How to Become an Academic Writer: Part 1 – Building an Academic Vocabulary

By Camille Gamboa, US PR & Conventions

Whether you’re a new graduate student who is just learning the ropes of academic writing or a professor looking for ways to engage your students, building up your academic vocabulary is a great way to improve your writing style. With the help of Patricia Goodson’s Becoming an Academic Writer: 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive, and Powerful Writing, we’ve provided some tips to help you build up your lexicon and achieve your writing goals.

Exposure is Key

Patricia Goodson claims that in order to master new terminology for a given field, one must be continuously reading or listening to new texts, studies, conference talks, presentations, and lectures. Though it is a slow process, reading that “suggested reading” list on your syllabus (or past syllabi for you graduates out there) may actually go a long way. In fact, re-reading over a few related articles or book chapters right before you begin writing puts the new vocabulary fresh in your mind.

CAUTION: Sometimes plagiarism can happen without you even knowing it. If you do this exercise, make sure that what you type is really your own!

Use the most popular source of new words… (We’re referring to the dictionary of course!)      

Learning and using new words from the good, old-fashioned dictionary will help you to avoid writing in a way that is boring and repetitive. Goodson states that choosing a word a day from print and online versions of the dictionary is actually a great way to build your vocabulary (and for those of you who think there is any possibility that you’ll be going back to graduate school, you’ll thank yourself later when studying for the GRE). Goodson also points out that there are online dictionary services that will send a new vocabulary word a day right to your door (your email door that is). Try this one for free. After learning the new word, make sure to use it as often as you can throughout the day so that it will stick with you and you will use it in your writing.

Learn the technical terminology from a particular field first

Goodson warns that academic writers need to constantly be wary of the different connotations that words can carry based not only on nationality or culture but also on discipline. For example, using the word “rhetoric” in a political science paper will imply a completely different meeting than it will for a rhetorician publishing in a rhetoric or communication journal (click here and read definitions 1 and 2 to see what I mean). Make sure that you are familiar with your discipline’s use of new words.

You may also consider learning a word a day from dictionaries that are written especially for your discipline. While building a general vocabulary will make your writing more engaging to your readers, using a “criminology” dictionary will ensure that you are using new words correctly for all of the criminologist scholars out there. To see SAGE’s list of discipline-specific dictionaries, click here.

Is there anything you do to ensure that your vocabulary is both interesting and accurate? Leave a comment to let us know.

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