There are no grammatical features that are exclusive to academic/formal writing. There is, though, a significant group of lexico-grammatical items - noun phrases, passives and hedging devices, for example - that are used frequently and in such a way as to shape academic and formal workplace texts and give them their recognisable style. (See my blog post on what I learnt from taking a new look at academic grammar: What is 'academic grammar'?)
An advanced grammar publication for international university students
In 2010, Oxford University Press commissioned me to research and write an advanced grammar book for international EAP (English for Academic Purposes) students for self-study or classroom use. The first task was to decide which grammar features to include. After consulting colleagues, corpus-based grammars and coursebooks, and then studying texts, articles and student essays, we settled on 20 items (click here for the Contents Page).
The book itself was aimed at international students studying in any subject area. Example text is drawn from a variety of disciplines, including business studies, economics, computer science, law and social studies. In 2012, my former university colleague Roberta Wedge was invited to join the project to supply extensive practice sections (titled ‘Challenge yourself’) at the end of each six-page unit. In January 2013, the Oxford Grammar for EAP was published. The ebook can be obtained here: ebooks.com, Kobo (US), Kobo (UK), Google Play.)
A comprehensive grammar practice book for English-speaking and international university/college students
Meanwhile, I decided to go in a new direction. Mark Harrison, a fellow EFL author, asked me to join him and IELTS specialist Vanessa Jakeman in writing a comprehensive grammar practice book aimed at UK university students from English-speaking backgrounds whose grammatical mistakes were impeding their progress. Topics include punctuation, spelling, producing good sentences, parts of speech, using the right words, the use of articles, time words and phrases, negative words and phrases, and citing. It is written in the very popular EFL format of double-page spreads for each item of grammar.
The study resource book we produced, Improve Your Grammar (Bloomsbury Publishing, 3rd edition, 2022), comprises 60 two-page units (models of academic language, explanation and practice in each), and the first edition was published by Palgrave in 2012.
It was only as we wrote it (and moved on to the second edition) that we realised that international students were finding the book as relevant as their UK counterparts, and ‘Improve Your Grammar’ is now used by students across the world.
An online course for teachers of grammar for business essays and formal business writing
A few years later, remembering the grammar problems my business students had while I was teaching academic English at the University of Westminster, I decided to write an online course for teachers with what I hoped would be useful explanations and materials. The course, which covers areas such as verb clauses, impersonal subjects, noun phrases, cohesion and language for cause and effect, was published on the Udemy platform in 2019 as Teaching Grammar for Business Essays. It can be used for teaching students of business and management, or in the workplace when formal business writing skills (for reports etc.) are required.
Teaching Grammar for Business Essays and formal business writing (Udemy, 2019)
Improve Your Grammar (Bloomsbury Publishing, 3rd edition, 2022)
Oxford Grammar for EAP (OUP, 2013)
For journal and website reviews of Teaching Grammar for Business Essays, Improve Your Grammar and Oxford Grammar for EAP please click here.
Please click on the titles below to see these blogs on the Oxford University Press English Language Teaching Global Blog:
Language for Hedging in Academic English
EAP Power Grammar: Noun Phrases and Wh-clauses
If you’re a teacher, you can access these webinars by logging in to or registering for the Oxford Teachers’ Club (it’s free). Click here and then search top right for ‘Webinar Library’ and look under ‘English for Academic Purposes’ for the two titles above.
Click here for a lesson plan on cautious or 'hedging' language in essays.
Click here for a lesson plan on impersonal subjects.
Click here for a lesson plan on compound adjectives and prepositional phrases.
Click here for a printable pdf lesson plan on noun pairs in academic grammar.
‘Academic grammar’: what is it and how can we teach it?
For details of this talk for teachers’ groups, please click here.
Talks on academic grammar previously delivered: