The AWL is a list of words which appear with high frequency in English-language academic texts. The list was compiled by Averil Coxhead at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
The list contains 570 word families and is divided into 10 sublists. Sublist 1 consists of the 60 most common words in the AWL. Sublist 2 contains the next most frequently used words and so on. Each sublist contains 60 word families, except for sublist 10, which contains 30.
To find these words, an analysis was done of academic journals, textbooks, course workbooks, lab manuals, and course notes.
The list was compiled following an analysis of over 3,500,000 words of text.
The words selected for the AWL are words which occur frequently in a range of academic subjects, including the Arts (including history, psychology, sociology, etc.), Commerce (including economics, marketing, management, etc.), Law and the Sciences (including biology, computer science, mathematics, etc.). This means that the AWL is useful to all second-language learners who wish to study in an English-speaking institution no matter what their field of study. The AWL does not, however, include technical words which are specific to a given field. Nor does it contain words which are of general use and very high frequency.