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Academic Writing
Technical Language

Developing knowledge and understanding of the specialist language in your discipline

Each discipline that you study at University will have its own specialist language and terminology. A more academic text will use these technical terms instead of everyday language. Disciplines also differ in the amount of technical language that is required; for example, compare the amount of specialist language that has been used in the following example texts from Science (Biology) and Economics (Management).


The number of Dillwynia juniperina seeds with elaiosomes removed per depot was significantly different from the number of seeds without elaiosomes removed per depot (t = 9.64, d.f. = 38, p < 0.05). The mean ( SD) number of seeds with elaiosomes removed was 6.75 ( 2.27), compared to 1.15 ( 1.27) for seeds without elaiosomes (see Figure 1). In contrast, for Acacia linifolia the number of seeds with elaiosomes removed per depot was not significantly different to the number of seeds without elaiosomes (t = 0.98, d.f. = 37, p > 0.05) (see Figure 1).

The adoption of a classical management style can produce managers who are non-reflexive or show tunnel vision when problem solving. One symptom of tunnel vision is selective focussing (Fulop, 1995), where the manager only looks at an issue from his or her own perspective rather than attempting to identify alternative perspectives such as that of subordinate staff. In contrast, more modern management styles aim to use a critical approach to problem solving as well as utilising relational management techniques to create workable employer-employee relations (Fulop, 1995).

BEWARE: Do not use technical terminology just for the sake of it, especially if you don't know the meanings of the terms. Nothing is more obvious to a marker than specialist language that has been used inappropriately.

The best way to widen your technical vocabulary in your discipline is to read widely. Make sure that you look up the definitions of any terminology you don't understand. Discipline specific dictionaries make this task much easier and are widely available in university bookshops. It might be useful to develop a list of commonly used terminology and their definitions while you are reading: this list can then be used when writing your assignments.

It is important to be aware that normal words can often have a specialist definition within a discipline that differs from and may not even be related to its common English definition. In Geography, for example, "filling" has a precise meteorological meaning: increasing atmospheric pressure at the centre of a depression. Most people, however, would take this word to mean either a dental filling or filling in time. In addition, words such as retrieval, response and even behaviour when used in Psychology have a much more technical meaning than their intended meaning in everyday usage.

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