The nature of academic English

The exciting news is that Macmillan (a publishing company with lots of English language products) is giving the English for University website free places on their online  Academic English and IELTS course! This means that I can give these places to you. Every month Macmillan will give us a place on their course for a whole year.  Wow! If you would like to enter the December draw (which is when you put all the tickets in a box and pull out the winner) then you have to send me an e mail saying ‘Please enter me for the draw!’ Just make sure that you are a subscriber to English for University. Some subscribers may not be interested in the course so I only want to give it to someone who really wants it which is why I am asking you to opt in to the draw. Your e mail address is, needless to say, safe with me! (Now we’ll find out how many people actually read these posts!!)

I was working with a student the other day who had written a really really long sentence! There were so many clauses and commas, and there was so much information between the subject and the verb that I just couldn’t hold that much information in my head! Put in a few grammar mistakes because the student is not a native speaker and you can imagine my distress!

Here’s a paragraph from a journal article which I’ve used with some students recently:

It is generally agreed that overseas students are at a severe disadvantage in coping with a new education system.  From various aspects, many studies reported the difficulties experienced by overseas students with their academic progress. Elkerton (1985) highlighted the extent of thesis supervision for overseas students. His research showed that, in general, overseas students require more intensive supervision than the native students. Barker et al (1991) reported the difficulties faced by a sample of Chinese students with tutorials. Felix and Lawson (1994) found that overseas students often expoerience stresses and problems not only with tutorials (including lectures, seminars, but also with laboratory work and essay writing up.

Li , R and Kaye, M (1998) Understanding Overseas Students’ Concerns and Problems, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, Vol 20, No 1, 1998

Read it? Fine. It’s not very difficult to understand because the sentences are quite short and easily structured. In most sentences you can see quite simply:

subject verb object
Overseas students are at a disadvantage in coping with a new education system.
Many studies reported the difficulties experienced by overseas students.
Elkerton highlighted the extent of thesis supervision for overseas students.
His research showed that overseas students require more supervision.

In fact it is remarkable how simple the structures are here! If you are writing a literature review look no further for how to do it! Looking at sentences like this – subject – verb – and the rest – can help you check for agreement between the subject and verb and can also help you understand complex sentences when you are reading. Keep it simple!

As usual I will leave you with a link to read around the subject a bit more. Today’s link is to Napier University in Edinburgh with some useful comments about academic writing style.