24.396, Review: General Linguistics: Lewin (2010)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-24-396. Tue Jan 22 2013. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 24.396, Review: General Linguistics: Lewin (2010)

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Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2013 13:08:06
From: Patricia Zoltan [patricia.zoltan at adelaide.edu.au]
Subject: Writing Readable Research

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/21/21-3545.html

AUTHOR: Beverly A. Lewin
TITLE: Writing Readable Research
SUBTITLE: A Guide for Students of Social Science
YEAR: 2010

Patricia Zoltan, Pre-enrolment English Program (PEP), The English Language
Centre, Professional and Continuing Education (PCE), The University of
Adelaide, South Australia


Beverly A. Lewin's “Writing Readable Research” is a useful resource for any
novice writer or writing teacher in the Social Sciences, which the author
defines as fields that investigate human behaviour. The slim, 179-page book
covers a broad spectrum of significant issues in scientific writing from
grammar and punctuation to writing literature reviews, abstracts and
professional letters. While the main focus of the book is journal articles, it
also provides valuable advice on the preparation of talks and posters for
academic conferences. In addition, Lewin also provides a full Reference List
and an Index.

“Writing Readable Research”, as the title also suggests, was inspired by the
emerging need the author recognised some years ago, because she could not
locate a suitable textbook which would teach non-native speakers as well as
English-speaking students new to professional writing how to write clearly,
concisely and correctly. Hence, this volume was designed to fill the gap and
help users to create texts that are easy to read, conform to the standards of
English and to the criteria in the fields of Social Science. Lewin's book can
be used as course material, especially in bridging programs both for local and
international graduate students studying at English-speaking universities, but
also independently by students to maximise their chances of submitting quality
academic assignments.

Lewin's book provides a new take on a couple of age-old questions often heard
in classrooms dedicated to the art and craft of writing. What is a “good”
text? What is “good” English? The author offers answers, suggestions and
advice in fourteen clearly and entertainingly written chapters. In each of the
fourteen chapters,  “Writing Readable Research” provides a brief theoretical
background relevant to the topic, authentic examples from published texts and
hands-on exercises, which are presented in a user-friendly layout together
with an answer key at the end of each chapter. The authentic text exemplars
used in exercises are extracted from anthropology, psychology, sociology and
communications, for example, from the Journal of Anthropological Research, the
Journal of Social Psychology, Social Problems, Child Development and from the
Journal of Language and Social Psychology. Lewin sourced authentic exemplars
from more than sixty different journals, which also ensures that her text
examples come from a large pool of peer-reviewed, well-written scientific
articles exemplifying to the users of her book the standards of writing
accepted by renowned journals.

“Writing Readable Research” has a distinctive focus on the linguistic aspects
of scientific writing inspired by genre theory (Martin 1992) and Halliday's
(1985) Systemic Functional Linguistics theory and its applications with a
particular emphasis on social semiotics and the interpersonal aspects of
language use, for example hedging and criticism.

Chapter 1, “What Are the Constraints in Scientific Writing?”, establishes the
field for the readers by explaining how novice scientific writers must abide
by certain sets of rules as they are socialised into their new discipline area
and into a new discourse community. These rules can also be regarded as
constraints, which in turn can be categorised as linguistic rules imposed by
the English language on discourse, accepted practices of writing, and
conventions of scientific texts. Concise sub-sections are devoted to such
crucial issues as grammar and syntax, register, style, genre, textual cohesion
and rhetoric.

Chapter 2, “Nouns and Pronouns”, Chapter 3, “Using Verbs” and Chapter 4,
“Shaping Sentences and Paragraphs”, each focuses on issues of grammar. Among
other essential points of English grammar, Chapter 2 deals with the use of
definite and indefinite articles as well as noun phrases, which often cause
problems to non-native students when they write in English.

The focus of Chapter 3 is using verbs, another area of concern for
international students and their tutors working together at English-speaking
universities, especially when it comes to verb tenses, verb forms, passive
structures, modality, conditionals and the use of appropriate reporting verbs
in researched articles. In regards to verb tenses, Chapter 3 also concentrates
on a specific area of scientific writing, namely the use of verb tenses in a
Literature Review, a major point of significance in scientific texts. After
reviewing all these aspects of verb use in Chapter 3, the author ties all
these points together by showcasing their use in an illustrative extract from
an article published by Idler and Kasl in The American Journal of Sociology in
1992. In the extract each verb or verb phrase is underlined, thereby calling
the students' attention to the correct use of verb tenses and verb forms in a
scientific article.

Chapter 4, “Shaping Sentences and Paragraphs” shows students how to work with
all the building blocks they learnt about in previous chapters. Lewin also
emphasises the rules of “good” writing: avoid heavy sentences, avoid ambiguity
and punctuate punctiliously. While the sub-section on paragraphing does not
provide a generic scaffolding template spelling out the important components
of “good” paragraphing, starting with a Topic Sentence and followed by support
and development and ending with a closing or linking sentence, it is still a
useful segment for beginners to gain more awareness about the essentials of
writing paragraphs in English.

Chapter 5, “Being Concise”, is an appropriately succinct and concise, 7-page
section about the guidelines of conciseness, while Chapter 6, “Making
Connections – Connectives”, provides advice on the roles of local and global
connective devices. After exemplifying the use of local connectives (between
two clauses), and global connectives (between larger sections of discourse) in
authentic extracts for example from the Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, the author invites the users of the book to fill in the gaps of an
authentic extract with the appropriate connectives in an activity.

Chapter 7, “Understanding Genre Analysis – Introductions”, offers much needed
explanations to new writers about the essential academic elements of a
well-written introductory paragraph and concentrates on structure, relevance,
establishing the gap, previewing the author's contributions, outlining the
contents and foreshadowing the Literature Review.

Chapter 8, “Review of the Literature”, is a brief yet comprehensive unit about
the guiding principles behind writing a well-organised Literature Review. The
major components of this chapter are how to establish the background,
referencing, the depth and width of a well-written Review of the Literature,
verb use, and patterns of organisation. The authentic Literature Review
samples provide useful insights into the mechanics and the textual and
linguistic features of a quality Literature Review.

Chapter 9, “Methods”, offers advice on the structural, sequential and
linguistic elements in scientific writing. This chapter together with Chapters
10 and 11 provide insights into the textual and linguistic features of
scientific writing, which are important in students' understanding of how
professional articles present primary, experimental or experiential,
quantitative or qualitative research studies.

Chapter 10, “Results”, and Chapter 11, “Discussion” sections focus on the
all-important units in a scientific article, where findings and analysis are
presented. While Chapter 10, provides a brief, 3-page overview of presenting
data and images, it also highlights the importance of using the right
prepositions to express results when writing an English article. This section
also explains the essentials of referencing visuals and integrating evidence
from secondary sources.

Chapter 11, “Discussion Sections”, takes the readers through the
characteristic moves of writing up the discussion section of an article and
their respective rhetorical functions. Authentic text exemplars demonstrate to
novice scholars the moves of logical sequencing in scientific articles as well
as the lexical and grammatical signals, signposting and varied ways of stating
conclusions. Extracts from authentic professional articles are presented in
Chapter 11, for example by Miethe et al. (1987) published in the American
Sociological Review.

After the first eleven chapters concentrating on the core components of
scientific article writing in the Social Sciences, Lewin also provides three
more sections to her book in which she discusses “Conference Texts” in Chapter
12, “Abstracts” in Chapter 13 and “Writing Professional Letters” in Chapter
14. Young scholars new to their respective disciplines will surely find
themselves attending local or international conferences early on in their
careers. So, Chapter 12 briefly summarises the guiding principles of
delivering an engaging, well-organised and eloquently delivered professional
presentation accompanied by effective Power Points.

Chapter 13, “Abstracts”, points out the genre-specific requirements in terms
of abstracts accompanying journal articles or conference presentations. This
section also provides insights into the structural, textual and linguistic
features of a “good” abstract. Exemplars from the fields of anthropology and
sociology are presented as illustrative examples.

Chapter 14, “Writing Professional Letters”, introduces novice writers to the
principles of writing letters in academia, for example when submitting a
manuscript to a publisher, responding to criticism or applying for a job. This
chapter provides a generic template for professional letters with the
necessary elements and some advised textual and linguistic features
emphasising the appropriate level of formality required in an academic or
business environment. In addition to the job application cover letter, a very
interesting sub-section of Chapter 14 concerns responding to criticism. It
offers some sample replies written in polite, formal and polished style, not
only providing some textual exemplars to novice scholars about gaining
membership in their respective professional communities, but also further
socialising them into the desirable etiquette and diplomacy required in the
world of academia.


“Writing Readable Research”, is a welcome addition to the array of
academically inclined instructional manuals on how to create reader-friendly
scientific texts. The author is an expert in the field of teaching scientific
writing in the discipline of the Social Sciences and offers a compact volume
with plenty of useful advice to students and guidance to tutors of scientific

Lewin's book fits with the “how to” academic literature on scientific writing
at university very well. While “Writing Readable Research” suits graduate
students, a worthy counterpart, Weissberg and Buker's (1990) “Writing Up
Research” is particularly useful for postgraduate students.

“Writing Readable Research” achieves its primary goal in helping students to
position themselves as junior scholars in their academic communities. Lewin
achieves this aim by gradually and consistently providing explanations and
practical exercises with suggested answers in order to build up the users'
linguistic and textual awareness and hone their writing skills. In addition,
by following the book chapter by chapter either in a tutorial or
independently, students can also gain self-confidence and a higher level of
mastery in the area of scientific writing in academia.

Also, with its consistent language and grammar focus, Lewin's book also
provides welcome support to the international student cohort studying at
English-speaking universities. The most attractive feature of the book is its
balanced mix of explanations, theory and task-based approach with a strong
emphasis on skills building through activities, which are all based on
authentic materials showcasing some similarities but also many differences
between disciplines under the Social Sciences umbrella.

The use of authentic materials is one the most appealing components of
“Writing Readable Research”, because, as opposed to some other textbooks,
which turn to “made up” examples, which can be misleading or irrelevant, Lewin
skillfully sourced her exemplars from relevant and reliable peer-reviewed

Yet another appealing factor in Lewin's book is the array of in-text
referencing examples highlighting the conventions of the Harvard Referencing
Style and also showcasing the in-text referencing style of the Modern Language
Association (MLA) and the Chicago Manual of Style, which raises the users'
awareness in adhering to those particular referencing conventions, which they
are required to use in their disciplines.

Regarding future projects assisting international students in their endeavours
to master the skills of scientific writing at English-speaking universities,
there are potentialities still for delving deeper into one or more specific
areas of research writing. For example, building on Lewin's work, a possible,
future volume could provide much needed support in paraphrasing and correctly
integrating evidence from sources and impeccably referencing them, which is
one of the most challenging skills for non-native students to master. Yet
another book could solely be devoted to creating academic posters or
effective, professional Power Points accompanying academic, professional or
conference presentations. International student cohorts studying at
English-speaking universities and their enthusiastic, diligent but often
overstretched tutors throughout the world would surely welcome such new
additions to the professional, “how to” literature of course books.


Halliday, MAK, 1985, An Introduction to Functional Grammar, London: Edward

Idler, E and Kasl, S, 1992, Religion, disability, depression and the timing of
death, American Journal of Sociology, vol. 97, pp. 1052-1079.

Martin, JR, 1992, English text: System and Structure, Amsterdam: John

Miethe, T D, Stafford, M C and Long, J S, 1987, Social differentiation in
criminal victimization: a test of routine activities/ lifestyle theories,
American Sociological Review, vol. 52, pp. 184-194.

Weissberg, R and Buker, S, 1990, Writing up Research: Experimental Research
Report Writing for Students of English, Prentice Hall.


Patricia Zoltan has taught academic and research writing for over twenty-five
years at European and Australian universities and her academic background is
in linguistics, literature and psychology. She holds a Masters degree in
Writing and a postgraduate degree in TESOL. Currently she is teaching research
and genre writing to international students in the Pre-enrolment English
Program (PEP) at The University of Adelaide, while she is also pursuing her
interest in creative writing.

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