Learning English

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Session 1

Have you ever had to write an essay in English? Even if you are able to communicate well in English, writing in an academic style can be quite a challenge. We're here to help you!

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    Activity 1
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    Activity 2
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    Activity 3

Activity 2

Academic English tips

General v Academic English

When we chat with our friends or write on social media we generally use an informal style of English.

In certain situations we need to change to a more formal style.

One time we need to do this is when studying for a formal qualification, for example, at university. Generally the materials we need to read are written in a particular style and the essays we are required to write are expected to be written in a similar style. This is what we call academic English.

Academic English still needs to be clear and easy to follow but it does tend to use more complicated vocabulary and less personal grammar forms. Compare these two sentences. They have similar meanings, but one is more appropriate for an academic context.

  • The scientific consensus holds that humankind bears a significant responsibility for the extent of climate change.
  • Most scientists say that a lot of climate change is mostly our fault.

General: Most scientists say that...
Academic: The scientific consensus holds that...

General: ...is mostly our fault.
Academic: ...humankind bears a significant responsibility for...

General: ...a lot of...
Academic: ...the extent of...

Read the text and complete the activity

Features of Academic English

Here are some general guidelines for academic English writing.

Avoiding using contractions in academic English writing.

  • The results won't be released until they've been verified.
  • The results will not be released until they have been verified. (Better for academic writing)

Personal pronouns and passive
Using the personal pronoun I is not forbidden in academic writing but when expressing opinions in objective contexts, such as scientifc subjects, it is discouraged.

It is also good practice to avoid the use of you to refer to the reader. The use of the passive is very common in academic texts and makes it easier to avoid the use of personal pronouns.

  • I completed the experiment as I was told to.
  • The experiment was completed as instructed. (Better for academic writing)

  • As you can see, the experiment was successful.
  • As can be seen, the experiment was successful. (Better for academic writing)

Multi-word (phrasal) verbs
Multi-word verbs are a feature of informal English. Many multi-word verbs have a single word alternative. In academic contexts it is generally advised to use the more formal single word instead of the multi-word verb.

  • It was difficult to get hold of the raw material.
  • It was difficult to obtain the raw material. (Better for academic writing)

Slang, colloquial language and subjective descriptors
It is usually inappropriate to use slang expressions, colloquial language and subjective adjectives and adverbs in an academic context.

  • There was like loads of awesome stuff made before the factory closed.
  • Before its closure the factory manufactured a large variety of popular goods. (Better for academic writing)

Vocabulary with Latin or French origin
English words which come from Latin or French are generally more formal than those with Anglo-Saxon roots. This is useful for speakers of language such as French, Italian or Spanish as many words will be familiar, though beware of 'false friends'. For speakers of languages such as Arabic, Japanese and Chinese that do not share similar roots with English, this is more difficult. Usually more formal vocabulary is longer, with more syllables.

  • China makes a lot of steel.
  • A large amount of steel is manufactured in China. (Better for academic writing)

To do

Test your academic English in the quiz by choosing the more formal vocabulary and grammar. 

Academic English quiz

5 Questions

Choose the best option to answer each question. Both answers will be correct English but the right answer will be more appropriate for formal/academic English.

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In the next activity we take a look at structuring a formal presentation. Or perhaps we should say: The structure of formal presentations is examined in the following activity.

Session Vocabulary

  • Suggestions for academic English

    Avoid contractions.

    Avoid personal pronouns and use the passive more.

    Use single words rather than multi-word verbs

    Don't use slang or colloquialisms

    As a very rough guide, longer words with a Latin or French origin are more formal