Looking for ways to transform your academic English skills? With this article, you’ll learn the most useful phrases to give your dissertation or thesis a real lift and make it sound authoritative, self-assured and worthy of a top mark. With every collocation there is a short definition and an example sentence from a real academic paper.
Academic writing can be one of the hardest things to perfect in English. This advanced skill requires perfect grammar, pin-point vocabulary usage and a deep understanding of the subject you are writing about. What it also requires is a very specific register (level of formality) which can be difficult to get right for non-native English speakers (and quite a few native speakers as well!).
One way you can improve and transform your academic English writing is by learning some useful collocations which will make you sound self-assured, knowledgeable and bring just the right level of formality to your dissertation or thesis.
This guide will give you 50 of the most useful academic collocations as well as definitions and some examples taken from genuine academic papers.
Study tip: Practice writing out your own sentences using each of the collocations listed here. Does the structure make sense grammatically? Do you understand the concept? Check your sentence against the example sentence for each collocation.
1. Accurate assessment - correct and precise evaluation of something or someone
E.g. “Accurate assessment of head motion can be a useful tool in clinical studies”.
2. Address the issue - consider or deal with the matter at hand
E.g. “To help address this issue, we have extended our previous study and examined in detail the…”.
3. Adversely affect - change in a negative way
E.g. “A literature search was performed to determine whether non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) adversely affect the healing of stress fractures”.
4. Become apparent - to be suddenly clear or obvious
E.g. “They become apparent, however, when a new molecular species is introduced into the atmosphere...”.
5. Brief overview - a non-detailed look at the subject as a whole
E.g. “This paper offers a brief but broad overview of the field of individual of language learning”.
6. Broad range - of extensive scope
E.g. “The colour produced from this reaction is stable and increases in a proportional fashion over a broad range of increasing protein concentrations”.
7. Causal link - one thing being responsible for another
E.g. “A causal link between high need for achievement and small business ownership is not found”.
8. Characteristic feature - a feature which distinguishes or defines something or someone
E.g. “The characteristic feature of the book is the effort to explain the mathematical origins of the most widely used statistical formulas in terms that persons with comparatively little mathematical training can easily follow”.
9. Deeply rooted - firmly implanted or established
E.g. “This book describes efforts to develop an approach to teaching and teacher education that is deeply rooted in the study of practice”.
10. Detailed analysis - an in-depth study
E.g. “The major difference between my book and others at this level is its coverage of the detailed analysis of experiments”.
11. Essential component - a vital part of something
E.g. “We show here that these proteins are an essential component of the cell surface receptor”.
12. Establish a relationship - to prove or show a link between two things
E.g. “Our aim was to establish the relationship between aortic stiffness and stroke death in hypertensive patients”.
13. Existing research - previous academic work on the same subject
E.g. “This working paper reviews the existing research evidence about the additional costs or deprivation that disabled people face”.
14. First impression - initial thought on a subject, prior to any detailed analysis
E.g. “Our first impression was strengthened by the fact that we were aware a condition existed in Povoa de Varzim”.
15. Frequently cited - often quoted or referred to in reference to something
E.g. “It should be recognized that other systems are frequently cited, particularly in engineering literature”.
16. Fundamental principle - principle from which other principles can be derived
E.g. “The authors argue for the restoration of beneficence to its place as the fundamental principle of medical ethics”.
17. General consensus - the majority opinion on a topic
E.g. “There is a general consensus that forward exchange rates have little, if any power as forecasts of future spot exchange rates”.
18. Gain insight - achieve a more profound understanding
E.g. “Through this comparison we hope to gain insight into the way they perform specific tasks”.
19. Hierarchical structure - a system where elements are subordinate to other elements
E.g. “After reviewing their theoretical approach, the authors present four kinds of hierarchical structure in music”.
20. Highly controversial - tending to provoke fierce disagreement
E.g. “A highly controversial issue in financial economies is whether stocks overreact”.
21. Immediately apparent - obvious and clear at that moment
E.g. “The reasons for this are not immediately apparent and deserve further investigation”.
22. Increase the likelihood - to make more likely or plausible
E.g. “Numerous high school students engage in behaviours that increase their likelihood of death from these four causes”.
23. Key element - a main or fundamental component
E.g. “Provisional restorations represent a key element in the realization of extensive esthetic rehabilitations”.
24. Largely confined - focussed in a particular area
E.g. “The metabolic syndrome is largely confined to overweight and obese adults”.
25. Literal interpretation - a non-metaphorical or figurative reading
E.g. “In Experiment 2, targets were phrases that could be given either an idiomatic or a literal interpretation”.
26. Major challenge - a large or fundamental problem
E.g. “Keeping up with the population increase is a major challenge for urban areas”.
27. Markedly different - noticeably distinct
E.g. “The spectrum of pyridine coordinately bonded to the surface is markedly different from that of the pyridinium ion”.
28. Negative connotation - suggesting something bad or wrong
E.g. “The label placebo was avoided because of its negative connotation”.
29. Newly emerging - novel or original concept first being introduced
E.g. “This is a book about a newly emerging area of research in instructional technology”.
30. Offer insight - present a deep or original analysis
E.g. “This study reveals what those practices are and may offer insight for how
they fit into future workplaces”.
31. Organisational structure - the way groups are arranged
E.g. “This paper models the inner workings of relationship lending, the implications for bank organisational structure, and the effects of shocks to the economic environment on the availability of relationship credit to small businesses”.
32. Particular emphasis - stressing one aspect of something
E.g. “The first chapter, a review of some of the principal social surveys carried out in the last half-century or so, with particular emphasis on British experience, has been entirely rewritten”.
33. Perceived importance - the opinion that something is particularly important or relevant
E.g. “We examined whether employees' perceived importance of the training program would be one variable that mediates the relationship between training assignment and training motivation”.
34. Pioneering work - work which explores previously uncharted territory
E.g. “Hans-Paul Schwefel has responded to rapidly growing interest in Evolutionary Computation, a field that originated, in part, with his pioneering work in the early 1970s”.
35. Positive feature - something good
E.g. “The great chemical diversity is a positive feature in that it indicates the likelihood that a variety of approaches can be made to prevention”.
36. Qualitatively different - differences relating to quality as opposed to quantity
E.g. “Current methods for generating qualitatively different plans are either based on simple randomisation of planning decisions”.
37. Quantitative study - a study which focuses on aspects of quantity
E.g. “Qualitative and quantitative studies were performed on pulmonary blood vessels in lung tissue obtained by biopsy, pneumonectomy, or autopsy”.
38. Raise a question - necessitates an obvious enquiry
E.g. “At the same time, it also raises the question of whether a single reform can meet the very different objectives of different supporters”.
39. Rapid expansion - to grow larger at a fast rate
E.g. “It has been suggested that the rapid expansion could be the result of human activities causing habitat disturbances or stresses such as pollution”.
40. Reach a consensus - develop a general agreement
E.g. “A consensus conference was organized to evaluate the data and reach a consensus on optimal treatment protocols”.
41. Reciprocal relationship - benefiting both parties equally
E.g. “The aim of the present study is to examine the reciprocal relationship between parental attachment and adolescent internalising and externalising problem behaviour”.
42. Seem plausible - appear possible or likely
E.g. “Again, even though the results seem plausible, they are hard to interpret in the absence of a theory”.
43. Specific examples - focussed examples
E.g. “The specific examples used are shown to have a substantial biasing effect on diagnostic accuracy”.
44. Theoretical approach - focussing on theories rather than practical application
E.g. “A new theoretical approach to language has emerged in the past 10–15 years that allows linguistic observations about form–meaning pairings, known as 'constructions', to be stated directly”.
45. Typical example - an example which is common or expected in its outcome
E.g. “A typical example would be the design of a trial to evaluate the benefits of specialist stroke units”.
46. Underlying assumption - a belief which dictates other beliefs
E.g. “Much of ecological theory is based on the underlying assumption of equilibrium population dynamics”.
47. Universally accepted - an assumption which is not commonly disputed
E.g. “The idea of a biological root to human nature was almost universally accepted at the turn of the century”.
48. Vary considerably - to be widely different in form or features
E.g. “The results of these procedures vary considerably among patients”.
49. Vast majority - an overwhelming amount
E.g. “The vast majority of cases occur in developing countries, mainly because of lack of screening”.
50. Well-documented - evidence from numerous or reliable sources
E.g. “Although CNS depression and analgesia are well documented effects of the cannabinoids, the mechanisms responsible for these and other cannabinoid-induced effects are so far known”.