Words for what? Contrasting university students' receptive and productive academic vocabulary needs

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

17 Scopus Citations
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-39
Journal / PublicationEnglish for Specific Purposes
Online published15 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


With the objective of determining what academic vocabulary students use productively, and exploring the relationship between receptive and productive academic vocabulary, this paper continues the dialog on what constitutes academic vocabulary. By adopting a set of principled criteria (ratio, dispersion, discipline specificity and range) and by approximating the procedures from a recent study of academic vocabulary, the academic vocabulary found in students' writing is identified and subsequently compared to the academic vocabulary found in published academic writing (indexical of receptive purposes). Nearly 600 words emerge as being represented significantly more frequently in students' academic writing than in their non-academic writing, demonstrating that students distinguish in their writing between academic and non-academic vocabulary. Furthermore, the investigation finds significant differences between students' productive academic vocabulary and academic vocabulary serving receptive purposes, suggesting that students' productive and receptive academic vocabulary needs are far from identical. The findings reported here are intended to serve as a tool for EAP educators working to help students develop academic vocabulary fit for purpose, as well as an incentive for EAP researchers to continue to explore the nature of academic vocabulary.

Research Area(s)

  • Academic vocabulary, Academic writing, Productive, Receptive, Vocabulary list