Using Collocations to Improve Your Academic Writing

According to Wikipedia ‘a collocation is a sequence of words or terms that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance’. For instance a noun ‘research’ is likely to be used or collocated with words such as ‘ground-breaking, pioneering or collaborative’. How are we supposed to know whether two words collocate or not?

If you are a native speaker of English, you usually know it because two words together sound for you correct.  You have been exposed during your life to millions of sentences in English and therefore you have little difficulty in recognising whether certain words can be used together in the right way.If English is your second language, it gets a bit trickier. It is the area where students preparing for IELTS often struggle. It also a challenging area for more advanced undergraduate and postgraduate international students who write academic projects in English.

Yet, knowledge of frequent academic collocations is important, since it can improve your reading comprehensions, writing and speaking skills. That is why I never suggest learning words in isolation.

IELTS students can use several good books (e.g. ‘Oxford Collocations Dictionary for students of English’) and apps (e.g. English Collocation Dictionary for Android) to improve knowledge of collocations. But you have to be realistic, you are never going to learn them all. That is why you need reliable collocation tools which you can quickly consult. Below I want to show you three corpus-derived tools and websites
I used when I was writing my PhD.

The first website is  The website provides you with collocations, words in a sentence and list of similar words. See below.




I also used (see the screenshot below), and The first website is great since it illustrates the frequency of collocations with a green bar. Accordingly, ‘carry out research seems to be more prevalent than ‘conduct research’. OZDIC is good too, it provides you with more than 160,000 collocations which will help you write in a more natural-sounding English.

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