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Review of  Analysing Academic Writing

Reviewer: Federico Navarro
Book Title: Analysing Academic Writing
Book Author: Robert A. Ellis Louise J Ravelli
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 17.1310

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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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