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Technical Vocabulary

Having a good understanding of technical vocabulary is a requirement of many academic disciplines. Often in the fields of Science, Engineering and Medicine, amongst others, there will be a need to manipulate technical language with ease and fluency. In Arts, Humanities and Social science disciplines, there will also be a requirement to use what may be termed 'specialised' vocabulary, though this will not usually be deemed to be 'technical'.

Key advice

1. What can I do to improve my knowledge of technical vocabulary?

2. Recognising technical words - the good news!

What can I do to improve my knowledge of technical vocabulary?

Using technical vocabulary can be a daunting task, and the English tutor may not necessarily be an expert in your subject area. It is reassuring to remember, however, that not even a native speaker can know all the words in his or her own language, and that technical vocabulary is generally used only by specialists in the field, who work within a particular academic community.

One solution to the difficulty of using technical vocabulary is to consult some of the many online dictionaries and glossaries of specialized words in the English language.

The most comprehensive website to help in this area is the speciality pages section at It is well worth consulting. Here, you can consult online dictionaries in a range of specialisms, from forestry to shipping, and from rhetoric to palaeontology. These resources are particularly useful for translators and academic writers, but are also of interest to the general reader.

Another useful resource for developing your technical vocabulary can be found here:

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Recognising technical words - the good news!

Although working with technical language is difficult, there is also some good news!

  • Despite the difficulty of learning and acquiring technical vocabulary, many technical words have Greek or Latin base forms, and these can be easy to recognise.
  • Some technical words are the same across a range of different languages.
  • Many writers provide clues about whether a word is technical or not, for example, they may define the word in the text, write the word in bold, inverted commas or italics, or in a diagram.
  • Often, technical vocabulary is repeated within specialised text, indicating its importance.
  • The technical use of a word can be better understood by looking up the full definition of the word, with all its uses, in a good English-English dictionary.
  • Some technical words are used outside the academic area with little change in meaning.

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