Which 7 English language structures are academic?
This is the second of three lessons about Academic Language. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Introduce seven academic language structures
– Refer the reader to additional and relevant short courses
– Provide examples of each language structure to help guide the reader toward academic success
As was explained in some detail in Lesson 1, any native or non-native student, tutor or researcher that uses English as their primary language in academia will be required to learn the grammar, style, register and vocabulary that’s most appropriate when speaking or writing academically. To assist learners in doing this more effectively, this second lesson next aims to outline and exemplify the seven language structures which are most commonly used in academic English (EAP).
Students may wish to bookmark and return to the following seven language structures so that they can most effectively use them when completing academic assignments – such as essays or presentations. Additionally, it’s worth noting that there are a considerable number of academic word lists available online that may be used to determine specific vocabulary items, such as those that are most appropriate for academic research. Lists such as these are able to provide students with the most common (and unique) words, phrases and collocations that are used within academic texts and contexts.
1. Cohesive Devices
Cohesion is the study of the grammatical and lexical structures that bind a text and that reinforce and clarify its meaning. Successful cohesion is not only extremely important in academic writing, but it’s also a fairly complicated and rule dependent concept. Because of this complexity, students may wish to study our short course on cohesive devices to further improve their knowledge of academic language. For the purposes of this short course however, it’s enough to know that the devices that create cohesion within and across a text can be broadly split into two categories: cohesive types and cohesive functions. Examples of these types and functions are provided for your reference below:
2. Hedging Language
Another important feature of academic writing and speech is the use of hedging language such as ‘may’ or ‘possibly’. Hedging language is the particular words and phrases that are used by academics to demonstrate modality, degrees of caution and levels of certainty. To exemplify this, consider the following two expressions:
The term ‘tend to’ in example (B) is an example of hedging language, making this expression more cautious than the similar example (A). Hedging language like this is very common in academic writing and can be generally divided into nine types:
3. Noun Phrases
Another common technique to improve academic register when editing and proofreading is to make a phrase or expression more concise by reformulating that expression as a noun phrase. Not only are noun phrases extremely common in academic writing, but such constructions can also be helpful when creating titles, section headings, and search terms for conducting digital research. Some example noun phrases have been provided for you below:
4. Reporting Verbs
Next on our list of appropriate academic language constructions are the special types of verbs and phrases that are used to introduce sources of evidence into a piece of academic research. As our short course on reporting verbs explains in more detail, because its critical for academics to support their ideas and arguments with sources of published research, the verbs that are uniquely able to assist in this process are very important for researchers. Such verbs as ‘argue’, ‘question’ and ‘report’ that are able to introduce source-based evidence are exemplified below:
5. Passive Constructions
As will be explained in detail Lesson 3, it’s generally considered unacademic to use personal pronouns such as ‘I’ or ‘he’ within a piece of formal academic writing. Researchers may therefore find themselves using passive constructions (formed with ‘be’ and the past participle) more commonly than in other styles of writing in an attempt to remove these pronouns – omitting the agent of the verb. The five most common reasons to use the passive voice when writing academically have been provided for students in the following table:
6. Subject-Specific Vocabulary
Also important when writing academically is the vocabulary that’s specific to a particular subject being studied. Because such subject-specific vocabulary may not be known by the casual reader, it’s important that this vocabulary is always (1) used with its correct meaning, (2) used at appropriate occasions, and (3) adequately defined when first introduced. The following table provides examples of the type of subject-specific vocabulary that may be used when writing a piece of research based around the subjects of computer science and medicine:
7. Varied Vocabulary
In addition to the previous six constructions, students using academic English should also remember to maintain variety in the vocabulary they select. If you’re going to use cohesive devices, hedging language or reporting verbs for example, then make sure that you use a variety of those words – trying not to overuse any one word in particular. However, while such variety is of course important, it should not become the primary focus at the loss of accuracy. An overuse of academic language such as conjunctions might, for example, negatively affect the cohesion and coherence of your writing, while the incorrect use of subject-specific terms will certainly lower your grades or chance of publication. Ultimately, a successful writer will carefully edit and proofread, checking firstly for accurate meaning and second for any words that can be replaced with clearer or more concise alternatives.
Now that we’ve introduced seven common constructions that are unique to academic English, Lesson 3 explores twelve additional language structures that are commonly avoided when using English for Academic Purposes.
There are currently no PowerPoint activities, additional teacher resources or audio and video recordings created for this topic. Please come back again next semester.
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