17.1310, Review: Applied Ling/Writing: Ravelli & Ellis (2005)

Fri Apr 28 19:51:08 UTC 2006

LINGUIST List: Vol-17-1310. Fri Apr 28 2006. ISSN: 1068 - 4875.

Subject: 17.1310, Review: Applied Ling/Writing: Ravelli & Ellis (2005)

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Date: 26-Apr-2006
From: Federico Navarro < federicodanielnavarro at yahoo.com.ar >
Subject: Analysing Academic Writing 

-------------------------Message 1 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2006 15:48:50
From: Federico Navarro < federicodanielnavarro at yahoo.com.ar >
Subject: Analysing Academic Writing 

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-3134.html 

EDITORS: Ravelli, Louise J.; Ellis, Robert A.
TITLE: Analysing Academic Writing
SUBTITLE: Contextualized Frameworks
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd 
YEAR: 2005

Federico D. Navarro, MAEC-AECI PhD Grant Holder; Universidad de 
Buenos Aires; Universidad de Valladolid


Another illuminating title of the Open Linguistics Series, Analysing 
Academic Writing, first published in 2004, was released in 2005 in a 
paperback edition, certainly more accessible to scholars. The editors, 
Louise A. Ravelli and Robert A. Ellis, put together a collection of 14 
articles covering 280 pages. 


All the articles contain common threads that give thick theoretical 
cohesion to the volume. There is, firstly, a common debt to the 
Systemic Functional framework, although this varies in centrality in 
each individual author and article. That the overwhelming number of 
contributions are from the United Kingdom and Australia is no doubt 
due to the lively position of this tradition in those areas. Regardless of 
the theoretical framework and methodology, all articles assume and 
explore the unavoidable bidirectional relation between text and 

Secondly, academic writing research is inherently linked to the 
pedagogical practices associated with its teaching, and thus all 
articles also share a common interest in the applied consequences of 
their findings. Again, the centrality of the concern about the teaching 
of academic writing varies within each article. There are, nevertheless, 
clear common corpora, the articles' third cohesive thread: students' 
writing, as opposed to expert or ''accomplished'' writing (cf. Connor 
1996). The corpora include pre-tertiary, undergraduate -- particularly 
emphasized -- and postgraduate writing.

The editors point out the criteria behind the order of the articles within 
the book. First there's a group of articles that bring theoretical issues 
into sharp focus. They can be further divided into two subgroups: the 
first five articles study the negotiation of interpersonal meanings; the 
following six articles concentrate on the management of textual 
resources. The final group of three articles is entirely concerned with 
pedagogically-oriented research on academic writing.


Ken Hyland, author of the recently published Metadiscourse: 
Exploring Interaction in Writing, is placed at the beginning of the book 
for good reason. Following a strict, elegant and both qualitatively and 
(especially) quantitatively integrated methodology, Hyland manages 
again to show how textual, discursive and ideological variables 
interweave in a systematic way in his article ''Patterns of engagement: 
dialogic features and L2 undergraduate writing''.

Hyland examines how final-year undergraduates from several 
disciplines in a Hong Kong university handle interpersonal resources 
to construct writer and reader positions within their project reports. In 
Hyland's terms, the phenomenon of engagement: ''the ways that 
language is used to anticipate possible reader objections, 
acknowledge their interpersonal concerns, and explicitly mark and 
bring readers into their texts'' (p. 7). If social, disciplinary and genre-
specific factors prompt assumptions about how participants' 
relationships should be structured and negotiated, we must 
understand how these assumptions are realized through interpersonal 
features. This is probably Hyland's major claim in his article. He 
explores how students easily fail to exploit those features and thus 
points out the importance of bearing them in mind when teaching 
academic writing.

Susan Hood, in her article ''Managing attitude in undergraduate 
academic writing: a focus on the introductions to research reports'', 
changes Hyland's focus on the reader for an emphasis on the writer 
when she studies how evaluative stance is carried out in the 
challenging context of introductory sections to research papers. It is 
within this section that the writer must evaluate the field of research 
and his/her own work by means of interpersonal resources. Just as 
Hyland does, Hood picks two parallel corpora: the main corpus 
comprises undergraduate student writing while a second control 
corpus includes expert writing. The corpora are much smaller than 
Hyland's, justified by Hood's qualitative methodology. She places her 
article within the APPRAISAL theory (cf., e.g., Martin and Rose 2003).

Interestingly, Hood argues that there is an urgent need for research 
on what lies between genre and grammar. She attempts to start 
answering this claim as her findings show how ATTITUDE differs when 
evaluating the researched domain or rather other research and 
sources. Together with Hood, we believe this holistic position has not 
been widely advocated as it implies more complex theories and 
explanation, and more hardly applicable results for teaching academic 

Helmut Gruber identifies an overlap of functions and goals in his 
interesting article ''Scholar or consultant? Author-roles of student 
writers in German business writing''. Gruber goes into the relatively 
unexplored area of research on academic writing in German, 
narrowing his focus to students' use of modal verbs and construction 
at the Vienna Business University. He spots an incredibly intriguing 
phenomenon: business students are placed in a heterogenic field torn 
apart between two social and disciplinary forces: on the one hand, the 
traditional role of the scholar who is interested in ''pure knowledge''. 
This is manifested textually, for example, in mitigated claims. On the 
other hand, the modern consultant role follows pragmatic goals so as 
to keep the business going. This role is manifested textually, for 
instance, by means of direct commands to readers. The former is 
triggered by tertiary education; the latter is constrained by real 
business world practical needs. Gruber picks the Systemic Functional 
more canonical view, which understands modality essentially as a 
grammatical resource (cf. comments in Martin 1999).

Gruber finds that deontic modals (i.e., the modalization of proposals 
concerning third persons) outnumber epistemic modals (i.e., the 
modalization of knowledge claims), and that modal constructions are 
scattered throughout the texts, with no preferred sections. Deontic 
modals are used to advise the reader what to do in specific situations 
and thus should be interpreted as manifestations of the consultant 
role. These how-to-do-it commands are widespread in the text and 
then cannot be associated with any particular function of the genre's 
rhetorical structure. As Gruber points out, high frequency use of 
deontic modals clashes with explicit guidelines from university 
courses, which in Austria do not wish to fully adopt the real business 
world rules, whereas students anticipate these rules giving birth to 
their own heterogenic genres.

A more qualitative, case-oriented, ethnographic perspective is 
adopted in the following two articles. Sue Starfield, in ''Word power: 
negotiating success in a first-year sociology essay'', explores how the 
complex socio-political context of a South African University is 
manifested, manipulated and recognized textually. 

Ben, a black South African Sociology One course student who spoke 
English as a second language, managed to get a high mark for his 
essay creating an effective author-in-the-text. Starfield argues that 
Ben does so by masking his identity - and the expected performance 
for black students - and accommodating to the traditional conventions 
of academic language: explicitly signaling the essay's rhetorical 
structure, typing the essay -- that is, showing access to a computer 
and the necessary skills to use it -- using categorical verbs to 
construct an authoritative voice, etc.

This case study proves that successful students in contexts of 
unequal power such as teacher-student interactions and contexts of 
wider socio-political differences - such as black South Africans who do 
not speak English as their mother tongue - are those who are able to 
create an 'authority effect' (Bourdieu 1977) manipulating the discourse 
community's textual resources.

Brian Paltridge, in ''The exegesis as a genre: an ethnographic 
examination'', studies the communicative situation where the exegesis 
genre - somehow similar to and somehow different from the thesis 
genre - takes place. In this 'textography' (Swales 1998) of the genre, 
Paltridge pinpoints its uniqueness analyzing key features of the texts: 
the setting, the purpose, the content, the intended audience, the 
relationship between the writer and the readers, the discourse 
community's expectations, the structure and language, etc. These are 
the relevant aspects according to the ethnography of writing 
framework (Grabe and Kaplan 1996). Paltridge further argues, 
consistently with his perspective, that the literacy in the academy is 
not unique, fixed or monolithic. 

The second group of articles, textually-focused, opens up with 
Ravelli's ''Signalling the organization of written texts: hyper-Themes in 
management and history essays''. Ravelli's assumption is that 
successful students' writing signals the argumentative development of 
the text. She focuses on the higher-level structuring via hyper-Themes 
in first year university essays in management and history.

Hyper-Themes provide a framework for the essays, enabling the 
writer to connect previous and future points in his/her text. This 
encapsulation of texts' content, by means of grammatical metaphor, 
semiotic abstraction or metadiscursive labels, indicates the successful 
management of the necessary abstraction by those students. In 
addition, Ravelli demonstrates that preferences vary among 

Ann Hewings' ''Developing discipline-specific writing: an analysis of 
undergraduate geography essays'' also attempts to understand the 
correlation between the use of Theme and successful academic 
writing. She contrasts the gradual development of writing skills in first 
and third-year students of geography. First-year students' essays 
show unmarked topical Themes among other textual features which 
reflect the students' lack of knowledge of academic writing in their 
discipline. In contrast, third-year students widely exploit Theme as a 
resource for encoding 'angle of the message', that is, for signaling 
argument development or their view on the topics analyzed.

Hewings, together with Caroline Coffin, further studies Theme 
in ''IELTS as preparation for tertiary writing: distinctive interpersonal 
and textual strategies''. In a corpus of short argumentative essays 
written by non-native speakers of English who wish to enter Anglo-
Saxon universities, the authors examine what is considered 
appropriate university-level writing. They focus on textual and 
interpersonal meaning, the former being manifested by means of 
Theme, the latter concerning evaluation by means of APPRAISAL.

The major findings concern the widely spread use of resources which 
do not match the target academic register, namely an excess of 
authorial intrusion and a regular use of HEARSAY. We have to pose a 
question as to whether the cultural background of the writers is 
homogeneous enough if we select them uniquely on the basis of their 
mother tongue, as the authors do (cf. similar objections in Taylor and 
Tingguan 1991).

Both Mary Schleppegrell's ''Technical writing in a second language: 
the role of grammatical metaphor'' and Youping Chen and Joseph 
Foley's ''Problems with the metaphorical reconstrual of meaning in 
Chinese EFL learners' expositions'' deal with grammatical metaphor in 
English as a Second Language as a key feature of academic writing 
(cf. Halliday and Martin 1993).

Schleppegrell's study departs from the identification of a new profile 
for second language students in tertiary education in the USA: an 
immigrant who went to that country as a child or adolescent with 
undeveloped writing skills in their mother tongue. This means this 
student cannot realise easily what constitutes key features of 
academic register.

Schleppegrell claims the necessary teaching to solve this lack is not 
usually central in English for Specific Purposes instruction, more 
focused on sentence-level analysis or rhetorical strategies, but not on 
meaning-making throughout texts. Students need to practice 
developing and using technical terms with increasing levels of 
abstraction in their texts, as well as handling overall structuring and 
evaluation of contents.

Chen and Foley's comprehensive study covers two hundred texts 
written by Chinese EFL tertiary-level students, mostly in science and 
engineering. Assuming that Chinese EFL students find putting up with 
buried reasoning (Martin 1985) one of the most challenging aspects of 
their expository writing, Chen and Foley attempt to find out if this is 
prompted by students' mother tongue interference. One particular 
interference consists of the irregular remapping between grammatical 
and semantic categories in the complex metaphorical realization. This 
is manifested, for instance, in the inappropriate choice of a 
grammatical unit, such as adjectives for nouns or verbs for nouns. The 
authors, following Schleppegrell's claim, suggest transcategorization 
exercises should be foregrounded in ESL textbooks.

Robert Ellis, with his article ''Supporting genre-based literacy 
pedagogy with technology - the implications for the framing and 
classification of the pedagogy'', and Helen Drury's ''Teaching 
academic writing on screen: a search for best practice'' open the third 
group of pedagogically-centred articles, both focusing on how to 
accommodate current teaching methods to the inevitable rising of 
technology in the classroom.

If technology is introduced into genre-based literacy pedagogy, Ellis 
argues, a technical discourse is added to the already complex layers 
of discourse operating within the teaching and learning process. Ellis 
warns this extra discourse may potentially dominate the other, more 
important discourses. Technology provides more detailed interaction 
with students' particular needs (e.g., selection, timing, etc.); this also 
means that the student's control over the learning process increases.

Drury also spots the students' closer interaction with the learning 
process when incorporating technological means. This may constitute 
a huge disadvantage for students who cannot become available of 
their own learning needs. Interaction with other students and the 
teacher, on the one hand, and computer programs specifically 
designed to help the student find his/her own right learning path (e.g., 
setting them diagnostic tasks), on the other, are suggestions Drury 

Janet Jones' ''Learning to write in the disciplines: the application of 
systemic functional linguistic theory to the teaching and research of 
student writing'' closes this volume with extensive exploration of the 
applicability of the SFL framework for teaching academic writing. It 
seems that this theory, which was in fact originally developed closely 
related to teaching needs (cf. Thompson and Collins 2001), is 
especially enriching to make students realize how texts relate 
systematically to their contexts.


Analysing Academic Writing is specifically centered on non-expert 
writing and it is within this scope that it manages to keep a successful 
balance between theory and practice, between pedagogically-
triggered questions and theoretically-based tentative answers. It 
would have been interesting to see the Systemic Functional 
framework more integrated with a genre-based approach, that is, with 
an account of rhetorical structures, which are in general 
backgrounded in the articles.

Including both language one and language two writing, and presenting 
contributions from various countries and research centers, the volume 
nevertheless keeps its primary focus on English, our lingua franca in 
academic settings. Nevertheless, the volume would have presented a 
wider, more comprehensive perspective, had it included some studies 
on languages other than English. 

On the whole, this book gives a clear hint of where research within the 
Systemic Functional framework is aiming at and convincingly 
demonstrates how productive this framework is for, precisely, 
analyzing academic writing. 

References after each individual article, authors' short curricula vitae 
and use of similar section headings constitute paratextual details 
which assist a smoother reading of the volume.


Bourdieu, P. (1977). ''The economics of linguistic exchanges''. Social 
Sciences Information, 16 (6). p. 645-68.

Connor, U. (1996). ''Contrastive rhetoric and text linguistics''. 
Contrastive rhetoric: Cross-cultural aspects of second language 
writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 80-99.

Grabe, W. and Kaplan, R. (1996). Theory and practice of writing: an 
applied lingusitic perspective. London: Longman.

Halliday, M. A. K. and Martin, J. R. (1993) Writing Science: Literacy 
and Discursive Power. London: Falmer Press.

Hyland, K. (2005). Metadiscourse: Exploring Interaction in Writing. 
London: Continuum.

Martin, J. R. (1985). Factual Writing: Exploring and Challenging Social 
Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Martin, J. R. (1999). ''Beyond Exchange: APPRAISAL Systems in 
English''. S. Hunston and G. Thompson (eds.). Evaluation in text. New 
York: Oxford University Press. p. 142-175.

Martin, J. R. and Rose, D. (2003). Working with Discourse: meaning 
beyond the clause. London & New York: Continuum.

Swales, J. M. (1998). Other Floors, Other Voices: A Textography of a 
Small University Building. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Taylor, G. Y. and Tingguan, C. (1991). ''Linguistic, cultural, and 
subcultural issues in Contrastive Discourse Analysis: Anglo-American 
and Chinese scientific texts''. Applied Linguistics, 12 (3). p. 319-336.

Thompson, G. and Collins, H. (Interviewers) (2001). ''Interview with M. 
A. K. Halliday, Cardiff, July 1998''. D.E.L.T.A., 17 (1). p. 131-153. 


Federico Daniel Navarro is currently attending PhD courses from the 
Universidad de Valladolid, Salamanca and León, holding a grant from 
the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional. His research 
interests are discourse and genre analysis of Spanish academic 
writing. He is based at the Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina), 
where he teaches General Linguistics and does research on the 
production of the Instituto de Filología 'Dr. Amado Alonso'

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