their rights.” Obviously it was the police who arrested the women, but who ruined the golf courses, and who interrupted the meetings? Was it the activists? Was it the police? Or journalists, maybe? Or badgers?
    Passive voice with agent “Many women activists were arrested during the first years of the 20th century. Golf courses were ruined by the activists and meetings were interrupted by them as they fought for their rights.” Now we know who ruined the golf courses and meetings, but this is not very elegant English.
    Active voice Many women activists were arrested during the first years of the 20th century. As part of the fight for their rights, they ruined golf courses and interrupted meetings. This is clearer, more direct and easier to read.

    (NOTE: "Ruined" is emotive and exaggerated; "caused damage to" is better)

    Man on stilts 

    Bad academic English

    From Pirates of the Caribbean:
    Captain Barbossa: “I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request.
    Elizabeth Swann: “?
    Captain Barbossa: “It means ‘No’.


    Universities and publishers give a lot of good advice about academic writing, but some also say “don’t use ordinary short English verbs”. The result can be the sort of English that was spoken by Lord Curzon’s butler, back in the days of Queen Victoria and the Raj.

    If this is what we mean by academic English, then its real purpose is to say “We are intelligent people, you and I; and we are ladies and gentlemen.” It’s like being a member of the correct club or fraternity, or travelling First Class.

    The gentleman on the right is walking on stilts. We often use the word “stilted” about language which is “up on stilts” because it’s artificial, pompous and difficult to read.

    In the table below, the version on the left is clearer and easier to understand. The version on the right is stilted, but it may be better for you if people in your profession normally write like that.

    Good ordinary English Good academic English?
    You can see it if you look carefully. It is apparent only under close scrutiny.
    John wants to work with animals. John is interested in pursuing a career in animal husbandry.
    to think about to assess, to reassess, to examine, to re-examine, to appraise,
    to consider, to contemplate, to have in contemplation, to evaluate


    Some more comments from Einstein:

  • If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.”
  • "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."

    Here are some examples of incredibly bad academic English, taken from the Bad Writing Awards:

    (Bad) academic English Ordinary English
    “If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to “normalize” formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.” This is from a professor of English at a major American university. I have not put an equivalent in ordinary English, because I have no idea what he is trying to say, although I am English, I read a lot and I was a lawyer for twenty years. It's highly obstructive, and just shameful, really. Should this person be allowed to teach?
    “The individual member of the social community often receives his information via visual, symbolic channels." "People often read."
    (This translation into normal English is by a philosopher and physics professor, the late Richard Feynman.)
    “I do not intend to address the couple's relationship suffice it to say it is imbued with ambivalence : both having many commonalities emanating from their histories that create what could be a long lasting connection or alternative relationship that are a reflection of this. Such is this connection they may collude to undermine the placement.”*

    *This was a social worker’s report in a 2012 legal case. The judge said the report “might just as well have been written in a foreign language”. Bad punctuation, too.
    "It is not clear whether this couple love or respect each other. They come from similar backgrounds. I don’t understand it. It may cause problems if the children go to live with their grandmother."
    20% of respondents utilized a computer.
    [Use is a good word; utilize is ugly English.]
    20% of respondents used a computer.
    This modification necessitated further iterative testing.
    [Necessitate is another unnecessarily ugly word,
    and iterative does not add anything useful to this sentence.]
    As a result of this change, more testing was required.
    the paradigm case a good example
    deleterious bad, harmful, unfavourable
    to commence, to initiate to start
    to manifest itself to appear
    To me, the only thing that manifests itself is a ghost (a spirit, spectre, phantom, apparition, poltergeist, revenant, djinn, efreet or spook).
    the dominant / the predominant the main / the most important
    at a greater elevation than, superjacent to above, higher than, over
    manuscript, holographic handwritten


    A reminder

    Ordinary English is: Good academic English is: Bad academic English is:
    Easy to understand Easy to understand, and unambiguous Ambiguous and hard to understand
    Friendly, informal Formal and dignified, but informative Pompous, pretentious, obstructive
    Imprecise Precise Obscure
    Often exaggerated to make things more interesting Explains the scope and limitations of the research. Often partly or completely incomprehensible.


    When should you learn academic English?

    A student should not learn academic English or try the IELTS, TOEIC or TOEFL examinations until their level of general English is at least Intermediate level or B1 on the CEFR scale, and preferably at Upper Intermediate or B2 level. This is my own personal opinion, and many teachers will disagree with me. Yes, students at Pre-Intermediate / A2 level can start to learn the academic style, but it will be very difficult for them, confusing, and very boring too. They may lose their motivation and start to dislike English.

    The IELTS examination lasts 4 hours 40 minutes, so with travel it takes a full day. A student who is at A2 level will not understand most of the reading and listening, and they will not be able to understand many of the questions. They will have a very bad day, and they will get an IELTS score of 3 or 4, which is no good for anything.

    The IELTS website gives some advice about the level of English you will need if you want to study in an English-speaking country. Click here for a summary of IELTS requirements and equivalents.


    How to learn academic English

    Academic English is basically for reading and writing. It's not usually a spoken language.

    If you can't spend 7 years at an international school, where all the books and lessons (science, mathematics, geography, history, literature) are in English, you can learn by reading. A lot of reading. The reading that an ordinary student of English does in class and for homework is NOT ENOUGH.

    Can you read five long Wikipedia articles in one hour, and understand them fully? No? Then you need to do an hour of extra reading every day.

  • If you’re a Pre-Intermediate or Intermediate student (CEFR levels A2 or B1) the best thing is to start with “student readers”. These are very small books for people who are learning English. For example, Macmillan Readers, Penguin Readers or Oxford Bookworms. Read one or two of these every week. Click here to see more about student readers.
  • Then start reading easy, general books. For example, books for English children. Read one of these every week. I can suggest some good books to read. Click here to see more about good books for young people.
  • After that, you can either start to read ordinary English books (travel stories, detective stories, science fiction, love stories) or start to read academic English. Click here to see more about good books for adults.IELTS textbooks
  • Reading is the most important skill for EAP, but you must also practice relevant writing, listening and speaking. Probably you will want to do this at a specialised language school or with an independent teacher like me, but you can make a lot of progress alone if you have suitable books and audio.

    As your introduction to academic English, you can start with the Cambridge Step Up To IELTS self-study student's book. You will also need the Step Up to IELTS audio CDs.

    When you are ready to start serious work, use the Cambridge IELTS (with answers) series. There are eight books in the series. Each book contains similar material, including listening exercises for which you will need the audio CDs.


    The vocabulary of academic English

    Phrases. Some unusual phrases are very common in academic writing. They are very useful ways to introduce and explain your ideas, describe your methods, and support or disagree with the ideas of others. You can find a superb list of phrases in the Manchester University Academic Phrasebank here:

    Words. Students of English often ask teachers for a list of academic vocabulary. It’s the right question, but a list of 5,000-8,000 words is probably the wrong answer.
    Some students can sit down with a list, learn 50 new words every day, practice the vocabulary by writing it, and remember it forever. They can learn 5,000 words in four or five months. Most people can’t learn like this, but they can learn 20 new words if they read an interesting book for an hour. If the book is not only interesting but also a good level for you, you can learn 20 new words in an hour, and not need a dictionary for more than 4 or 5 of them. This is close to the way you learned your own language when you were a small child. It’s a natural way to learn. Obviously it’s much easier if you already enjoy reading in your own language. Click to see more about suitable books.


    General word list (not academic)

    This list is of 750 English words that you might read in a newspaper article. Unless you know 90% of them, you must read a lot more English in the evening and at the weekend. Start today. If you know less than 50% it’s probably too soon for you to start learning academic English.

    If you want a bigger list of general words that will be useful for IELTS and academic reading, you can find them here: Go to and click on “Introduction” and then ”General Service List”.

    accident - accidental, crash, collide, collision, damage, injury, casualty, victim, survivor, rescue, emergency, ambulance, witness

    ability – to be able to do something, skill, skilled, skilful, talent, gift, competence

    advice - advisor, consultant, counsellor, suggestion, proposal, recommendation

    agreement / disagreement - meet, meeting, discuss, dispute, interrupt, propose, negotiate, influence, persuade, convince

    book - literature, writing, writer, author, publisher, publication, text, work, chapter, section, passage, paragraph, contents, index, bookshop, library

    build – civil engineering, construction, architect, designer, tradesman, builder, plumber, structure, development, infrastructure

    business - trade, import, export, company, limited company, plc, partnership, trader, contract

    clothes - clothing, cloth, textile, fabric, fashion, style, waterproof

    communicate - contact, inform, advise

    competition - to compete, to pass, prize, award, reward

    communications – telecoms, mobile phone, cell, smartphone, iPhone, to call, to be put through, to be engaged, to be put on hold, voicemail, answerphone, text message, videoconference

    computer – IT (information technology), keyboard, screen, monitor, desktop, laptop, battery, hardware, software, download, e-mail, programme, application, data, hard disc, USB

    confidence – confident, self-confidence, with confidence

    confidential - secret, in confidence

    consumer – spend, buy, purchase, High Street, retail, wholesale, price, cost, discount, refund

    country / town - countryside, rural / city, urban

    crime - criminal, illegal, offence, thief, theft, steal, burglary, rob, violence, assault, kill, murder, arrest, prosecute, convict, sentence, punish, fine, penalty, prison, prisoner, imprisonment

    democracy - elect, election, poll, referendum, vote, candidate

    depth / height - deep, shallow, profound, tall, high

    document - heading, title, paragraph, sentence, phrase, margin, italic, bold, underlined, footnote

    drugs / medication – pharmaceutical industry, antibiotic, analgesic, pill, tablet, capsule

    farm - agricultural, cultivate, dairy, crop, cereal, irrigation, fertiliser, plough, field, fruit, vegetable

    gender – man, woman, male, female, masculine, feminine, equality, inequality, discrimination

    to get – become, obtain, acquire, acquisition

    to go - proceed, progress, continue, leave, depart

    God - religion, prayer, worship, congregation, church, cathedral, mosque, temple, heaven, hell, devil, angel, saint, Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Muslim, Buddhist, Catholic, protestant

    government - country, nation, state, empire, king, queen, prime minister, president, parliament, congress, political, legislative, executive, department, local authority, council, town hall, mayor

    to have – to have got, to possess, to own, owner, proprietor

    hotel – hospitality industry, to book, booking confirmation, check in/out, stay, to serve a meal

    house - home, flat, apartment, block, accommodation, residence, lodgings, to reside, to rent

    human - person, people, species, race, population, mankind

    idea - concept, proposal, discussion, debate, issue, topic

    industry - raw material, factory, manufacture, assemble, produce, product, goods

    law - legal, legislation, regulation, statute, lawyer, court, proceedings, compensation, claim, claimant, defend, defendant, appeal

    language - linguistic, word, verb, phrasal verb, adverb, noun, adjective, vocabulary, grammar, grammatical, punctuation, translate

    machine - machinery, equipment, engine, engineering, mechanical, motor, wheel, lever, power, fuel

    to manage – to control, to deal with

    man-made - artificial, synthetic

    measurement - measure, ruler, scale, scales, gauge, meter, inch, foot, yard, mile, kilometre, metre, centimetre, ton, tonne, pound, ounce, gramme, kilogramme, kilo, kg, degree, degrees Celsius, centigrade, Fahrenheit, mph, km/h

    media - television, TV, video, DVD, CD, radio, broadcast, transmit, programme, documentary, announcement, advertisement, ad, commercial, publicity

    medical - medicine, health, illness, disease, diagnosis, treat, heal, recover, hospital, patient, doctor, nurse, paramedic, surgeon, surgery, operation, operate, stitches, antiseptic, sterile

    military - soldier, officer, general, army, navy, air force, gun, pistol, rifle, artillery, rocket, weapons, arms, armour, armoured, paramilitary, militia, terrorist, war, assault, invasion, invade, conquer, dominate, rule

    money - economic, financial, cash, coin, credit, debit, debt, expense, purchase, pay, payment, receipt, deposit, rent, hire, in advance, capital, income, loan, lend, borrow, gold, silver, copper

    movement - roll, run, rush, slide, slip, walk, fly, swim, twist, bounce, shake, tremble, vibrate

    moving people – the travel industry, tourism

    moving things – the transport industry, logistics

    office - administrative, clerical, desk, computer, workstation

    paper / pens - stationery, print, write, highlight, draw, eraser, photocopy, copy

    permission - permit, authorisation, license, approval, consent, agreement

    restaurants, cafes – catering industry, service industry

    science - theory, hypothesis, research, development, evidence, proof, prove

    statistics - average, total, per capita, graph, pie chart, bar chart, trend, rate, increase, decrease, sharp rise/fall, steady rise/fall, table, data, row, column, mean, average

    student - study, subject, course, syllabus, lecture, tutorial

    teacher - teach, taught, educate, education, professor, lecturer, tutor

    national / international - domestic, international, abroad, overseas, world, global, globalisation

    time – second, minute, hour, hourly, day, daily, week, weekly, fortnight, month, monthly, year, annual, per annum, century, millennium, regular, irregular, frequent, infrequent, often, seldom

    travel - drive, trip, journey, voyage, passenger, train, ferry, shuttle, tunnel, air, airport, aircraft, aeroplane, plane

    vehicle – vehicular, drive, steer, brake, car, bus, coach, van, truck, lorry, tanker, motorbike

    work - professional, vocational, occupational, employer, employee, worker, full-time, part-time, intern, salary, pay, remuneration, manager, senior, junior, subordinate, CEO, workforce, crew, personnel, recruitment, HR, strike, industrial action


    Academic word list (short)

    There is a list of the 570 most important academic words here: Go to and click on “Introduction” and then “Academic Word List”. On this page I have put the first 3 of these 570 words – abandon, abstract and academy.

    Word: Variations and examples: Dictionary definition:
    abandon abandoned, abandoning, abandonment, abandons
    Examples here:
    abstract abstraction, abstractions, abstractly, abstracts
    Examples here:
    academy academia, academic, academically, academics, academies
    Examples here:
    The other 567 you can find for yourself. Good luck!


    200 words to avoid

    In 1657, the mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal said "Je n'ai fait cette lettre-ci plus longue que parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte," or "I have only made this letter longer because I didn't have time to make it shorter." It often takes more work to write a short, clear, simple document. However, it saves time in the end.

    In 1516, the lawyer and philosopher Sir Thomas More knew that it was possible to say complex things in simple English. In his book Utopia he said that the law should be in "the plainest and most obvious ... words". If not, he said, the law becomes useless to most people. And the purpose of the law is to stop disputes between people, not to amuse lawyers. The law, like any profession, has its own technical terms ("terms of art") which have a specific meaning. That's fine, but using obscure general English is not.

    Unfortunately some judges in England and Wales are still using words that only 0.5% of people understand, like those in the list below. None of these are necessary technical words. Please try to avoid them in your own writing!

    abnegate, abrogate, accede, acontextual, adjectival, adulterine, adumbrate, adverting, aetiological, anterior, antalgic, antithesis, appreciable, arrogate, assiduous, axiomatic, bespoke, bifurcated, burglariously, Byzantine, canon, canonical, castigate, cavil, celerity, coda, cognate, cognisable, commensurate, concatenation, concomitant, condescend to particularity, condign, conflate, conjunctively, contemporaneous, contradistinction, controverted, contumacious, contumelious, conundrum, correlative, corollary, coterminous, counterfactual, countervailing, damnified, dearth, defeasible, deleterious, Delphic, desiderate, dichotomy, dilatory, disentitle, disjunctively, dispositive, Draconian, efficacious, egregious, emasculation, emolument, empirical, encompass, engraft, engrossment, entailing, equiparate, equivalated, eschew, eventuation, exculpatory, exegesis, exegetic, exhortation, exigency, exiguous, expeditious, expunge, fortuitous, grandiloquent, gravamen, hereinbefore, hived off, holograph (no, not hologram), hornbook, immaterial, immutable, impecuniosity, impinge, imponderable, impressionistic, impugn, incontrovertible, incrementalism, incumbent, ineluctable, infelicitous, inferentially, inimical, intermeddling, interpolate, intractable, invidious, inviolate, irrespective, juridical, manifest, mediately, mete, misnomer, modality, nebulous, negatived, nexus, nonage, non-exhaustive, notwithstanding, nugatory, obfuscate, obloquy, obverse, obviate, opacity, otiose, outwith, overarching, paradigm, parlous, Parthian, paucity, penurious, perquisite, pertinent, phlegm, postulate, preambular, precipitate, precluded, predicated, pre-eminently, premise, premised, prerequisite, prescient, Procrustean, progenitor, prolegomena, propensity, propinquity, prorogue, protean, purview, putative, Pyrrhic, quinquennial, quotidian, qualitative, ratiocinate, rebuttal, recalcitrant, recast, recondite, redact (OK, that is sometimes a necessary technical word), remitted, resile, rubric, sanguine, sedulous, solecism, sinecure, spurious, subjacent, subsume, subvention, superjacent, synergistic, temporal, temporise, tenable, tenor, tendentious, timeous, trenchant, trite, turpitude, ultroneous, unconscionable, uncontroverted, uncovenanted, unimpeachable, unmeritorious, unpersuaded, unproblematical, vagaries, veracity, vestigial, vicissitude, vitiate.


    What next?

    I hope you enjoyed this introduction. I have a whole series of lessons on the concepts and rules of academic English, including exercises for you to do. However, I don't give away all my work free. If you would like me to teach you, please click here to find out more about me, or click here to choose a course.