What is Academic Vocabulary?

What is academic vocabulary?

Academic vocabulary is a big concern for a lot of students.  Students will often get worried about their writing not being academic enough.  They’ll often say things like :

Teacher - I want to make my writing more professional


Teacher - I am worried my writing is too much like spoken English - what can I do?

And fair enough – making sure your writing is academic enough can be challenging – if you don’t know what we’re about to tell you now.  Because the truth is – making your writing more academic or making your English more formal is easy.  

Today we’re going to go through a list of three key academic vocabulary rules that you should use to make your writing more academic.

We go through these (and a lot more) in our Academic Language lessons.  If you want to master the academic vocabulary and grammar that you will need to be successful at college/university – hit Start Learning and take your first step towards academic success TODAY!


Master Academic Language Skills today

Academic success is just a click away

What’s that?  You want to read the blog post first?  Fair enough.  We’re not going anywhere – so let’s turn now to this question:

What is Academic English Vocabulary?

The easiest way to explain this is with an example.  Imagine that this is you and your best friend

And let’s say this is your parent’s boss

In speaking to either of these people you probably use the same language, right?  Your mother tongue. Now, while you speak the same language, you probably choose very different words when speaking to them.  When speaking with your parent’s boss you are probably much more formal and ‘distant’ in a way.  

That’s one way to understand the difference between general english and academic English vocabulary.  Academic English vocabulary is more formal – more reserved.  There are a number of ways to do this but the easiest/most effective way we know using a few rules.  Let’s go through those now

Rule #1: Avoid spoken language (e.g., slang)

Again, think of speaking to your best friend.  When speaking to them you might use words which you wouldn’t when speaking to your parent’s boss.  These are words like ‘cool’ or ‘awesome’ – or at least their slang meanings.  

What’s slang?  Good question – let’s take ‘cool’ as an example.  You will probably know two meanings for this word – one is a little cold – for example ‘It’s a little cool today’,

The other is a bit more general but the meaning, without doubt is positive.  For example, ‘I found this cool new restaurant on the weekend’.  


This second example is an example of slang – informal language, normally spoken and normally by young people more than old.  And this is the first rule of academic english vocabulary: avoid spoken language.

Rule #2: Avoid contractions

So let me ask you – which of the following two sentences sounds more formal:

It’s very important to be formal in academic writing.


It is very important to be formal in academic writing.

The second one, right?  This is an example of a contraction – where you take a phrase (e.g., can not, do not, is not), take away a few letters and mark where they were using an apostrophe (this guy → ‘) e.g., can’t, don’t, isn’t.  

And that is the second rule of academic english vocabulary: avoid contractions.

Rule #3: Avoid personal pronouns

The third rule is to avoid personal pronouns (words like I, me, us, our, etc.).  There are a number of reasons for this – we go into this in some detail in our lessons on academic authority .  For now though/the easiest way to explain why connects back to these two words/ideas: being objective and being subjective.  

If you need an example of these, maybe the easiest way to explain the difference is through using temperature.  Let’s say for example that the temperature today is 35 degrees C (that’s 95F if you think in Farenheit).

Now for me, being from NZ, that’s very hot – other people from hotter countries might agree – or they might think that it’s warm but not very hot.  This is a subjective judgement (or opinion).  

However, all of us would agree that the number is the same – 35 degrees = 35 degrees.  This is an objective fact.  

So why are we talking about this and what does this have to do with personal pronouns?  Well, which one is more formal/more academic – subjective or objective? Hopefully you’ve said objective is more formal.  

We go into this in a lot more detail (and what you can do to make your writing more objective) in our Academic Study Skills lessons  – definitely worth checking out.  For now though, we’re focusing on academic English – so we’ll leave it there.  Because this is how we get our third rule of academic english vocabulary: avoid personal pronouns.  

Unfortunately we’re out of time for today – we hope that was useful for you.  If it was, we strongly recommend enrolling in our Academic Language course – we cover a range of other rules together with extensive practice activities that can help you to master the academic vocabulary and grammar you need for academic success at college/university.  Enrolling is easy – just hit Start Learning below and start your journey to academic success TODAY!  

Master Academic Language Skills today

Academic success is just a click away

Where can I find examples of academic vocabulary in use?

Also a great question!  We have a whole list of resources where you can find great examples of academic vocabulary in use on our very popular blog post on Effective Academic Reading Techniques.  Definitely worth checking out!

Otherwise, that’s us for our HeadStart Guide on academic english vocabulary – we hope it’s been useful!  As always, we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments – write us a post below or follow us on Facebook.   Or, if you want to get more of these blog posts straight to your inbox – join our mailing list.  Or if you have a question or a topic that you’d like us to write a blog post (or even better – a full lesson) about – email us!  We read every email.

Academic English Grammar: where can I find more resources?

Loved that content?  Looking for more?  No problem – check out the below!

5 thoughts on “What is Academic Vocabulary?”

  1. Pingback: Hedging techniques - Headstart Academic English

  2. Pingback: 8 steps to write an essay - Headstart Academic English

  3. Pingback: First and Second Conditional Sentences - Headstart Academic English

  4. Pingback: The Academic Word List: IELTS, academic writing, and more

  5. Pingback: 8 steps to write an essay - Headstart Academic English

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Malcare WordPress Security