LINGUIST List 23.4069

Tue Oct 02 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics: Tang (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 02-Oct-2012
From: Nana Xu <>
Subject: Academic Writing in a Second or Foreign Language
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Announced at
EDITOR: Ramona TangTITLE: Academic Writing in a Second or Foreign LanguageSUBTITLE: Issues and Challenges Facing ESL/EFL Academic Writers in HigherEducation ContextsPUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing GroupYEAR: 2012

Nana Xu, Department of English, College of Foreign Languages, Nankai University


The 11 chapters of “Academic Writing in a Second or Foreign Language: Issues andChallenges Facing ESL/EFL Academic Writers in Higher Education Contexts” seek “to explore some of the issues and challenges facing these academic writers, bypulling together the voices of academic writing researchers from a variety ofdifferent contexts and backgrounds” (1). Chapter 1 analyzes the privilegedstatus of English in academic research, reviews problems confronting ESL(English as a Second Language) / EFL (English as Foreign Language) academicwriters, offers a new perspective that focuses on potential advantages ratherthan shortcomings of ESL/EFL backgrounds, and provides an overview of the wholevolume, thus setting the stage for the following 10 chapters, which are arrangedin a tripartite manner. Part One (Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5) deals with academicwriting from the perspective of teaching/training and focuses on non-textualfactors involved in academic writing. This is different from Part Two (Chapters6-8), which concerns itself with text-based issues, including conclusionwriting, shell noun use, etc. The identity issue, along with a new perspectiveof seeing opportunities out of ‘disadvantaged’ EFL backgrounds, are highlightedin Part Three (Chapters 9-11). Theresa Lillis suggests, in her Afterword, thatthere are two ‘routes’ to reading through this book – one is the certaintyroute, along which we refer to traditional categories and framings, while theother is a ‘rebellion’ route, which challenges the oft-taken-for-granted ‘norms’(13).

Part One: Learning to Write for Academic Purposes

In Chapter 2, “Identifying and Addressing Challenges to InternationalPublication Success for EFL Science Researchers: Implementing an IntegratedTraining Package in China”, Margaret Cargill and Patrick O’Connor attempt tofind out challenges that EFL science researchers face when trying to publish ininternational journals, as well as when examining the effectiveness and thepractical applicability of the Collaborative Interdisciplinary PublicationSkills Education (CIPSE) approach that encompasses the cooperation betweensubject specialists and language professionals. Through questionnaire dataanalysis, challenges confronting the participants are classified into fivecategories: Article/segment Structure, English and Logical Flow,Submission/review, Strategic Decisions, and Writing Process. Additionally, theimportance of General Article Writing, a category defined beforehand, decreasesas trainees tend to use more specific terms to replace those general ones aftertraining, which reveals that the CIPSE workshop, to a large extent, helpsparticipants establish a clearer idea of challenges facing them. Moreover, theeffectiveness of CIPSE is proved by the significant increase in participants’mean level of self-assessed confidence in both writing and publishing in Englishpost-training, as well as the positive feedback provided by participants fromthe Kunming workshop on their self-adapted application of training received totheir own teaching contexts.

Giuliana Diani, in Chapter 3, “Text and Corpus Work, EAP Writing and LanguageLearners”, illustrates a pedagogical approach that adopts both a genremethodology and a corpus methodology for teaching EAP (English for AcademicPurposes) writing in an EFL context. Diani offers an English writing modulewhich provides genre-based and corpus-based lessons for 25 undergraduates at anItalian University. Based on a small corpus, students are required to identifytextual segments corresponding to the moves and steps that are exemplified bySwales (1990) and Hopkins and Dudley-Evans (1988), and then discuss how thesemoves are realized linguistically. Also, the corpus-based lessons familiarizestudents with a computerized concordance program named AntConc, through whichthey learn how to detect patterns of discourse. To fully benefit students’‘discovery learning’(61), teachers who expect to adopt corpus-based teachingmethods are recommended to carefully enforce teacher control in class,especially at the beginning stage, so as to ensure adequate guidance, as well asfreedom for students to explore themselves.

Chapter 4, “The Impact of Experience and Beliefs on Chinese EFL Student Writers’Feedback Preferences”, by Guangwei Hu and Hongwei Ren, investigates theinfluence of previous experience and beliefs on the feedback preferences of 116Chinese junior English majors in mainland China. According to a questionnaireanalysis, while all students received teacher feedback and the majority receivedpeer feedback, feedback from teachers is more treasured by students than thatfrom peers. Two chi-square tests of independence reveal participants’ previousexperience is unrelated to their feedback preferences, while their beliefs andfeedback preferences are tightly bonded. The fact that teacher feedback isstrongly preferred indicates that students believe in teachers’ authoritativestatus and experiential qualities, which is deeply influenced by social-culturalfactors as well as educational practices in China. To fulfill the functions ofpeer review, Hu and Ren suggest that teachers provide students withopportunities to experience peer review tasks, raise their awareness of peerreview’s benefits, and help build up students’ confidence in and capabilitieswith peer review.

The last chapter of Part One, “Thesis and Dissertation Writing: Moving Beyondthe Text”, by Brian Paltridge and Lindy Woodrow, examines the thesis anddissertation writing experiences of the non-native-English-speaking students atan Australian university by analyzing their online reflections. Twenty sevenstudents from different backgrounds attended an academic writing course, whichis supported by an e-learning site through which students can communicate withtheir peers and the instructor. They were expected to write on-line journals inwhich they reflected on topics which included, but were not limited to,motivation for studying, supervisory experience, time management, etc. Throughtext-external reflections, students came to realize the important role played bythe social and cultural context in which they wrote the text. With the fact thatthe development of students’ linguistic competence has long been the focus ofresearch, Paltridge and Woodrow reiterate the necessity of paying adequateattention to social and cultural issues in academic writing.

Part Two: Features of ESL/EFL Learner Discourse

Chapter 6, “The Challenges of Writing a Successful Thesis Conclusion”, by JoLewkowicz, examines the conclusions of 12 PhD theses collected from Polishuniversities for a generic structure and explores the influences of nationaltradition on conclusion writing. The results, stating that the ‘Conclusion’ isloosely connected to the rest of the text and composes a small portion in onecomplete thesis, together with the finding that section headings and subheadingsare frequently absent in these conclusions, indicate that academic writing atthe PhD level in Poland is affected by local traditions, according to which the‘Conclusion’ is considered a less substantive part of the thesis (113).Furthermore, 11 of the 12 thesis conclusions are thesis-oriented, while theremaining one is field-oriented, which corresponds to the two types ofconclusions distinguished by Bunton (2005). In both types, a summary is found toplay an important role, which also follows local writing guidelines. Based onthe fact that local traditions are influential in academic writing, the authorsuggests that students be aware of both international and local demands, so asto meet expectations of their different possible audiences.

Chapters 7 and 8 are developed based on the Britain Academic Written English(BAWE) corpus, which contains 2,761 proficient students’ academic writingassignments, with the majority written by NS (native speakers) and the restwritten by NNS (non-native speakers) (129). Hilary Nesi and Emma Moreton’sarticle, “EFL/ESL Writers and the Use of Shell Nouns”, compares proficient NSand NNS’ assignments in students ranging from first year undergraduates to thoseat the Masters level. The analysis focuses on frequency and lexico-grammaticalpatterns of shell nouns, with findings indicating that the frequencies of NS andNNS shell noun use are quite similar, with variation being explained by unequaldistribution of NS and NNS writing in terms of disciplines, genres and levels ofstudy. Moreover, the most frequently used patterns are ‘N+cl’, ‘the-+N’ and‘a/the+N’, while use of the pattern ‘the same+N’ is nearly neglected. Althoughsome shell nouns are used at the same frequency in NS and NNS written academictexts, they turn out to be favored in different patterns. Nesi and Moretonconclude by recommending the systematic teaching of shell noun structures tostudents for the sake of appropriate shell noun use in academic writing.

Chapter 8, “Writing in Tables and Lists: A Study of Chinese Students’Undergraduate Assignments in UK Universities”, by Maria Leedham, investigatesvisuals and lists in undergraduate-level academic writings by comparing andcontrasting 5 L1 Chinese and L1 English students’ assignments that wereextracted from the BAWE. It is found that the frequencies of use of visuals(e.g. tables, figures, images and diagrams), lists (also called prototypical‘lists’, where each list item consists of a word or noun/verb phrase; Ebeling &Heuboeck, 2007) and listlikes (also classified as ‘false’ lists in whichlistlike formatting is contained in paragraphs of running texts; Ebeling &Heuboeck, 2007) differ not only in disciplines, but also in student groups. Acloser examination of two pairs of texts from Biological Sciences and Economicsreveals that L1 Chinese writers tend to use visuals, lists and listlikes moreoften, while L1 English writers focus more on prose writing. Interviews with 7Biological Sciences and Economics lecturers show that visuals, especially thosedesigned by students themselves, are highly appreciated. It is, therefore,suggested by Leedham that an EAP class should be provided to help familiarizestudents with academic writing and master strategies like using visuals andlists in organizing ideas to meet varied academic writing demands.

Part Three: Identity Work and Professional Opportunities in Academic Writing

In Chapter 9, “Writing and Researching Between and Beyond the Labels”, HanakoOkada and Christine Pearson Casanave challenge the inappropriate use ofdichotomous labeling and categorization that has long prevailed in the field ofapplied linguistics. Okada illustrates the ambiguous categorization dilemmausing her own dissertation writing experience, in which not only the author, butalso her 3 participants have difficulty labeling themselves, which assures thefact that traditional dichotomous labels and hierarchical views cannot holdwater in all cases. Pearson Casanave then goes on to discuss the challenges thatadvisors confront when providing guidance for students with their academicwriting, especially when they need to give advice on topics like the one thatOkada proposes. It is concluded that inaccurate conventional labels and amonolingual bias should be avoided in academic writing, whilst the carrying outof portraying participants in a more exact and ethical way should be guaranteed.

Suganthi John’s contribution, “Identity Without the ‘I’: A Study of CitationSequences and Writer Identity in Literature Review Sections of Dissertations”,demonstrates the ways a writer’s academic identity is constructed without usingthe first person pronoun by analyzing 17 literature review sections extractedfrom L2 Asian students’ Masters-level dissertations completed at a UKuniversity. The relationship between ways of citation and degree of academicvisibility is illustrated by examining how reporting verbs, ‘as’ structures, andmodifying adverbs manifest the evaluative quality of citations, thus affectingwriter visibility. The results reveal that, apart from citations within ‘as’structures, citations with a reporting verb either carrying an evaluation fromthe writer/sourced author, or being modified by an adverb, can make the writervisible in the text. After comparing citations in the draft and final versionsof the same text, John notices that L2 writers choose verbs based on previousverb use frequency instead of their implications. Thus, he highlights theimportance of providing guided revision during which evaluative meanings, aswell as potential influences of reporting verbs and structures, should beclearly pointed out to facilitate students’ academic writing.

The last chapter of this volume, “Two Sides of the Same Coin: Challenges andOpportunities for Scholars from EFL Backgrounds”, by Ramona Tang, emphasizes theresearch benefits brought by an EFL background through a survey conducted among8 EFL postgraduates and academics. EFL researchers, although having to tackledifficulties when trying to integrate themselves into a discourse community, cantake advantage of the exclusive benefits offered by their backgrounds, thuscontributing to their teaching as well as to the diversity of their own researchfields. It is also pointed out that professional networks should be activelyestablished to create opportunities that can help EFL researchers publish inEnglish.


The four articles in Part One elaborate on non-textual academic writing issueslike training/teaching method, EFL student writers’ feedback preferences, etc.,providing a perfect backdrop for the section to come.Non-native-English-speaking academics, especially EAP instructors, would findthe integrated training approach introduced in Chapter 2 thought-provoking andinspiring because it successfully combines the efforts of scientists andlanguage professionals in facilitating academic writing, which moves one stepbeyond the mere integration of academic writing with subject knowledge (Wingate,Andon & Cogo, 2011). Also, implications in the remaining chapters are insightfuland can benefit both academic writing and teaching. However, the topic of thissection – ‘Learning to write for academic purposes’ – indicates that issuesunder discussion are illustrated from the perspective of academic writers only,while in some chapters (e.g. Chapter 2) the authors seems to have taken aninstructor’s stance. Therefore, it may have been more appropriate to rename thissection while taking the angle of instructors into consideration.

Compared to Part One, Part Two focuses on more specific aspects of academicwriting, investigating the generic structure of conclusions, shell nouns and theuse of visuals. The three chapters in this section not only stick closely to thetheme of this part, but also provide practical advice for EAP teachers, as theyall conclude with pedagogical implications, which makes them a coherent whole.However, Chapters 7 and 8, though focusing on different aspects, are developedout of the same corpus, and therefore, more specific aspects in academicwriting, such as vocabulary (Coxhead, 2012), could have been added to this part.Undoubtedly, these two points are likely to affect the richness of this sectionas well as the diversity of this collection – a feature highly valued by the editor.

Two special issues existing in the academic writing process and among academicwriters are emphasized in Part Three, which is connected to the topic of‘Identity work and professional opportunities in academic writing’. Chapters 9and 10 deal with how to define participants and construct visibility in academicwriting, while Chapter 11 reiterates the point that academics should shift thefocus of attention from the drawbacks of their EFL backgrounds to their uniquecultural and linguistic capital, which naturally echoes Chapter 1. Unlike theother two sections, this part addresses two issues that are not so closelyrelated to each other, a point that may even be noticed from the topic. Thus, itseems possible and proper to change the topic of this part to foreground onesingle theme – academic identity – since many would interpret the three chaptersas related to identity labeling, identity construction, and identity evaluation;or we may choose an alternative way, by isolating Chapter 11 from the rest inorder to make the author’s point more salient and highlighted.

Overall, this collection has brought to the fore a wide range of topics underthe theme of ‘academic writing in a second or foreign language’ for the sake ofboth scholars under pressure to publish in the medium of English (Lillis, 2006)and tertiary-level students from non-English-speaking backgrounds facing L2writing difficulties (Kroll, 2003). Diverse in research topics, sites,participants, methodologies and approaches, this volume should prove to be ofgreat use to academic writers, especially non-native English students andscholars, and can provide insightful teaching implications for EAP instructorsas well.


Coxhead, Averil. (2012). Academic vocabulary, writing and English for academicpurposes: Perspectives from second language learners. RELC Journal, 43(1), 137-145.

Kroll, Barbara (ed.). (2003). Exploring the dynamics of second language writing.UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lillis, Theresa. (2006). Professional academic writing by multilingual scholars:Interactions with literacy brokers in the production of English-medium texts,23(1), 3-35.

Wingate, Ursula., Andon, Nick., Cogo, Alessia. (2011). Embedding academicwriting instruction into subject teaching: A case study. Active Learning inHigher Education, 12, 69-80.


Nana Xu is a graduate student majoring in second language acquisition in the English language department at Nankai University. Her research interests focus on classroom reticence and self-regulated language learning.

Page Updated: 02-Oct-2012