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The Language Features of Academic Texts

PART Three – Strategies for identifying, understanding, recording and remembering words from the Academic Word List


According to Cobb (http://www.lextutor.ca/research/), if you know the 2000 most frequent words in written English and the 570 most frequent academic words, you will be familiar with 90% of the words that exist in any academic text.

Wow!! Isn’t that amazing? If you know nothing about these two important lists, then we recommend that you work through the activities in the set of materials entitled - Using the Academic Word List (AWL).

The Academic Word List, often shortened to simply AWL, is a list of 570 academic word families.  The list was developed by Averil Coxhead at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, in the year 2000.  The words selected for the AWL are ones which occur frequently in a range of academic subjects, including the Arts, Commerce, Law and the Sciences. The words are divided into 10 sublists according to their frequency; in other words, the vocabulary in Sublist 1 appears more frequently in academic writing than the vocabulary in Sublist 2. Learning these particular words will help you to:

  • understand your lectures more easily
  • write your assignments in an academic style
  • improve your comprehension of academic texts

To access the 10 sublists go to http://www2.elc.polyu.edu.hk/cill/eap/wordlists.htm

It is important to find strategies that will help you a) to identify the 570 words from the AWL
b) to understand the meanings of them c) to record them in an efficient and effective way and d) to remember them so you can use them in the correct context.

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Strategy 1 - Identifying words from the AWL

There is a quick and easy way to identify which words in any text belong to the AWL. You can use an online program called the ‘AWL Highlighter’.

  1. Find a suitable academic text.
  2. Copy and paste it into the AWL highlighter progam.
  3. http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/alzsh3/acvocab/awlhighlighter.htm
  4. Select the sublist level you want to use.
  5. Click on submit. The program will return the text with words from the Academic Word List highlighted in bold.

Here is an example of a text you have seen earlier in this package using the ‘AWL Highlighter’ program level 10. The words highlighted in purple are all from the AWL.

Creativity broadly refers to an ability or activity that produces something new and useful. Its assessment appears to become increasingly important because creativity has enduring effects throughout the individual's lifespan (Mouchiroud & Lobart, 2001). However, attempts to devise a unitary measure of overall creativity have not been successful (Fishkin & Johnson, 1998). It is therefore preferable to adopt a systems approach to the assessment by using multiple measures to tap various dimensions of creativity (Fishkin & Johnson, 1998). Two prominent dimensions of creativity are verbal and figural (Cropley, 2000; Dacey & Lennon, 1998). Both can tap characteristics of creativity such as fluency and originality. For assessing figural creativitythe drawing task is particularly useful because of its basis on gestalt theory and application across cultures (Cropley, 2000).

You can also use a similar tool created by www.eapfoundation.org in which your text can be converted into a tag cloud. In the screen shot below the more common academic words from the lower-numbered sublists appear bigger than the less frequent academic words and in different colours. 

The ‘AWL Highlighter’ program is also very useful for you to check your own written assignments to see how many words from the AWL you have used. If very few words are highlighted then you know you need to work on making your own texts more academic.


Now it’s your turn to use the ‘AWL Highlighter’ program. Read the article below.

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