2nd year student Ernie creates prints of quotes from interviews with different letterpress technicians, for a book that will celebrate the art of letterpress.

The Academic Word List is a list of 570 words that appear frequently in all academic texts. This means that they are very general academic words. They are not specially connected with any particular subject and so they are very useful for all students.

The list was created by Averil Coxhead, who analysed hundreds of academic texts, from all subject areas, to see which words were common to all these texts. She then divided the 570 words into 10 lists (called sub-lists of the Academic Word List) according to how frequent they are. Sub-list 1 has the most frequent words, and sub-list 10 has the least frequent words. Each sub-list contains 60 words, except sub-list 10, which only has 30.

These words are common in academic texts, but they are not so common in everyday writing or speech. This is why they are not so easy to learn, but why at the same time, it is very important for students to learn them. If you do not know these words, you will find academic work at university difficult. If you learn these words well, so that you understand them and use them easily, you will find that studying becomes easier and you should be more successful in your studies.

Are there really only 570 words I have to know?

It is important to understand that the 570 words are in fact head-words - they are the most common words within a word family. This means that there may be many more related words that you will also need to understand and learn. Here is an example of a word family:


The most common word in this family is conclusion and this is the word you will find on the Academic Word List, sub-list 2.

The Academic Word List including all the words in the word families is about 3000 words. (You can find full lists on UEFAP and Averil Coxhead’s website.) 

This means that you also need to study how words are built, in order to expand your vocabulary further and to ensure you use words correctly in your writing and speaking.

See: word building

Websites featuring the Academic Word List (AWL)

There are a number of interesting and useful websites which have information about the Academic Word List and exercises and tests to help you learn this vocabulary.

Using English for Academic Purposes

This is a comprehensive and authoritative guide to learning academic vocabulary. The pages are clearly laid out and make useful distinctions between the General Service List (GSL), the AWL, subject specific vocabulary and less frequent vocabulary. 

Vocabulary Levels Test (Productive)

This is part of the site created by Tom Cobb, of Quebec University, Canada as a vast and comprehensive resource for vocabulary learning. The University Word List (UWL) is similar to the AWL. The tests are simple to take and give immediate feedback. 

Vocabulary Exercises for the Academic Word List

This site, by Gerry Luton, gives a brief, clear introduction to the AWL and has a huge number of exercises. For the exercises, the word families for each sub-list have been further divided into six groups for ease of study, with three separate gap-fill exercises for each group. 

Academic Vocabulary

This site gives basic information about the AWL and has some unique features. It provides links to printable sub-lists in Word. It also lists the words on the General Service Wordlist. It has exercises and concordances, and some brief but useful information on how to use concordances. 

Martin McMorrow’s Podcasts

This site, created by Martin McMorrow an English teacher working at Massey University in New Zealand, is not exclusively based upon the AWL, but it does include a focus on basic academic vocabulary. In includes a link to - and tasks based upon - a wide range of authentic listening and reading texts. There is quite a strong emphasis on business. There is also a photo of the day and a bit about New Zealand culture. 

Exam English

This site has two vocabulary tests based on the AWL. They involve speed reading of 4 definitions against a timer, which can be turned off. Each definition is highlighted in turn as the cursor is run over it. Immediate feedback in the form of a green Correct! that flashes up. An example sentence is given at bottom of the exercise once an answer is chosen. Exercises are divided into ‘sets’ of 10 questions.

Student Tools: Essential Academic Vocabulary - Mastering the Complete Academic Word List

These pages are a web-based resource for the book Student Tools: Essential Academic Vocabulary - Mastering the Complete Academic Word List by Helen Huntley. 

The Academic Word List

This is the website of Averil Coxhead who created the AWL. It gives a useful list of headwords as well as sub-lists of AWL. It explains the rationale behind the AWL and gives lists of all words in the word families.