The Ultimate Guide to the Academic Word List (the AWL)

Do you want to master essential academic language that will:

  • Make your academic writing more effective?

  • Improve your understanding when reading academic journals and books?

  • Help when listening to (and understanding) academic lectures?

  • Make you feel more confident when speaking (or presenting) in academic English?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, you need the Academic Word List. 

what is the Academic Word List?

The Academic Word List is a list of 570 of the most important words that students needs to know to be successful in their university studies.  

Forget IELTS or TOEFL lists – if you want to succeed in your university/college study then these are the words you need.

Academic Word List (most common words)

Academic Word List (word families)

Is the Academic Word List for all university students? 

Yes!  It doesn’t matter what subject you study – the Academic Word List was specifically designed for students studying subjects in the Arts, Business, Law, and the Sciences.  Beyond those, students studying other subjects like Engineering and Medicine will get huge gains out of studying the Academic Word List, too.

The Academic Word List was specially designed by Dr Averil Coxhead for international (second-language) students studying at English-language universities.  Dr Coxhead wanted to create a high-impact list of vocabulary that would help these students be more successful in their studies at English-language universities.

So how is the Academic Word List different from other word lists? 

To do this, she used two things – something called the General Service List (a list of the 2000 most frequently-used words in general English) and a large academic corpus

With these she looked for words which i) were not general use and very high frequency (i.e., included in the General Service List), and ii) frequently occurred in the majority of the subjects mentioned above (i.e., Business, Law, Science, etc.) – technical words specific to a particular subject were not included. 

This set of words became the Academic Word List.

So what does the Academic Word List look like?

Firstly, it’s a whole big list of words – you can see the AWL lists here.  Probably the first key thing that you need to realise is that each of these words is part of a “word family”.  For example – check out the word family for the AWL keyword “analysis” below. 

academic wordlist

All of these words have the same root meaning but they’re different types of words – “analyse” is a verb, “analysis” a noun and so on.  Being able to recognise these as being related in this way is key to students enhancing their academic reading skills and making the most of the AWL.  We look into how this can be done as part of our Generating meaning from context vocabulary lesson.  

But you might ask – well why is the word “analysis” in italics?  Firstly – good spotting.  This was one last piece of amazingly useful work by Dr Coxhead.  She identified which member of each word family was the most commonly used.  Therefore, these are the words that you want to learn from each word family.   You can find a list of these (much shorter than the one above) here.

So how can you use the Academic Word List?

Good question!  We cover a range of different things that you can do with this in our Language learning lessons.  Alternatively, we’ll be following up this post later on this week with a follow-up lesson on the Academic Word List – keep your eyes out for that!

Or if you’ve got your own way of doing things – no problem, you can find the original AWL lists here or a helpful Memrise list that’s been put together here.   Enjoy!

If you’ve never heard of Memrise – no problem.  Memrise is an incredible online (and app-based) vocabulary language learning system.  If you think electronic flashcards – it’s a bit like that but then a whole lot more.  Check out this introductory video they put together below.

So what’s next?

Well,  you’ve probably got a few words to learn, right?  Good luck with the AWL and the materials mentioned above – and remember to keep your eyes out for the follow-up lesson coming in the near future.   

Otherwise though, 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 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!

2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to the Academic Word List (the AWL)”

  1. Pingback: Eight awesome grammar and vocabulary self-study resources - Headstart Academic English

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