Do you need to read this?
These pages provide self-assessment tests of your knowledge of academic English together with advice on how to use it. It is intended to be helpful to overseas students who are not familiar with English academic style and to native English speakers from non-academic backgrounds - or simply for students who have been out of the academic system for a while and are not sure about the conventions of academic writing these days.
What is academic English?
Most of you can speak, read and write good English so why do you need to test your academic English? The answer is that academic English is different from ordinary English and English academic style is different from other academic cultures.
For instance, we use a much more 'linear' form of narrative than many European academic traditions, ask students to think and write more independently than many Asian cultures and use language that is more formal than conversational English but less formal than African or Caribbean English. In academic English, especially scientific English 'less is more'. We are always striving to write in the clearest, most concise way possible. 'Make every word count' is a piece of advice you will hear from tutors and journal editors alike. For many students this is a new approach to writing - in a number of disciplines academic writing means long, complicated, indirect sentences that use complex language. The figure below shows a diagrammatic representation of the way different academic cultures argue (and therefore write )- although the author later admitted that this was an over-simplification, it gives you an idea what we mean when we say academic English is 'linear'.
In the exercises on the following pages you can see whether you are able to judge which words are appropriate for academic English, which words are redundant and therefore make your sentence slow to read, think about how to structure paragraphs, what makes a sentence, how to avoid being accused of plagiarism and much more.
Academic writing in English is different from other types of writing but it is a skill you can acquire by discovering strategies for clear writing and practising them.
Why is it important?
The aim of these exercises and the associated feedback is to help you communicate. It doesn't matter how good a researcher you are if you can't inform the rest of the world about your findings in a way that is clear, concise and logical. All the sections in these pages will help you to do that. It doesn't matter if you know what 'nominalisation' or 'subjunctive clause' means (although we do explain) - but it does matter if you can't punctuate a sentence correctly or write one very long paragraph instead of dividing your work into 'one topic, one paragraph'. If a sentence is ambiguous because you've misplaced an apostrophe or is hard to follow because you've explained how you obtained your data in the Introduction to your report, you risk losing your readers.
How does it work?
Eight key topics are described in these pages. For each topic there are several tests you can do to see if you understand the point being made and if you get the answer wrong you will be given advice and guided to websites that will give your further information on the topic. In some cases, even if you get the answer right, you might find it useful to choose a wrong answer and read the feedback. The aim of these tests is not for us to do any kind of assessment but for you to identify areas where you may need to do some background reading.
Writing good academic English means learning some new skills but there are hundreds of websites available to help with all sorts of different aspects of academic English. We've listed many of them in the appropriate sections of these pages but you will be able to find others. We also have an online guide, the Academic Writing Handbook: http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/edu/studyskills.html which gives details of issues such as copyright and referencing which will help you to ensure you never plagiarise anyone else's work.
Each section in this material gives links to useful websites but the following may provide useful background reading on good, academic writing.
http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/edu/studyskills.html - the LSHTM distance learning guide has lots of useful information about academic writing and in particular about copyright and plagiarism.
http://resources.bmj.com/bmj/authors/bmj-house-style - from the British Medical Journal. Style guide for medical journal papers. These are the BMJ's official instructions for authors on the 'house style' to use in submitted papers. These include many helpful tips for good writing in general, e.g. grammar and punctuation, as well as more specific guidance on exactly what the BMJ will accept. This can be seen as a 'gold standard' of how you should aim to put a paper together for medical topics.
http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=3359 - from the Open University. A comprehensive set of online tutorials about planning, structuring and writing academic assignments or reports."
http://www.learnhigher.ac.uk/students.htm . Good general guidance.
Finally, keep practising - the more academic literature you read and write, the easier it will become.