Roads to Academic Reading is a tribute to the memory of Dr. Esther Klein-Wohl who was our beloved head of department, mentor and colleague at Israel's Open University. Her breadth of vision and depth of expert knowledge made this site possible, and her strength and wisdom helped us through the most difficult phases of this project.
Esther is missed by all who had the privilege of working with her and her memory continues to light our way forward on the road across the mountain.
About Academic Reading
Reading an academic text differs in many ways from reading comics, novels and magazines.
Two important differences are:
- what we read – content and characteristics of academic texts.
- how we read – what readers of academic texts are expected to do.
Academic texts deal with concepts and ideas related to subjects that are studied at college or university.
Authors of academic texts:
- raise abstract questions and issues.
- present facts and evidence to support their claims.
- use logic to build their arguments and defend their positions.
- conform to a clearly-defined structure.
- choose their words carefully to present their arguments as effectively as possible.
- try to convince us to accept their positions.
- higher lexical density.
- longer sentences, with more complex relations between the sentences.
- wider range of vocabulary, has longer average word length and features more frequent use of the passive voice.
When you read an academic text, you are expected to do much more than simply understand the words of the text and summarize main ideas.
Students at college or university level are also expected to:
- recognize the author's purpose and possible bias.
- differentiate between facts and author's opinions.
- challenge questionable assumptions and unsupported claims.
- think about possible consequences of the author's claims.
- integrate information across multiple sources.
- identify rival hypotheses, possible contradictions and competing views.
- evaluate evidence and draw their own conclusions, instead of simply accepting what the author says.
Doing all this isn't easy – and becomes almost impossible if you don’t know the meaning of the words you read.
Words in academic texts are often different from the English words we use every day.
Many academic words
- come from Greek or Latin, e.g. "hypothesis" and "predict".
- express abstract concepts and ideas.
- relate to scientific thinking and research.
This means that students who can cope with everyday spoken English may not know the words they need in order to read fluently and understand academic texts.
Academic vocabulary can act as a barrier that prevents you from moving successfully from everyday spoken English to understanding the language of academic textbooks and articles.
In order to cross this barrier, you need to know the words that often appear in academic texts.
Knowing the words that often appear in academic texts helps you:
- read faster.
- concentrate on content of the text.
- focus more attention on critically evaluating text content.
Knowing what individual words or phrases mean is only the first step – they do not guarantee you will understand the whole text. Make sure you learn strategies for improving reading comprehension, patterns of text organization, discourse markers etc. that can help you cope more effectively with academic texts.
Dr. Ingrid Barth and Dr. Esther Klein-Wohl
Miri Hefetz - Programmer (Shoham Center)
Writers and Editors
Tova Atkins, Ingrid Barth, Naomi Bousso, Yitzhak Ersoff, Barbara Golan, Claire Gordon, Diana Katz, Esther Klein-Wohl, Ann Marks, Annette Rosenberg, Ellen Schur, Melanie Tureck, Rachel Wohlfarth, Carrie Yomtov.
Shoham Center - Itai Hareven (Head of Technology Division), Amir Winer, Miri Chefetz, Gaby Weissbuch and Nadav Leshed (QA).
Graphic Design - Laura Grinberg
Part of this project was funded with support from:
- The European Commission (Project number 543683-TEMPUS-1-2013-1-IL-TEMPUS-JPCR). This publication reflects only the views of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
- The Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology.
We would like to thank
- Teachers and students who participated in the focus groups and pilot stages.
- HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. for allowing us to use some definitions from their Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary (2006), updated from the Bank of English and based on the Cobuild series. These definitions appear with an asterisk on the flashcards.
- Prof. Mark Davies who gave us permission to put the AVL lists with translations onto our site.
If you are interested in joint research projects based on use of this site, please contact:
Dr. Ingrid Barth, Division of Languages - Tel Aviv University