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This article describes the development and evaluation of a new academic word list (Coxhead, 1998), which was compiled from a corpus of 3.5 million running words of written academic text by examining the range and frequency of words outside the first 2,000 most frequently occurring words of English, as described by West (1953). The AWL contains 570 word families that account for approximately 10.0% of the total words (tokens) in academic texts but only 1.4% of the total words in a fiction collection of the same size. This difference in coverage provides evidence that the list contains predominantly academic words. By highlighting the words that university students meet in a wide range of academic texts, the AWL shows learners with academic goals which words are most worth studying. The list also provides a useful basis for further research into the nature of academic vocabulary.