7 Simple Tips to Improve English for Academic Purposes

While it can feel like a challenge you wouldn’t choose on your own, there are some simple ways to make learning academic English easier.

Read on for seven effective tips to help you learn English for academic purposes, plus some helpful resources to get started. 


1. Construct complex and compound sentences 

The first thing you may notice about academic writing is the complexity of the sentences that make up most articles, essays and papers. The reason for this is simple: academic English favors longer sentences that can better convey complex ideas.

Knowing how to construct more elaborate sentences will make you better equipped to deliver complicated information to your audience.

But not all of your sentences should be miles long. Sentences may be simple, compound or complex (read this handy guide to understand the difference). While writing in academic English, you should try to use a range of different sentence structures so your writing is both engaging and readable.

To properly use compound and complex sentences, you may need to study up on the correct use of punctuation. You should also check your writing for common syntax mistakes. Run-on sentences and comma splices are the most widespread, but they’re easy to avoid once you understand them.

2. Incorporate conjunctions into your English

Do you know those short little words that link your sentences nicely together? These are conjunctions. The most common examples include: and, but, or, nor, so and yet. There are also conjunctive adverbs, such as: however, therefore, nevertheless and moreover. 

Academic English speakers and writers are masters of using conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs. Why? Because without them, complex sentences are almost impossible! 

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Here are some examples:

“I have been studying English for three years; I find it difficult sometimes. I really like reading short stories in English.”

Use conjunctions to make one more natural-sounding complex sentence:

“I have been studying English for three years, and I find it difficult sometimes, but I really like reading short stories in English.”

Once you learn a few conjunctions and start using them, you’ll see an immediate jump in the quality of your writing and speaking.

3. Learn the right vocabulary

The vocabulary used in academic English is not only complex, but also very specific to the individual discipline. Each area of study has its own terms and abbreviations. 

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Unfortunately, there are no tricks to get used to this type of vocabulary—you just have to learn it little by little. But here are some tips:

  • Start with this great Academic Vocabulary list by Jim Burke to get a good idea of what to expect from an academic text.
  • If you’re preparing to study at an English-speaking university, focus on the vocabulary specific to your field of study.
  • Try reading academic literature in your discipline. Even if you don’t understand most of it, it’ll give you an idea of technical terms and special words you’ll be learning.
  • Practice academic vocabulary like any other vocabulary topic. Make lists of unfamiliar words, translate them and practice putting them into sentences to increase your retention (memory).
  • Check out Visual Thesaurus where you can search for a word and explore similar ones. The visual maps of words make it easier to see how different words relate to each other.

4. Use logical argument structures

The purpose of addressing an academic audience is to present a thesis or an argument and then defend it in a convincing way.

This is what most academic papers, essays, presentations, lectures, articles and even books have in common. They rely on clear, logical writing to present ideas, support theories and offer solutions to problems.

Writing with clarity and efficiency is far from easy and takes extensive practice. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Before writing your essay or delivering a presentation, think about your argument as a whole and then break it down into several ideas.
  • Write an outline of what you want to say, covering all your ideas and checking if they flow logically.
  • Approach all ideas one by one while writing; the outline will help to keep you on track.
  • Practice composing introductions and conclusions, which both provide a brief summary of your main argument.

The more essays you write, the better you’ll be at expressing your ideas and arguments logically, with clarity and conviction.

5. Take courses specifically for academic English

Many college students, even native English speakers, take courses to learn how to write, format and reference their research in academic papers. If you’re already enrolled in a university, ask your advisor or the English department whether you can take a class like that.

Many universities also have English as a second language courses or even academic English courses for their international students, so be sure to look for those as well.

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If you’re not enrolled in a university yet, you may still be able to take a course on academic English or audit one (follow for free or a low fee without receiving a grade).

6. Record and review your lectures

Don’t just listen to your lectures and take notes—try recording them and listening to them later, too.

This won’t just help you remember the lessons, but it’ll also help you pick up on academic English terms you may have missed in class. You’ll notice the words your professor uses repeatedly, or unfamiliar words whose definitions you need to look up.

You can even try comparing your class notes to the lectures to ensure that you understood everything correctly the first time.

Just don’t use your recording as an excuse to listen poorly during class! The whole point is to listen carefully during and after the lecture.

Remember that you should ask your professor’s permission to record lectures beforehand. Alternatively, many university departments record lectures for their students and post them online, so that can make things even easier.

7. Get a learning partner

Use your classmates. They’re learning with you and you can work together to help one another. Research has even shown that students who work together learn better.

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Studying with someone else can help you understand the lecture better or even see a point of view that you might not have considered otherwise. When it comes to writing, having a classmate proofread your work helps because they can find mistakes that you didn’t see.

Another learning partner that doesn’t require coordinating schedules is the language learning program FluentU.

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English for academic purposes is very different from casual English, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by its challenges.

However, getting it right is mostly a matter of time and practice.

And One More Thing...

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