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Welcome to the English Language Foundations chapter. Here, we are going to discover some of the academic English foundational skills required for study at university. Firstly, we will look at levels of English proficiency that are usually required for academic study. In the second half of this chapter, we will examine some of the mechanics of academic writing including grammar and techniques to enhance your academic writing skills. If English is not your first language, you may find this chapter especially beneficial.

English entry level requirements

Every institution and every course in Australia has its own English entry level requirements, so it is always best to first look at what requirements your institution states you must have before studying a particular course. If English is not your first language, you may be required to undertake an English proficiency test, examples of which include: IELTS (International English Language Testing System) Academic,  Pearson PTE (Pearson Test of English) Academic, TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language internet-based test), CAE (Cambridge English: Advanced) and OET (Occupational English Test) (Studies in Australia, 2020). Each testing system scores participants according to a scale. Please always check with your institution about what requirements you need to enter your preferred university course.

Academic English

Writing is the main way to show your understanding of a particular topic or concept in your course. It is important to work on improving your writing skills as in most courses, you are assessed on your written work. Academic English is the particular style of English that is used at the university level. It is important to note that every person entering university studies for the first time, needs the time to learn and develop their understanding of what Academic English is and how they can apply it to their own writing. In the sections below, you will see what some of the basics of academic writing are and you will see some key rules and explanations of Academic English. Further into the chapter, you will also be able to learn about some of the basic grammatical structures of academic writing as well as some techniques for applying academic writing to your work to make it stand out.

Academic English Basics

If you are new to university, it is normal for academic writing to seem a little daunting. Academic writing can sometimes feel like you are learning a whole new language, even if you feel you are proficient in English. Remember, we all have to start somewhere, and therefore it is helpful to familiarise yourself with the basics of academic writing. Fortunately, there are many great support services available to support you at university as you develop your academic literacy and by following a few guidelines, you will also be well on your way to communicating effectively in the academic context. Let’s look at some do’s and don’ts of academic writing:


Write clearly and concisely

  • This is important not only so your writing is clear, but also so that you can stick to the word count.
  • For example: it is better to say, “the research data” rather than “the data from the research”.

Reference your research and information

  • Referencing is an essential skill to learn throughout your university studies as it helps you to credit the sources of information you are using.
  • For more information on referencing, check out the next chapter on Working with Information.

Write in third person

  • Writing in third person means to write from the perspective of other people rather than yourself. It is better to name other researchers/professors/academics by their name (in the appropriate referencing system) to support what you are saying. For example, it is better to say Smith (2020) believe that…. Rather than say “I believe that…”
  • Please note however, that first person is sometimes acceptable for some assignments when you are asked to reflect. In this case a balance of first and third person may be used. You can read more about reflective writing in the Writing Assignments chapter. 
  • You can also read more about how to use third person below in the section ‘techniques for academic writing’.

Plan your writing

  • Planning is an important early step before you start writing and can help you to focus and answer all parts of the assignment question. Check out the Writing Assignments chapter in this book for more information.

Do Not’s

Use slang words or colloquialisms

  • Academic writing is considered formal, so informal language including slang and colloquial/idiomatic expressions should be avoided in writing (Uni Learning, 2000).
  • For example, avoid saying, “Managing climate change is easier said than done” because easier said than done is a colloquial expression. It would be better to write, “Managing climate change can be difficult in practice.” This example is more formal and academic, and therefore more appropriate for academic writing.

Write sentences that are too long or too short

  • Sentences that are too long can be difficult for the reader to follow.
  • Similarly, sentences that are too short can sound ‘choppy’ or disjointed.
  • Try to keep your sentences roughly between 15-25 words. You can also have sentences that are longer and shorter than this, but if you aim for this length, it will assist in making your writing coherent.

Use contractions

  • Contractions are when we shorten two words together as one word. For example, ‘do not’ becomes ‘don’t’. Although contractions are common in our everyday spoken life, they are not commonplace in academic writing. You should always use the full words rather than the contracted forms of words while writing in academia.
  • For example, do not write, “It doesn’t seem accurate to label the author’s words as exceptional.” Instead you should write, “It does not seem accurate to label the author’s words as exceptional.”

Be overly emotive in your language

  • Academic writing is often described as being ‘objective’, which means that it relies on evidence-based research and practice to support arguments.
  • The opposite of objective is subjective, which relies on emotions to support a position, and is therefore considered less effective. Therefore, it is important to avoid emotive ways of backing up your arguments, as they are not considered as reliable as evidence from good quality research.
  • For example, avoid using a sentence like “It is such a shame that too many people do not take advantage of the benefits of exercising every day.” Instead, it would be better to say, “Research suggests that exercising every day has many health benefits.”

Chapter copied from: https://usq.pressbooks.pub/academicsuccess/ Chapter: English Language Foundations by Sarah Irvine and Linda Clark


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