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How can I improve my use of academic language?

Students, undergraduate and postgraduate, find they can always improve their skills in communication. This is the case just as much for those who have only spoken Australian English all their life as for those for whom English is one of many languages.

Improving your use of academic language is possible simply by paying more attention to it in your own writing.

Written language

Start with the readings in your discipline. Notice how writers put their words together, how they shift from one point to another.

Be active in your study.

  • Read the work of others to see how academic writers have expressed themselves and collect phrases and words for different purposes. This is one such example, for observing the writer's transition signals, whereby the reader is led from one idea to the next.
  • The tutorial on Academic writing in Language and Learning Online for some excellent suggestions on the features to notice.

Essay writing connectives and transition signals

Connectives, or transition words, guide the reader through an essay so that they may move from one point to another more easily.

The following lists may be useful. Start using these phrases and words in your own writing. Remember, you don't have to get it right the very first time you do this and you will improve with successive drafts and assignments.

Click the highlighted text to see some examples

  • To introduce an additional idea
  • To make comparisons or contrasts
  • To express a result
  • To indicate order of importance or logical order
  • To summarise
  • Others
  • also
  • besides
  • furthermore
  • moreover
  • in addition
  • besides this
  • likewise
  • similarly
  • also
  • in comparison
  • in contrast
  • yet
  • on the other hand
  • nevertheless
  • whereas
  • whilst
  • however
  • therefore
  • thus
  • hence
  • consequently
  • accordingly
  • as a result
  • as a consequence
  • more / most important(ly)
  • more / most significant(ly)
  • above all
  • primarily
  • first, second, third, etc.
  • next, last, finally
  • in addition, moreover
  • furthermore
  • more / most important(ly)
  • more / most significant(ly)
  • in conclusion
  • in summary
  • to conclude
  • to summarise
  • in summary
  • in short
  • to sum up
  • for instance
  • for example
  • nonetheless
  • otherwise

(Adapted from the work of Oshima and Hogue, 2006)

Note that in academic writing, but and and generally aren't used at the start of sentences unless you are writing an article in Journalism, perhaps.)

Other resources

  • Work through the guidance provided for using and referring to the ideas of others for tips on taking a position, referring to sources in your writing, and critically expressing the work of others.
  • Research students should also consider the features of academic writing style, including culture and styles of argumentation, connecting your ideas and writing with authority.
  • Learn the features of academic writing in Language and Learning Online.

Oral language

Take note of the way people draw on the work of others, support their arguments and reflect their own when they're speaking.

Some strategies here might be:

  • Listen to Monash University Lectures Online (MULO). Pay attention to how lecturers express themselves and use and refer to the work of others. Collect useful phrasing for adaption.
  • Listen to ABC Radio National. Again, notice how people refer to the ideas of academics, theory and practice. Collect useful phrasing for adaption.
  • Learn how to present with confidence on the Learning Support for Higher Degree Research students site, and consider the speaking resources in Language and Learning Online.
  • Consider helpful material in Vacation English.

Continuous improvement

Improving your use of written and spoken academic language is a process. Develop your own continuous improvement cycle. This means make an attempt; check it for effect; research an alternative approach; make another attempt; check it for effect; and so on.

There is no one correct way to develop and do things, although paying attention to what works and what doesn't work in your assignments will ensure you do improve with time and practice.

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