Lexical complexity changes in 100 years’ academic writing: Evidence from Nature Biology Letters

Xinye Zhou, Yuan Gao, Xiaofei Lu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Previous diachronic studies of lexical changes in academic writing have focused on the evolution of specific sets or classes of words with specific grammatical or discourse functions, with no scholarly attention paid to diachronic changes in the overall lexical complexity of academic writing, a construct that has been shown to be closely related to text readability and writing quality. This study explores diachronic lexical complexity changes in academic writing based on a self-built corpus, the Corpus of Nature Biology Letters, comprised of 421 scientific letters sampled with ten-year intervals for 100 years (1929–2019). The corpus was analyzed for nine measures of lexical density, sophistication, and diversity to ascertain the trend and strength of lexical complexity changes. Our findings show that the patterns of diachronic changes in the lexical complexity of academic writing accord with the overall trends in academic writing towards greater compression and conventionalization. These findings add to our understanding of the evolution of the academic writing practices of the scientific community and may also have implications for academic writing pedagogy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101262
JournalJournal of English for Academic Purposes
StatePublished - Jul 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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