English for academic writing: A helpful dictionary for researchers

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This article is part of a Series
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Tips for researchers on using English dictionaries

This series includes posts for researchers, especially non-native English researchers, who wish to understand how they can use English dictionaries to improve their scientific writing. You will find tips on how to select the correct dictionary and use it optimally. 

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 English for academic writing: A helpful dictionary for researchers

A key skill in writing is using the right words. Academics and researchers have extensive vocabularies. It takes years of studying a subject to master its jargon. However, when it comes to using words, it is not the specialized terminology of a subject that worries academics; the difficulty lies in using words that are common to most genres of academic writing irrespective of the subject or the domain. Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English [1] focuses on just those words, which it refers to as "general academic" words. It is a dictionary for those who are learning English specifically to pursue academic studies in different subjects including the sciences. The dictionary that has been designed to "meet the particular needs of these students with an exclusive, detailed focus on the language of academic writing."

A large desk dictionary such as the Oxford Dictionary of English aims at being comprehensive and has over 350,000 words, phrases, and meanings. At 22,000 words, phrases, and meanings, the academic dictionary is selective, not comprehensive. This stock of words is drawn from four broad fields, namely the physical, life, and social sciences, and the humanities. In addition to typical dictionary entries, this dictionary offers a great deal of other useful information through text boxes, variously titled as "Which word?", Thesaurus, "Grammar point," and "Language bank." "Which word?", for example, is meant to bring out the distinctions between pairs of words such as generally and commonly, narrow and thin, and principal and principle.

Because dictionaries deal with words, they treat language at a more ‘granular’ level. Academic English, on the other hand, requires proficiency in such genres of writing as essays, abstracts, literature review, and emails. This is where the Oxford Academic Writing Tutor comes in, which takes the form of a useful 48-page supplement to the main dictionary. The tutor, in turn, is supplemented with the interactive Oxford Academic iWriter on CD-ROM (which comes with the printed version of the dictionary). The disk has model texts, tips on structuring text, and help with writing a range of assignments such as essays, case studies, and dissertations.

Perhaps these innovations have led to the dictionary being shortlisted for the 2014 Duke of Edinburgh English Language Book Awards, which "celebrate innovation and good practice in the field of the English language and English language teaching."

[1] OUP. 2014. Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Published on: Dec 02, 2014

Communicator, Published Author, BELS-certified editor with Diplomate status.
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