English for Academic Purposes

Selecting vocabulary to learn

In order to succeed in HE in English, you need:

  • a good general vocabulary, for example:
  • a good general EAP vocabulary, for example:
  • specific vocabulary for use in your academic area, for example:
  • knowledge of some less-frequent words

In 1953 Michael West (West, 1953) published his well-known General Service List of English words. This was a list of the 2000 most useful word families of English. Although the list has been criticised for many reasons, research into academic texts by Averil Coxhead (Coxhead, 2000) has shown that the General Service List (GSL) covers almost 80% of the academic texts she studied. It would seem essential for any EAP student to know these word families.

Coxhead studied over 3.5 million words of academic text from 28 subject-areas and identified another 570 word families that were commonly used in academic texts from all subjects. Her words cover 10% of the academic texts she studied. She called these words the Academic Word List (AWL). It would also seem necessary for any EAP student to know these words also.

Therefore the General Service List plus the Academic Word List cover nearly 90% of academic texts. As well as these general academic words, EAP students would also need to know the specific words related to their subjects - around 5% of the words in an academic text (Nation, 2001, p. 12) and some of the less frequent words used in English - again about 5%.

How many words do you know?

General Service List Academic Word List Academic Keyword List Specific Subjects Less Frequent