LINGUIST List 29.4002

Mon Oct 15 2018

Review: Applied Linguistics; Discourse Analysis: Hyland (2018)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 14-May-2018
From: Terese Thonus <>
Subject: The Essential Hyland
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Ken Hyland
TITLE: The Essential Hyland
SUBTITLE: Studies in Applied Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
YEAR: 2018

REVIEWER: Terese Thonus, University of Baltimore


Ken Hyland serves as Professor of Applied Linguistics in Education in the Centre for Applied English Studies at the University of Hong Kong. Per his professional website, Hyland’s opus now extends to 27 books and 222 journal articles and book chapters, spanning a variety of academic discourse communities and disciplines. Among these are Applied Linguistics (AL), Discourse Analysis (DA), Corpus Linguistics (CL), English for Academic Purposes (EAP), English for Specific Purposes (ESP), Second Language Writing (SLW), and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

The Essential Hyland contains 18 of his most significant and most cited papers, published as chapters in his own individual or co-authored books (Hyland, 2004, 2012, 2015) and articles in Applied Linguistics, Discourse Studies, English for Specific Purposes, Journal of English for Academic Purposes, Journal of Second Language Writing, Language Teaching, System, TESOL Quarterly, and Written Communication. Additionally, it begins with a heretofore unpublished article. The book’s back cover obliquely identifies its audience as those who have read and used Hyland’s publications, books and articles that have had “considerable influence in shaping the direction of the field and generating papers and PhD theses from researchers around the world.”

In his introduction to the volume, Hyland credits Johns Swales and Charles Bazerman for convincing him that academic texts are a worthy object of study and analysis. Hyland explains how he has engaged with academic writing, “one of the twenty-first century’s most fascinating and contentious concepts”:
Here, in the apparently frozen surface of scholarly texts, we find evidence of interaction, interpersonal engagement, community, identity, power and cultural variation. At the same time, these texts reveal the workings of theoretical constructs such as legitimate peripheral participation, genre, agency and the social construction of knowledge (viii).
Corpora texts, which he often uses as primary sources, are “cultural artefacts” of disciplines that have “real epistemological characteristics.” Hyland completes the introduction by renewing his commitment to the concept of disciplines as discourse communities that are “not only intellectual but also social” (ix).

The volume is divided into five sections, each with an introduction by Hyland. Part One, Writing, Participation, and Identity, includes four papers with a commentary by Charles (Chuck) Bazerman, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara (USA). Part Two, Interaction, Stance, and Metadiscourse, features four papers with commentary by Brian Paltridge, Professor of TESOL at the University of Sydney (Australia) School of Education and Social Work. Part Three, Interactions in Peripheral Genres, contains three papers with commentary by Vijay Bhatia, retired from the Department of English at the City University of Hong Kong in 2011. Part Four, Features of Academic Writing, consists of four papers with commentary by Diane Belcher, Professor of Applied Linguistics and ESL at Georgia State University (USA). Part Five, Pedagogy and EAP, presents four chapters with commentary by Ann Johns, Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages and Rhetorical and Writing Studies at the San Diego State University (California, USA).

Part One begins with “Writing in the University: Education, Knowledge and Reputation,” which Hyland developed from a 2006 lecture he delivered at the Institute of Education, University of London. Hyland’s audience “comprised academics from across the educational spectrum” (3) and is therefore a fitting introduction not only to the volume but to Hyland’s entire oeuvre. (I detail the contents of this chapter since it is the only one that has not been previously published.) “Education” refers to the need for students to understand the “social practices of the academy” in texts (9), with literacy presented and understood as a set of practices rather than rules. “Knowledge” refers to the rhetorical construction of “truth” across disciplines (15), and “reputation” the ways that academics “wield influence in their field” (23). For each of these concepts, Hyland produces data and analysis to support his claims. For education, Hyland draws upon differences between the ways Hong Kong and British students mitigate or boost claims in their GCE A level high-school exit exam papers. For knowledge, he explores variations across disciplinary texts in lexical meanings and bundles, and directives as explicit textual interventions by authors. For reputation, Hyland cites the growing influence of English as a lingua franca in academic publishing, which, if not problematized, blocks scholars for whom English is an additional language from publishing writing that “is both the stick and the carrot that propel [them] on the academic treadmill” (24). In other words, academic writing is the window into the university and its literate practices.

The remaining three chapters in Part One address the concepts of discipline, participation, and community and individuality. Hyland acknowledges the controversial status of the term “discipline” in the academy, yet he offers strong support for disciplines as both individually identifying and socially constructed as worked out in “writer-reader dialogue” (47). The chapter on participation fixes on discourse communities as sites of global, local, and personal interaction through and around academic texts, with examples from students, faculty, and publication editors and reviewers. The chapter on community and individuality, subtitled “Performing Identity in Applied Linguistics,” analyzes a corpus of texts published by Deborah Cameron and John Swales for “the discursive production of identity” (95), that is, the expansion of their academic personae through writing within their collective discourse community. In his commentary on Part One, Bazerman argues that Hyland’s work has spurred applied linguists to look, yes, at the language of academic texts but also to examine the complex social and individual contexts in which they are produced.

In Part Two, Hyland introduces chapters about what he terms his “main contribution to the field of academic writing,” interaction (109). Thus, Hyland positions himself as a prime advocate of the social constructivist approach to academic writing: “Texts embody the social negotiations of disciplinary inquiry, revealing how knowledge is constructed, negotiated and made persuasive” (115). “Disciplinary Cultures, Texts, and Interactions” expounds Hyland’s argument that individual authors and their writing are shaped by disciplinary cultures, not the other way round. Based on a corpus of research articles and interviews with their authors, “Stance and Engagement: A Model of Interaction in Academic Discourse” (Ch. 5) examines how academic rhetors position themselves in interactions with their readers, through hedges, boosters, attitude markers, and self-mention (stance), and reader pronouns, directives, questions, shared knowledge, and personal asides (engagement). “Metadiscourse in Academic Writing: A Reappraisal,” co-authored by Hyland and Polly Tse, immediately attacks the definition of metadiscourse as “discourse about discourse.” The authors present metadiscourse as embodying reader-writer interactions that distinguish between internal and external relations to texts (159), drawing upon data from dissertations across six disciplines. The last chapter in Part Two, “Change of Attitude? A Diachronic Study of Stance,” co-authored by Hyland and Feng (Kevin) Jiang, expands the examination of stance in Chapter 5 by analyzing a corpus of 2.2 million words from texts published between 1965 and 2015 spanning four disciplines. They found “an inexorable growth in formality and authorial withdrawal” (199), a result that surprised them and readers alike. Commentator Paltridge notes that Hyland’s work encourages academic researchers to focus on their audiences, to “establish solidarity with their readers and represent their credibility in terms of what they are saying” (203).

Part Three also treats academic writing as interaction but addresses genres on what Hyland terms “the periphery” of academic texts: professional journal articles vs. popular science journalism, dissertation acknowledgements, and personal academic homepages. In “Constructing Proximity: Relating to Readers in Popular and Professional Science,” Hyland draws upon the conversation-analytic model of Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson (1974) to stress a reader-oriented approach to writing. He demonstrates that the manner in which scientists construct proximity with academic and general audiences differs by organization, argument structure, credibility, stance, and engagement. In the next chapter, Hyland calls “Dissertation Acknowledgments” a “Cinderella genre” because “like the heroine in a children’s fairy tale, [they] are a taken-for-granted part of the background, a practice of unrecognized and disregarded value deserving of greater attention” (231). Like other peripheral academic genres, Hyland argues, acknowledgments are “intimations of the shared ways of understanding experience” (252); they convey gratitude through authors’ constructions of professional and personal identities within disciplinary contexts. Chapter 11 reports Hyland’s analysis of 100 academic homepages from 50 physicists and 50 philosophers. He explains that rather than being “trivial, amateurish and superfluous products of narcissism and exhibitionism” (274), homepages represent co-constructions by scholars and their universities (= “branding”). In his commentary on Part Three, Vijay Bhatia touches on the “multidimensional framework” Hyland employs in his research: genre analysis, corpus analysis, and ethnography, among others (279).

Part Four, broadly titled Features of Academic Writing, comprises chapters that focus on citation, self-mention, and vocabulary (including lexical bundles). It collects Hyland’s most cited articles published in EAP, ESP, and TESOL journals. In these chapters, the themes of the previous three (discipline, community, genre, and interaction) are further explored in a series of corpora studies. The first, “Academic Attribution: Citation and the Construction of Disciplinary Knowledge,” investigates intertextuality in 80 research articles across eight disciplines. Looking at reporting verbs, for example, Hyland finds that articles in the humanities and social sciences (which he calls “soft disciplines”) contain more and more varied verbs than “hard science” texts because authors have “a greater need to elaborate a shared context” with their readers (307). In “Humble Servants of the Discipline? Self-Mention in Research Articles,” he reveals the reason for the question mark: first-person pronouns and self-citation create a “competent scholarly identity” that increases authors’ credibility (334). With co-author Polly Tse, Hyland asks, “Is There an ‘Academic Vocabulary’?” in Chapter 14. Again, the question mark is rhetorical, since the authors’ main argument is that a core academic vocabulary in English doesn’t exist; rather, academic vocabularies (including lexical bundles) vary by discipline, genre, and text- vs. reader-orientation. The authors argue that their findings have clear pedagogical implications. Describing Hyland’s approaches as “theoretically and methodologically complex, contextualized, and technologically cutting-edge” (382), commentator Diane Belcher applauds him for problematizing the notion of “academic discourse,” which she believes also has important pedagogical value.

And it is to Hyland’s writings on pedagogy that Part Five turns. In his introduction, Hyland states that these collected papers are “some of the work that I am most satisfied with” (389). I venture that the four chapters may also be the most satisfying of the volume to teacher-practitioners. “Genre-Based Pedagogies: A Social Response to Process” touts the importance of teaching genre in process-oriented writing instruction, particularly in SLW classrooms. Genre pedagogies, Hyland argues, provide “a social informed theory of language offering an authoritative pedagogy grounded in research on texts and contexts, strongly committed to empowering students to participate effectively in target situations” (402). Chapter 17, “Nurturing Hedges in the ESP Curriculum,” drawn from Hyland’s dissertation, represents his attempt to rescue hedging from “buri[al] under the concept of modality” and to showcase it as a primary means by which scientists “construct facts and a stance as knowledgeable insiders” (390). Even in this very early publication (1996), Hyland demonstrates the critical use of authentic texts rather than anecdote or intuition as the data that make generalizations possible. Co-authored with Fiona Hyland, “Sugaring the Pill: Praise and Criticism in Written Feedback” examines two teachers’ summary comments at the end of student assignments. Definitely the most qualitative investigation in the book, this chapter explains the authors’ findings that praise-criticism, criticism-suggestion, and praise-criticism-suggestion are the common patterns in summary comments. Teachers are more likely to mitigate criticisms and suggestions, they suggest, since these are the very comments upon which students will (or should) base their revisions. Chapter 19, the last in the volume, investigates the “specificity” in ESP—English for Specific Purposes. First published in 2002, it lauds ESP as a developing and proving ground for teaching English as a second/other language. In practice, though, Hyland notes that universities “shunt off” ESP to “special units” and thus dilute its impact (449). He proposes “a wide angle perspective” to save ESP from oblivion. First, efforts to identify a “common core of academic writing” have proven impossible. And second, although subject specialists propose that the features of specialized academic texts are “self-evident” (450), the variation among texts by discipline is too great to ignore. To put the “S” back into ESP, one must accept that labels such as “academic” or “scientific” when applied to English writing are merely “a convenient shorthand,” as they “conceal a wealth of discursive complexity” (456). In her commentary on Part 5, Ann Johns reveals that Hyland’s research articles have found a pedagogical home in her classrooms, since they are both evidence-based and accessible.


The Essential Hyland turns the Festschrift genre on its head: the author of the collected articles is the contributor and his esteemed colleagues the commentators. In this way, Hyland achieves both his purpose of creating “a book of some of my collected papers” and of presenting “one person’s experience” of “a growing sub-discipline” he terms academic writing (vi). Hyland allows his work to stand on its own merits; he exudes authority while letting others toot his horn. His choice of commentators could not be better. Such is the breadth of Hyland’s research and writing that he called on a colleague outside of applied linguistics—Chuck Bazerman-—to contribute to the volume. This is one of The Essential Hyland’s greatest strengths.

I concur with Ann Johns: while some applied linguists make their work difficult to access (I will not name names), Hyland does just the opposite. His organized, crisp prose, liberally interlarded with data extracts, is evident not only in each of the chapters but also in his section introductions. For instance, Hyland elegantly argues in the introduction to Part 1 that “Corpora allow us to focus on community practices in negotiating meaning and in so doing they also tell us something of how writers understand their communities—what their readers are likely to find convincing and persuasive” (4). In 36 words, he touches upon discourse communities, rhetorical analysis, genres, reader-writer interaction, and research methods. I also enjoyed this self-effacing comment from one of Hyland’s introductions: reflecting on his dissertation on the topic of hedging, he notes, “A photocopied collection of sixteen research articles was my corpus and regarded as perfectly adequate to discuss hedging—even for a PhD” (391). That’s how far academic writing research and teaching have come given his participation and leadership.

So who should read this book? The Essential Hyland is an excellent resource for faculty and graduate students alike because of its topical organization: Sections and chapters can easily be referenced in lectures and in literature reviews. And given its relatively low cost ($30.56 paperback and $15.28 eBook on the Bloomsbury site; a bit more on, it could also serve as an introductory core text for undergraduate and graduate students in English composition, professional writing, DA, CL, EAP, ESP, SLW, and TESOL courses. Because chapters sufficiently reiterate key concepts, terminology, and arguments, one can read the text closely or can skim through it depending on one’s purpose.

The Essential Hyland is a brilliant idea given the variety of Hyland’s topics and their original publication venues. Collecting these writings at this point in his career allows him and his readers a pause to reflect on his achievements as a scholar and teacher before he ventures into uncharted territories. I’m eagerly awaiting, for example, his collaboration with V. Zhang, “Student Engagement with Teacher and Automated Feedback in L2 Writing,” forthcoming in “Assessing Writing” (2018).


Hyland, Ken. 2004. Disciplinary discourses: social interaction in academic writing. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Hyland, Ken. 2012. Disciplinary identities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hyland, Ken. 2015. Academic publishing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Professor Ken Hyland. Journal articles and book chapters. (7 May 2018)

Sacks, Harvey, Emanuel Schegloff & Gail Jefferson. 1974. A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking in conversation. Language, 50(4), 697-735.


Terese Thonus is Professor and Director of the University Writing Program in the Klein Family School of Communications Design at the University of Baltimore. Previously, she directed the Writing Center at the University of Kansas. Her research interests are academic writing, second language writing, and writing center studies. She has published articles in the Writing Center Journal, Assessing Writing, the Journal of College Reading and Learning, and the Journal of Second Language Writing, among others. The second edition of Researching the Writing Center: Towards an Evidence-Based Practice, co-authored with Rebecca Day Babcock, appeared in January 2018 from Peter Lang.

Page Updated: 15-Oct-2018