3 Easy ways for researchers to improve their academic vocabulary

by Elizabeth Oommen George
3 Easy ways for researchers to improve their academic vocabulary

It is quite common to see PhD students and researchers be fairly comfortable with conversational English but then feel overwhelmed when it comes to using more academic vocabulary. It stands to reason that academic writing requires a degree of familiarity with academic and technical terms. And the sooner one is able to do this, the faster one’s ability to express their ideas confidently. This is likely an even bigger challenge for those who have English as a second language as they may not only need to be comfortable with speaking and reading in English, but also deliver high-quality academic writing. This makes it important to know how to improve academic vocabulary and take steps to polish your language.

In contrast to conversational vocabulary, academic English vocabulary tends to consist of technical words with multiple syllables and word parts, with each of them carrying some meaning. Academic writing often includes longer, more detailed sentences. Moreover, academic vocabulary includes a number of words that originate from Latin, this is perhaps one of the reasons that many students and ESL researchers find it very different from the kind of English they are already familiar with. One of the commonly used academic vocabulary examples is et al., an abbreviation of et alia, which is used to simplify references to groups of co-authors.

More often than not, words that make up academic vocabulary are more abstract and impersonal in nature in contrast to more conversational language. Academic vocabulary is also more technical and delivered in a more formal tone that may sometimes seem monotonous. These differences make it critical to choose the most appropriate words from somewhat limited academic vocabulary in use. In order to improve and refine your academic vocabulary, students and researchers must focus on and acquire expertise in finding the right words, through careful understanding, application and practice.

Three simple steps to build an impressive academic vocabulary

  1. Read extensively: The first step, in fact a pre-requisite to building an essential academic vocabulary, is to read extensively and vociferously. Make notes as you go along, not just because the words might be completely new, but to also appreciate their manner of usage and context.  Focus on reading research papers, but don’t forget to also read non-academic texts, fiction as well as non-fiction, in addition to newspapers and magazines on a variety of topics that interest you. It is considered good practice to highlight words and phrases that you may be unaware of. Finding and writing the meaning of such words in the margin or in a notebook is a great way to become familiar with them. As a specific to-do, give yourself a goal of adding at least one new word to your academic vocabulary every day – learn its specific and explicit meaning, how to pronounce and spell it, and how to use if correctly in a sentence.
  2. Create a word journal: The second step that most people definitely find useful is to make and carry a word journal with you so that you can regularly track and use your growing academic vocabulary. This is an ideal way to jot down words on the go that you don’t know or want to learn so you can look up their definition later; remember to also understand the context it is used in and write down some examples of usage. For those who are a little more adventurous, it may not be a bad idea to start a blog that will allow you to share your writing and get feedback on the quality of your academic vocabulary and writing, including choice of words, accuracy and overall readability.
  3. Put your learning to use: The third and often most important step on your learning journey is to use the newly acquired academic vocabulary while interacting with other students, colleagues, supervisors and mentors. Productive discussions could also not only allow you to showcase your more evolved academic vocabulary, you may even learn a terms or two. When you hear a new word, ask for explanations and examples of use where possible so you can add it to your own growing repository of knowledge; over time, you will be able to do the same for others. ESL researchers may also find it useful to carry a bi-lingual dictionary or thesaurus along to improve comprehension and ease with English on the whole. This can help you uncover various facets relating to new words – whether it is their meaning, using them in different contexts, their synonyms and antonyms, and so on.

There is absolutely no doubt that strong academic vocabulary is an essential addition to your researcher toolkit and could ease your path to success. Strengthening your academic vocabulary and speeding up your research reading and comprehension will empower you to take your academic writing to the next level. While these steps will get you started, researchers will also find a trusted AI writing assistant in Paperpal, a set of smart tools to help researchers enhance their academic writing skills, speed up the English editing process, and ensure they deliver flawless academic articles. If you haven’t tried it before, now is the time. Explore Paperpal on Word or Web, click here to get started!

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