LINGUIST List 24.396

Tue Jan 22 2013

Review: General Linguistics: Lewin (2010)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <monicalinguistlist.org>



Date: 22-Jan-2013
From: Patricia Zoltan <patricia.zoltanadelaide.edu.au>
Subject: Writing Readable Research
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

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

AUTHOR: Beverly A. LewinTITLE: Writing Readable ResearchSUBTITLE: A Guide for Students of Social SciencePUBLISHER: EquinoxYEAR: 2010

Patricia Zoltan, Pre-enrolment English Program (PEP), The English LanguageCentre, Professional and Continuing Education (PCE), The University ofAdelaide, South Australia

SUMMARY

Beverly A. Lewin's “Writing Readable Research” is a useful resource for anynovice writer or writing teacher in the Social Sciences, which the authordefines as fields that investigate human behaviour. The slim, 179-page bookcovers a broad spectrum of significant issues in scientific writing fromgrammar and punctuation to writing literature reviews, abstracts andprofessional letters. While the main focus of the book is journal articles, italso provides valuable advice on the preparation of talks and posters foracademic conferences. In addition, Lewin also provides a full Reference Listand an Index.

“Writing Readable Research”, as the title also suggests, was inspired by theemerging need the author recognised some years ago, because she could notlocate a suitable textbook which would teach non-native speakers as well asEnglish-speaking students new to professional writing how to write clearly,concisely and correctly. Hence, this volume was designed to fill the gap andhelp users to create texts that are easy to read, conform to the standards ofEnglish and to the criteria in the fields of Social Science. Lewin's book canbe used as course material, especially in bridging programs both for local andinternational graduate students studying at English-speaking universities, butalso independently by students to maximise their chances of submitting qualityacademic assignments.

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

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

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

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

The focus of Chapter 3 is using verbs, another area of concern forinternational students and their tutors working together at English-speakinguniversities, especially when it comes to verb tenses, verb forms, passivestructures, modality, conditionals and the use of appropriate reporting verbsin researched articles. In regards to verb tenses, Chapter 3 also concentrateson a specific area of scientific writing, namely the use of verb tenses in aLiterature Review, a major point of significance in scientific texts. Afterreviewing all these aspects of verb use in Chapter 3, the author ties allthese points together by showcasing their use in an illustrative extract froman article published by Idler and Kasl in The American Journal of Sociology in1992. In the extract each verb or verb phrase is underlined, thereby callingthe students' attention to the correct use of verb tenses and verb forms in ascientific article.

Chapter 4, “Shaping Sentences and Paragraphs” shows students how to work withall the building blocks they learnt about in previous chapters. Lewin alsoemphasises the rules of “good” writing: avoid heavy sentences, avoid ambiguityand punctuate punctiliously. While the sub-section on paragraphing does notprovide a generic scaffolding template spelling out the important componentsof “good” paragraphing, starting with a Topic Sentence and followed by supportand development and ending with a closing or linking sentence, it is still auseful segment for beginners to gain more awareness about the essentials ofwriting paragraphs in English.

Chapter 5, “Being Concise”, is an appropriately succinct and concise, 7-pagesection about the guidelines of conciseness, while Chapter 6, “MakingConnections – Connectives”, provides advice on the roles of local and globalconnective devices. After exemplifying the use of local connectives (betweentwo clauses), and global connectives (between larger sections of discourse) inauthentic extracts for example from the Journal of Personality and SocialPsychology, the author invites the users of the book to fill in the gaps of anauthentic extract with the appropriate connectives in an activity.

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

Chapter 8, “Review of the Literature”, is a brief yet comprehensive unit aboutthe guiding principles behind writing a well-organised Literature Review. Themajor 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 Reviewsamples provide useful insights into the mechanics and the textual andlinguistic features of a quality Literature Review.

Chapter 9, “Methods”, offers advice on the structural, sequential andlinguistic elements in scientific writing. This chapter together with Chapters10 and 11 provide insights into the textual and linguistic features ofscientific writing, which are important in students' understanding of howprofessional articles present primary, experimental or experiential,quantitative or qualitative research studies.

Chapter 10, “Results”, and Chapter 11, “Discussion” sections focus on theall-important units in a scientific article, where findings and analysis arepresented. While Chapter 10, provides a brief, 3-page overview of presentingdata and images, it also highlights the importance of using the rightprepositions to express results when writing an English article. This sectionalso explains the essentials of referencing visuals and integrating evidencefrom secondary sources.

Chapter 11, “Discussion Sections”, takes the readers through thecharacteristic moves of writing up the discussion section of an article andtheir respective rhetorical functions. Authentic text exemplars demonstrate tonovice scholars the moves of logical sequencing in scientific articles as wellas the lexical and grammatical signals, signposting and varied ways of statingconclusions. Extracts from authentic professional articles are presented inChapter 11, for example by Miethe et al. (1987) published in the AmericanSociological Review.

After the first eleven chapters concentrating on the core components ofscientific article writing in the Social Sciences, Lewin also provides threemore sections to her book in which she discusses “Conference Texts” in Chapter12, “Abstracts” in Chapter 13 and “Writing Professional Letters” in Chapter14. Young scholars new to their respective disciplines will surely findthemselves attending local or international conferences early on in theircareers. So, Chapter 12 briefly summarises the guiding principles ofdelivering an engaging, well-organised and eloquently delivered professionalpresentation accompanied by effective Power Points.

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

Chapter 14, “Writing Professional Letters”, introduces novice writers to theprinciples of writing letters in academia, for example when submitting amanuscript to a publisher, responding to criticism or applying for a job. Thischapter provides a generic template for professional letters with thenecessary elements and some advised textual and linguistic featuresemphasising the appropriate level of formality required in an academic orbusiness environment. In addition to the job application cover letter, a veryinteresting sub-section of Chapter 14 concerns responding to criticism. Itoffers some sample replies written in polite, formal and polished style, notonly providing some textual exemplars to novice scholars about gainingmembership in their respective professional communities, but also furthersocialising them into the desirable etiquette and diplomacy required in theworld of academia.

EVALUATION

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

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

“Writing Readable Research” achieves its primary goal in helping students toposition themselves as junior scholars in their academic communities. Lewinachieves this aim by gradually and consistently providing explanations andpractical 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 orindependently, students can also gain self-confidence and a higher level ofmastery in the area of scientific writing in academia.

Also, with its consistent language and grammar focus, Lewin's book alsoprovides welcome support to the international student cohort studying atEnglish-speaking universities. The most attractive feature of the book is itsbalanced mix of explanations, theory and task-based approach with a strongemphasis on skills building through activities, which are all based onauthentic materials showcasing some similarities but also many differencesbetween 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, Lewinskillfully sourced her exemplars from relevant and reliable peer-reviewedjournals.

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

Regarding future projects assisting international students in their endeavoursto master the skills of scientific writing at English-speaking universities,there are potentialities still for delving deeper into one or more specificareas of research writing. For example, building on Lewin's work, a possible,future volume could provide much needed support in paraphrasing and correctlyintegrating evidence from sources and impeccably referencing them, which isone of the most challenging skills for non-native students to master. Yetanother book could solely be devoted to creating academic posters oreffective, professional Power Points accompanying academic, professional orconference presentations. International student cohorts studying atEnglish-speaking universities and their enthusiastic, diligent but oftenoverstretched tutors throughout the world would surely welcome such newadditions to the professional, “how to” literature of course books.

REFERENCES

Halliday, MAK, 1985, An Introduction to Functional Grammar, London: EdwardArnold.

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

Martin, JR, 1992, English text: System and Structure, Amsterdam: JohnBenjamins.

Miethe, T D, Stafford, M C and Long, J S, 1987, Social differentiation incriminal 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 ResearchReport Writing for Students of English, Prentice Hall.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

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

Page Updated: 22-Jan-2013