« Back to Barnsley College
Barnsley College Higher Education Library

Developing academic English

What is academic English?

When you begin study at college or higher education, you will be expected to write essays, reports and assignments using academic English, rather social English.

Social English is the language of everyday conversation and is informal, uses slang (cool, mega, footy etc.), colloquial terms (wanna, gonna, dead as a doornail etc.) and contractions (doesn’t, shouldn’t, isn’t etc.). It is used to express our thoughts, feelings, wants and needs in a personal, and usually subjective way.

In contrast, academic English is formal, objective and impersonal and is used for study, research and teaching. It is applied to express ideas and research results, examine data, explain how something works or argue the merits of theories clearly and precisely. Each academic subject has its own preferred method of presenting information e.g. essays, reports, and its own terminology, but here are some basic guidelines from the University of Manchester:

1. Personal pronouns

It is better to avoid using first and second person pronouns (I, you and we), as your writing will sound too personal and informal, or conversational. Only use first and second person pronouns if you are expressing a clearly personal opinion or you are expected to engage in a direct relationship with your reader.

Contractions

Avoid contractions, as these are the style of spoken or informal English.

e.g. Question. Which sentence is more appropriate?
1. “In Hong Kong, tax on personal income is only 15% and there isn’t any VAT.”

2. “In Hong Kong, tax on personal income is only 15% and VAT is not levied.”

Answer. The second sentence is more appropriate, because it avoids use of the contraction of ‘is not’ (‘isn’t’).

Complex sentences

Complex sentences are common in academic writing.

e.g. This set of short sentences:

“Those working in unskilled jobs are less likely to use computers in the workplace. They also may not know someone who does. People living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods are least likely to have extended networks of users who can offer support and encouragement. The barriers thrown up by lack of material resources are reinforced for low-income households.”

becomes a single, complex sentence:

“Because those working in unskilled jobs are less likely to use computers in the workplace or to know someone who does, and because disadvantaged neighbourhoods are least likely to have extended networks of users who can offer support and encouragement, the barriers thrown up by lack of material resources are reinforced for low-income households.”

Precision

Avoid the use of vague vocabulary. It is very useful to be able to select a noun, for example, that precisely refers to your ideas. You should also avoid repetition.

Rhetorical questions

Avoid using rhetorical questions to introduce significant new ideas, e.g.

“Is the British tax system good or not?”

A more formal and dispassionate style would be,

“It is important to consider the effectiveness of the British tax system.”

Common knowledge

Avoid making statements that assume the reader will take your word that something is true, e.g. not

“Everybody agrees that health care should be free.”

but

“Surveys of public opinion indicate a strong belief that health care should be free.”

Referencing

Appropriate academic writing should include references to the source of ideas or information, e.g. not

“Economists believe that major improvements to the UK tax system must come from more fundamental reforms.”

but

“Kay (1980) believes that major improvements to the UK tax system must come from more fundamental reforms.”

Adapted with permission from the author, Derek Davies, from material on the University of Manchester’s Language Centre website.

Retrieved from: http://www.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/studyskills/essentials/writing/academic_english.html

Useful links:

https://www2.open.ac.uk/students/skillsforstudy/what-is-academic-english.php

Academic Phrasebank

Developing Academic English Using Linking Words

General Assessment criteria

 

 

Opening Times

Monday Staffed 8.30am to 5pm; Self-service 5pm to 8.45pm
Tuesday Staffed 8.30am to 5pm; Self-service 5pm to 8.45pm
Wednesday Staffed 8.30am to 5pm; Self-service 5pm to 8.45pm
Thursday Staffed 8.30am to 5pm; Self-service 5pm to 8.45pm
Friday Staffed 8.30am to 4,30pm Close
Saturday Closed
Sunday Close

Find Us

Barnsley College, Church Street,
Barnsley,
S70 2YW

Contact Us

helibrary@barnsley.ac.uk Learning Curve Library desk 01226 216 334