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Academic skills

What Makes an Academic Text in English More Accessible?

March 2023 | Academic reading | Academic skills | Discourse | Linguistics | Non-native speakers | Research | Teaching & Learning | Vocabulary

Rets, I., Astruc, L., Coughlan, T., & Stickler, U. (2022). Approaches to simplifying academic texts in English: English teachers’ views and practices. English for Specific Purposes, 68(C), 31-46.

What this research was about and why it is important

Reading academic texts in English might be difficult, particularly when English is not the learner’s first language. Suggestions have been put forward in various teaching settings that teachers should be able to adapt the content of the class according to the learners’ English level. Such adaptation would involve reducing the complexity level of the texts to make them a better match to the target learners’ English proficiency level. However, existing teacher training programmes do not offer courses aimed at equipping teachers with effective text adaptation strategies, research on academic reading instruction is still limited, and most studies with teachers on this topic are based on verbal classroom discourse. This study explored the strategies that experienced English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers use when intuitively simplifying written English academic texts – that is relying on their own beliefs of comprehensibility – for learners at lower English proficiency levels. The study identified 15 key strategies that EFL teachers used to adapt English academic texts and provided examples and rationale for the use of each strategy. The study also suggested that a text adaptation task can enhance teachers’ reflection skills and called for more language teacher training programmes to introduce such practice into their curricula.

What the researchers found

Despite this reliance on subjective approximations of comprehensibility, there is a shared understanding among experienced EFL teachers from diverse language backgrounds as to what constitutes a more accessible academic
text in English.

  • The most common approach to simplify academic texts across the sample concerned making ‘form modifications’ and facilitating learners’ literal understanding of the text.
  • Exchanging words with ones that the teachers felt were more frequently used in English (e.g., replacing ‘purchase’ with ‘buy’) was key to intuitive text simplification, taking up almost 40% of all strategies used to simplify academic texts.
  • None of the participating teachers mentioned having any support, or using readability formulas, predefined word lists and guidelines to adapt texts, while alleviating text difficulty is an indispensable part of their day-to-day job.

Things to consider

  • While being trained language teachers, participants in this study reported that they had not learned simplification strategies as EFL pre-service teachers, and the simplification exercise helped them reflect on their reading comprehension instruction practices.
  • Our findings provided strong implications for training novice teachers and increasing their awareness of the text adaption strategies teachers with extensive experience use implicitly.
  • The study developed a guideline for adapting written academic texts in English.


Download the summary here:

How to cite this summary: Rets, I. (2022). What makes an academic text in English more accessible? OASIS Summary of Rets et al. (2022) in English for Specific Purposes.