Review of Dialogue, Science and Academic Writing
| AUTHOR: Livnat, Zohar
TITLE: Dialogue, Science and Academic Writing
SERIES: Dialogue Studies 13
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
Ksenia Shilikhina, Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics,
Academic discourse is an important sphere of social interaction, so it comes as
no surprise that researchers of academic communication pay attention to the
dialogic nature of texts written by scientists: on the one hand, authors need to
position themselves in existing research frameworks and confront opponents. On
the other hand, writers interact with readers to convince them (Hyland 2005).
Livnat's major aim is to show how the constant need to respond to alternative
approaches and the other scholar’s findings contribute to the dialogic structure
of research papers and how this structure is maintained throughout the text.
The book consists of six chapters, a bibliography and a list of journal articles
the research is based on.
Chapter 1 “Introduction” is a brief outline of the structure of the book and an
introduction to the data and research methods. Two sets of research articles
were used as source data: one is a representative corpus of social sciences
texts written in Hebrew and published in a peer-reviewed journal ‘Megamot’, and
the other is a corpus of English-language papers in the humanities.
The body of the book is divided into two distinct parts. Chapters 2 and 3
present theoretical discussions of existing frameworks for research on the
dialogic nature and persuasiveness of academic discourse. Chapters 4 and 5
describe a model of dialogicity based on textual analysis.
Chapter 2 ''Approaches to dialogicity'' surveys frameworks that employ the concept
of dialogue for text analysis. Livnat starts her discussion with the
discursive-literary approach based on Bakhtin's idea of dialogism and his
treatment of text as a polyphonic structure and Kristeva's concept of
The next framework is Weigand's ''language as dialogue'' approach. It emerged as a
response to the pragmatic theory of speech acts and makes a further step in
modeling the structure of discourse (Weigand 2009). Weigand distinguishes two
kinds of speech actions: an initiative speech act and a reactive act. These two
kinds of actions are dialogically bound and together they constitute a minimal
communicative unit. Weigand’s model can be successfully applied to academic
discourse to explain its dialogic structure: a paper directed at a particular
audience can be treated as an initiative act and a response from the audience
counts as a reactive act.
The third perspective is a functional linguistic analysis of multivoicedness.
The major focus of the approach is on the linguistic techniques used to signal
the presence of multiple voices in the text. Livnat reviews Thompson's model
(1996) with its four dimensions of analysis: the voice, the message, the signal
and the attitude. Later Livnat applies the model in her discussion of various
dialogic elements in research articles. Finally, the author addresses an
argumentative approach to dialogicity developed in Perelman & Olbrechts-Tuteca
(1958). The roots of this approach lie in rhetoric, as all argumentation is
dialogic by nature. It can also be treated as a psychological view of
dialogicity since the aim of argumentation is to create an intellectual
connection between minds. The argumentative approach explains how the image of
the specific addressee structures the text and influences the conventions of
Chapter 3 ''Academic Discourse as Persuasion'' describes the functions of the
research article genre in the academic discursive community. The role of
rhetoric in scientific writing plays a more important role than it is generally
assumed. The success of an article largely depends on its persuasiveness. The
findings cannot be simply presented as objective truth; rather, they have to be
justified in order to persuade readers. Academic discourse, then, faces a
paradox: a writer needs to be persuasive but an article can have effect only
when the signs of persuasive techniques become invisible to readers.
To show how various rhetoric devices are employed to increase persuasiveness,
Livnat discusses the structure of research articles and claims that ''it is not
necessarily a real reflection of the thinking and working process of the
researcher, but rather a discourse pattern that has its own goals and functions''
(pp. 25-26). The main purpose of structuring a research paper is to delineate
the niche and present the writer's own stance. Other goals (e.g. presenting the
subject of the research as important, drawing the reader's attention to the gaps
in knowledge on the topic under discussion, or convincing the audience that the
findings are new and valid) seem to be less structure-dependent. Livnat gives
examples from her corpora to show how writers archive their rhetorical goals and
present the results of their research as the new facts that can be successfully
integrated into the existing system of knowledge. She concludes that the
research article genre requires the writer to move along three parallel lines:
the line of argument (from premises to conclusions), the line of facticity (to
distinguish facts from non-facts) and the line of time (from the past to the
Dialogicity of a scientific text adds to its persuasive potential by various
linguistic techniques. Four of them, namely, citations, concession, we-forms and
questions are discussed in Chapter 4 ''The Dialogic Dimension of Academic
The starting premise is the idea that research articles simultaneously appeal to
previously published texts, readers and the disciplinary community in general.
The model of dialogicity developed by Livnat contrasts the two kinds of
interaction: the writer -- reader dialogue vs. the writer -- disciplinary
community dialogue. For the latter category there is also a further distinction
between the dialogue with a specific or non-specific member of the community and
the community as a whole. The discussion of linguistic techniques for creating a
dialogue aims at clarifying these distinctions.
The author bases her analysis of patterns of citations on the formal distinction
between integral and non-integral citations suggested by Swales (1990). Integral
citations contain the name of the cited author as the subject of the cited
sentence. Non-integral citations refer to the author outside the sentence,
placing the name in parentheses or footnotes. The form of references leads to
their functional differentiation: integral references are more personal by
nature, and non-integral ones make the discussed subject, but not the author,
the focus of attention.
Citations are also important for academic writing because they function as
signals of authenticity and responsibility. Since citations interact with the
writer's stance and necessarily involve double-voicing in the Bakhtinian sense,
they become an important tool for establishing the social context for the
Livnat shows that the functions of citations depend on the part of the text
where they occur: when used in introductory sections, they create research space
and demarcate the writer's own stance. In ‘Discussion’ and concluding sections,
however, they serve to relate new findings to existing knowledge.
Chapter 5 ''Scientific Dialogicity in Action'' presents a detailed account of
verbal behavior of writers who engage in scientific conflicts. This kind of
evaluative interaction is inevitable when the researchers confront other points
of view to secure their own niche. Livnat refers to Martín-Martín (2005) and
shows how an academic conflict can develop along the three parallel dimensions:
personal vs. impersonal, direct vs. indirect, and writer-mediated, non-mediated
The discussion of conflict in written academic discourse brings us to the
question of politeness. In academic discourse politeness is a strategy that
allows a writer to engage in a dialogue and create a relationship with other
members of the discursive community. Politeness as a strategy is also a
criterion to distinguish polite dialogicity from the conflicting style of
writing. The latter is used when a researcher presents data or conclusions that
run counter to previous publications on the topic. Livnat analyzes several
articles to show how polite and conflicting styles differ in terms of their
evaluativeness and discusses different forms of conflicting patterns of writing|.
Livnat starts by describing the classic pattern of dialogicity in which conflict
is toned down and the presence of the author is minimal. The writers mitigate
their criticism by using hedges or referring to other writings in very general
terms (e.g. ‘in most books’). The second pattern of writing discussed by Livnat
is what she calls 'a confrontational paper'. In this pattern, a research
tradition or a particular group of scholars becomes the target of the author's
criticism. The researcher directly confronts the criticized approaches with the
aim of refuting them. The dialogue is created using techniques discussed in
Chapter 4. However, citations and references (most of which are non-integral)
reflect the text’s confrontational character. Openly evaluative adjectives (e.g.
'inadequate' or 'erroneous') add to the direct criticism and question the
legitimacy of the opponents' approach. The choice of pronouns and concession
structures also reflect the major aim of the paper: to attack and directly
criticize the particular approach at hand.
The third kind of dialogue in written academic discourse is a conflicting
pattern of writing when the author aims criticism at a particular researcher.
The writer questions the opponent’s authority and the reliability of his/her
research findings. Such personal criticism tends to take direct forms since they
are the easiest way to discount the opponent’s stance.
Livnat also discusses what she calls “the ping-pong pattern” -- a particular
type of interaction in academic writing when two researchers debate and
criticize each other in a succession of at least three papers. The first paper
initiates a discussion, the second paper is a response to the first, and the
third paper is a response to the response. The particular case analyzed by
Livnat shows how confrontation emerges at the personal level and then transforms
into a more acceptable dispute between two scientific approaches.
In the final section of Chapter 5 Livnat addresses the issue of face-to-face
interaction. She analyzes a printed version of a symposium held in a television
studio. The discussion analyzed is a clear example of an over-dialogic
interaction: four Biblical historians and archeologists with opposing views
discussed the issue of existence of the United Monarchy of David and Solomon.
Livnat concludes that spoken academic discourse as a primary genre in many
respects differs from written discussions (which are secondary genres, according
to Bakhtin’s classification of genres). For instance, in the face-to-face debate
fewer references to published sources were made and personal pronouns were used
mainly as a tool for distinguishing different groups of scholars.
In Chapter 6, “Conclusions”, the author summarizes the results of her research.
She gives a brief account of how citations, personal pronouns, concession
structures and questions serve the purpose of creating a dialogic structure of
There is a longstanding tradition of regarding academic discourse as a way of
disseminating “objective truth”. In this sense ''Dialogue, Science and Academic
Writing'' is a timely book: the author disspells a number of myths about academic
discourse, including objectivity. Scientific writing is not as objective as it
is usually assumed to be; rather, it is a competition among various points of
view. In order to “win the competition” researchers employ conflicting dialogic
strategies, and this tendency breaks another myth -- the myth of impartiality of
Livnat’s work also succeeds in integrating independent theories of dialogism.
The author combines the strengths of various models of dialogicity to explain
how dialogue is created and what strategies researchers use to position
themselves in the existing system of knowledge.
Livnat’s model of dialogue in academic writing has wider applications in the
study of academic discourse. The research methods suggested by Livnat can be
applied to academic communication in other languages with a further perspective
of comparative analysis. I would also suggest using Livnat’s model for studying
academic discourse diachronically.
Hyland, Ken. 2005. Metadiscourse. London; New York: Continuum.
Martín-Martín, Pedro. 2005. The Rhetoric of the Abstract in English and Spanish
Scientific Discourse. Bern: Peter Lang.
Perelman, Chaïm & Olbrechts-Tuteca, Lucie. 1958. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on
Argumentation, John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver (trans.). Notre Dame:
University of Notre Dame Press, 1969.
Swales, John. 1990. Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thompson, Geoff. 1996. ''Voices in the text: Discourse perspectives on language
reports''. Applied Linguistics 17 (4): 501-530.
Weigand, Edda. 2009. Language as Dialogue. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Ksenia Shilikhina is an Associate Professor of linguistics at
State University, Russia. Her main research interests include
pragmatics with a special focus on verbal irony. Another area
is corpus linguistics. She teaches courses in Linguistic
Semiotics, Applied and Computational Linguistics and Formal