The following is a collection of 40 terms that I have come across while reading Chinese academic writing such as papers, reports, theses, etc. I think this list will be very useful for any Westerner coming to China to study a Chinese-taught programme, but it can also be used by Chinese wishing to improve their academic English vocabulary, as well as translation students and practitioners. I have tried to only include the most “typically Chinese” terms; I’ve deliberately left out words which have a one-to-one correspondence with English. For your convenience I’ve included a relatively simple example sentence for each word so you can better understand their usage. If you’re about to take on a Chinese-taught program, I think memorising this short list will help you understand lecturers a whole lot better. Enjoy!
40 Terms Commonly Used in Chinese Academic Writing
1. 学术 xuéshù: academics; scholarship; learning 民间文学是非常有学术价值的非物质文化遗产。Folk literature is an example of intangible cultural heritage which is of great academic value. [Note that “academia” can be translated as 学术界 xuéshùjiè, literally, “academic circles”.]
2. 现象 xiànxiàng: 1. phenomenon 在有些国家里这种现象确实非常普遍。This phenomenon is indeed extremely prevalent in some countries. 2. appearance 看事物不能只看到表面现象。When analysing something one most look beyond its superficial appearance.
3. 本质 běnzhì: essence; intrinsic quality 礼貌的本质就是体贴别人。The essence of politeness is being considerate to others. [Note that in Chinese 本质 běnzhì is considered the antonym of 现象 xiànxiàng.]
4. 矛盾 máodùn: 1. contradiction 这在措词上是自相矛盾的。The wording contradicts itself. 2. problem; issue; conflict 两性之间从来就有矛盾。There has always been conflict between the sexes.
5. 弊病 bìbìng: drawback; disadvantage; downside 这种做法弊病不少。There are a number of drawbacks associated with this method.
6. 主干 zhǔgàn: 1. trunk (of a tree) 2. main part; core 文章主干部分有四章。The main part of the article consists of four chapters.
7. 要点 yàodiǎn: the most important content; the main points 我先要介绍文章的要点。First I’d like to introduce the main points of this article.
8. 要素 yàosù: key factor 这些都是促使美国经济发展的基本要素。These are all key factors which promoted the development of the American economy.
9. 精华 jīnghuá: the best feature of something; essence; quintessence; cream 谚语是许多世纪智慧的精华。Proverbs are the quintessence of many centuries of wisdom.
10. 关键 guānjiàn: 1. crux; key 培养人才，关键在教育。The key to nurturing talent lies in education. 2. crucial; pivotal; essential 这是最关键的一招。This is the most essential strategy.
11. 层面 céngmiàn: level; layer; surface 处理这个问题时，我们只专注于技术层面，却忽略了道德问题。In addressing this issue we only paid attention to the technical side, and ignored the ethical considerations. [Note that English does not use the metaphor of “level” or “layer” in much the same way as Chinese; in this context, English would more commonly employ the terms “side” or “aspect”.]
12. 范畴 fànchóu: conceptual category; scope; domain 工作的范畴和生活的范畴交织在一起。The domains of work and life are intertwined.
13. 界定 jièdìng: to delimit; to demarcate; to define 首先我们要界定几个关键性概念。Firstly, it is necessary to define some critical concepts.
14. 界限 jièxiàn: boundary; limit; division 打破城乡界限是很重要的。It is important to break the divide between urban and rural areas.
15. 领域 lǐngyù: 1. occupied area; territory 确保祖国领域安全。Ensure the safety of the motherland territory. 2. field; sphere; domain 他在医学领域是专家。He is an expert in the field of medicine.
16. 切入 qiērù: 1. to cut into; to incise 2. to penetrate deeply into a topic; to take as a starting point for discussion 我的论文的讨论点是目前国内的环境污染，是以人们的身体健康作为切入点开始讨论的。The discussion point of my paper is the current state of pollution in China, with human health as a starting point.
17. 学说 xuéshuō: theory; doctrine 他的学说并不包含新颖的思想。His theory does not include any original approaches.
18. 学派 xuépài: school of thought 这个学派的学者之间存在着各种不同的观点。 There are differing views among the scholars of this school of thought.
19. 前沿 qiányán: 1. forward position; front line (in military terminology) 2. leading position; vanguard 这本书讨论一些最新的媒体学研究前沿。This book discusses some of the most recent research in media studies. [Note that in academia this term is used to refer to a position which is at the forefront of new developments or ideas.]
20. 脉络 màiluò: 1. network of blood vessels 2. sequence of ideas; thread of thought 这篇文章脉络分明。A clear thread of thought runs through this article.
21. 宗旨 zōngzhǐ: aim; purpose; objective 联合国的宗旨之一是维护国际和平与安全。One of the purposes of the United Nations is to maintain international peace and security.
22.动态 dòngtài: developments; trends; dynamics; developmental state 市场动态的研究一直受到重视。Market trend research has always been the subject of attention.
23. 开拓 kāituò: 1. to break new ground 2. to broaden; to open up; to develop 搞科研的人一定要开拓思路。Those engaged in scientific research must broaden their way of thinking. [Note its near-synonym 拓展 tuòzhǎn with varying usage and collocation.]
24. 采纳 cǎinà: to accept or adopt a suggestion, proposal, etc. 我们不能指望所有国家都采纳相同的制度。We cannot expect all countries to adopt the same systems. [Note that 采纳 most often collocates with the following terms: 建议 (jiànyì), 意见 (yìjiàn), 计划 (jìhuà), 方法 (fāngfǎ), 政策 (zhèngcè), 忠告 (zhōnggào), 证据 (zhèngjù), 大纲 (dàgāng) and 决议案 (juéyì’àn).]
25. 阐述 chǎnshù: to expound a position; to elaborate on a subject; to set forth one’s views 教授在会议上阐述他的最新研究成果。During the meeting the professor elaborated on his latest research findings. [Note its common synonym阐释 chǎnshì.]
26. 阐明 chǎnmíng: to expound; to clarify; to explain 可用一个实例来阐明这些概念。A real-life example can be used to explain these concepts. [Note: 阐明 most often collocates with the following terms: 论点 (lùndiǎn), 来意 (láiyì), 宗旨 (zōngzhǐ), 方法 (fāngfǎ) and 原理 (yuánlǐ).]
27. 论述 lùnshù: 1. to discuss; to expound 他的书在小的范围中论述这题目。His book discusses this topic to a limited extent. 2. discourse 历史家对这个问题的论述持有怀疑态度。Historians are doubtful about the discourse of this issue.
28. 诠释 quánshì: to comment and explain; to interpret; to expound 许多西方学者深信西方对人权的诠释是放诸四海皆准的观念。Many Western scholars are convinced that the Western interpretation of human rights can be applied universally. [Note that诠释 quánshì can also be used in the performing arts – i.e. musical or artistic interpretation – as well as in interpreting law.]
29. 论证 lùnzhèng: to expound and prove through argument 这个方案的可行性有待论证。The feasibility of this proposal is yet to be proven.
30. 解析 jiěxī: to analyse 对物理难题的解析过程感兴趣的人不只有牛顿。Newton was not the only one interested in the process of analysing difficult physics problems. [Note the following synonyms: 分析 fēnxi and 剖析 pōuxī.]
31. 理清 lǐqīng: to clarify; to sort out; to clear up 动笔之前，你应该理清思路。Before writing you should organise your thoughts. [Note the following synonyms with varying usages and collocations: 搞清 (gǎoqīng), 弄清 (nòngqīng), 澄清 (chéngqīng) and 厘清 (líqīng).]
32. 反思 fǎnsī: to rethink; to revisit; to reassess 这篇文章反思我国刑事申诉制度。This article is a reassessment of China’s criminal appeals system.
33. 考量 kǎoliáng: to give serious consideration to; to deliberate 可以通过不同方面来考量一篇文章。An article can be approached from a number of angles.
34. 解读 jiědú: to decipher; to decode; to decrypt; to understand; to interpret 对于这本书，每个学者都有自己的解读。Every scholar has his or her own interpretation of this book.
35. 推想 tuīxiǎng: to guess; to imagine; to reckon; to infer 这个推想很有道理。This inference is reasonable.
36. 辩证 biànzhèng: to investigate dialectically 我们应该使用辩证的眼光去看待这个世界。One should look at the world dialectically. [Note 辩证 is also sometimes written as 辨证.]
37. 思辨 sībiàn: to analyse at an intellectual level; to engage in critical thinking 该教育项目旨在提高学生的思辨能力。The aim of this education program is to foster student’s ability to think critically. [Note 思辨 is sometimes also written as 思辩.]
38. 视野 shìyě: field of view; vision; horizons; outlook; perspective 学者应该具有广阔的文化视野与世界观。Scholars should have a broad cultural perspective and world view. [Note its common synonym 视界 shìjiè.]
39. 全盘 quánpán: comprehensive; overall; as a whole; holistic 我们必须全盘来考虑这些事情。We must consider these matters holistically.
40. 核心 héxīn: 1. core; centre; the most important part 2. nucleus; kernel 3. centrally important 数据是计算机编程中的核心概念。Data is a central concept in computer programming.
Postscript: Some common ones I left out:
- 文献综述 wénxiàn zōngshù: literature review
- 跨学科的 kuàxuékē de: interdisciplinary
- 开题报告 kāití bàogào: thesis question proposal
- 研究对象 yánjiū duìxiàng: research subject; test subject