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Review of  English for Academic Purposes: Approaches and Implications

Reviewer: Ileana Maria Chersan
Book Title: English for Academic Purposes: Approaches and Implications
Book Author: Paul Thompson Giuliana Diani
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 27.3212

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


“English for Academic Purposes: Approaches and Implications,” edited by Paul Thompson and Giuliana Diani, was written in line with the increasing scholarly activity in the field of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in the last few decades. It consists of 13 chapters, an introduction, a brief description of the authors and an index, all in 351 pages. As its title indicates, the book investigates EAP considering two complementary linguistic strands - genre analysis and corpus linguistics - and their pedagogical repercussions. The contributions are distributed in four parts: the first addresses corpus-based research into EAP, the second focuses on intercultural EAP research, the third on English as a Lingua Franca in academic communication, whilst the fourth presents the relationship between corpus, genre and pedagogy in EAP.


The first input, called Introduction, written by editors Paul Thompson and Giuliana Diani, provides an overview of current research on genre analysis and corpus linguistics in EAP and their integration in the classroom context, and offers a presentation of the chapters contained in the book.

The first chapter, ''On the Phraseology of Grammatical Items in Lexico-grammatical Patterns and Science Writing'' by Christopher Gledhill, is the first of six contributions in “Part I: Corpus, Genre and Disciplinary Discourses”. The chapter examines the role of grammatical items in lexico-grammatical (LG) patterns and, moving a step further from his previous research, argues that discontinuous stretches of text are found in variations of pre-established, predictable sequences in specialized discourse, such as ‘to be on the N of V-ing’ expressing PHASE in a verbal group. These regular, as well as hybrid, patterns of lexis are singled out from a corpus of research articles, which consistently prove that there is both stability and variation in morphology and determiner use, sensitive to text cohesion. One extension of this conclusion is that such fixed complex LG patterns are indicative of the text type they belong to.

The second chapter, “The Role of ‘Lexical Paving’ in Building a Text According to the Requirements of a Target Genre”, by Geneviève Bordet, also treats lexical variations as instrumental in the study of genre and text analysis. Analyzing science PhD abstracts, the author finds evidence that the identified cohesive lexical chains feature recurrent “pivot terms”, which contribute to the creation of a textual dynamic. One such pivot term is “ethnomathematics”, which appears both in the title, but also in the research statement move: consequently, the author considers only lexemes that are directly syntactically linked with this term and establishes the frequency and distribution of the terms in the corpora. Following a bottom-up research technique, the author identifies cohesive lexical chains, or “lexical paving”, which show variation not only in individual strategies, but also exhibit typicality for the generic structure of scientific abstracts.

In Chapter Three, “Research Articles in Sociology: Variation within the Discipline”, Šarlota Godnič Vičič and Mojca Jarc look at the flexibility in the structure of moves pertaining to the genre of the research articles (RA) using six small corpora from one particular discipline, sociology. As sociologists often conduct research navigating on related fields (anthropology, political science, economics etc.) and in particular regions, their writing practice is bound to be influenced by such conditions. However, ‘among’ and mostly ‘between’ are found to be the most representative prepositions in all academic corpora, as opposed to general English, where the same prepositions are the least frequent. Semantic patterns such as SOCIAL PHENOMENON + ‘among’ + SOCIAL GROUP or ‘between’ + LIMIT + ‘and’ + LIMIT allow authors to identify, select and highlight the object of research and present them as phenomena or objects. The two prepositions, even if significantly less used in theoretical journals, also participate in patterns related to methodology, topical orientation and are conceptually related to the core of sociology.

Michele Sala’s Chapter Four “Knowledge Construction and Knowledge Promotion in Academic Communication: The Case of Research Article Abstracts – A Corpus-based Study” explores standardized linguistic strategies which introduce and explain contents, methods, procedures and results in 200 research article abstracts. Abstracts are considered to be representative of the associated articles as they anticipate and promote content; therefore, adherence to standard organization and use of metadiscursive references indicate how ‘competent’ a writer is. Several verbs, phraseological expressions and lexical items are found indicative for the strategies of observation, interpretation and argumentation. The author concludes that ‘research’, ‘cognition’ and ‘discourse acts’ are used predominantly and consistently in the four disciplinary areas under investigation (Applied Linguistics, Economics, Law and Medicine), fulfilling three simultaneous functions: they are informative, ‘conformative’ (that is, reflective of the epistemology of the various domains) and ‘dynamic’.

In Chapter Five, “<If MSM are Frequent Testers There are More Opportunities to Test Them>: Conditionals in Medical Posters – A Corpus-based Approach”, Stefania M. Maci analyses the employment of conditional constructions in the discourse of fifty medical posters presented at international conferences. The concrete message, evidence and titles are sometimes expressed across medical genres by elements introducing protasis (‘if’, ‘whether’, ‘given’, ‘in case’, ‘except’, ‘save’, ‘unless’, ‘suppose’ etc.), of which the most frequently used is unsurprisingly ‘if’, while ‘suppose/supposing’ is absent; this shows that in posters information is inductive rather than deductive, and more concise and condensed than in research articles. Conditionals are thus shown to express the hard sciences reasoning process by rendering either ‘facticity’ (when ‘if’ expresses an event conditional) or ‘refocusing’ (Carter-Thomas and Rowley-Jolivet 2008); in medical (or any) posters, the persuasive force of conditionals is also backed up by self-explanatory visual data.

The last chapter in Part I is Chapter Six “Text Reflexivity in Academic Writing: A Cross-disciplinary and Cross-generic Analysis” by Giuliana Diani. The author shows that academic discourse is strained with meta-argumentative and meta-textual elements which exhibit cross-disciplinary variation in research articles (RA) in the field of business and economics, as well as cross-generic variation in RA and book review articles. These elements are used to introduce assumptions, claims, conclusions, research and textual structure, and when compared show that economics employ more metatextual expressions, while business prefers expressions reflecting empirical research and theory testing. The statistically-determined lexical tools of reflexivity (e.g. ‘on the basis of the’, ‘there was no significant #’, ‘as shown in table #’, ‘if and only if’) are viewed to play a central role in academic discourse marking formal reasoning in research papers, and praise and criticism in book reviewing.

Part II: “Contrastive EAP Rhetoric” is represented by Chapter Seven, “Interculturality in EAP research: Proposals, Experiences, Applications and Limitations” by Rosa Loréz Sanz. While English assures knowledge dissemination, (non-)proficiency in English limits the participation of some valid contributors in the international academic world. Addressing the issue of interculturality within EAP, the comparable (English as L1 and L2 and Spanish) SERAC corpus in four different academic divisions (12 disciplines) reveals cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary results: stronger authorial position in English L2, adjustment between languages according to disciplines, gradual standardization of writing processes in academic English (Mauranen et al. 2010). This research has also been disseminated in courses and workshops to fellow Spanish scholars to improve their academic writing skills in English.

Part III: “English as Lingua Franca in Academic Settings” features three chapters. Chapter Eight, the first in this part, is Laurie Anderson’s “’Internationality’ as a Metapragmatic Resource in Research Presentations Addressed to ‘English as a Lingua Franca’ Audiences”. The author examines 183 presentations in English made by early-career scholars of the international community using English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). Particular interest lies in the pragmatics of academic communication, revealed in some descriptions of self to other scholars in peer-to-peer interaction. The presenters’ self-categorisations use various modes and related discourse: geopolitical and institutional terms show local identity, narrative descriptions show trans-nationality, national stereotypes assigned to the audience aim at positioning self as intercultural. Thus, young international scholars prove context-sensitive (as to globalized academia), despite their different linguistic backgrounds.

In Chapter Nine, “Institutional Academic English and its Phraseology: Native and Lingua Franca Perspectives”, Adriano Ferraresi and Silvia Bernardini address genres situated between disciplinary specific genres and the ones used for everyday institutional academic communication. They describe the academic Web-as-Corpus in Europe (a 90-million word corpus of institutional academic web texts produced by European universities) and the phraseology of the native and lingua franca varieties found in it. The analysis of single syntactic patterns (adjective-noun, noun-noun combinations) according to frequency and salience revealed that non-native speakers generally use lexicalized phrases less than natives, as shown by their underuse of strong collocations, and produce more non-standard sequences. This is in opposition with previous research (Durrant and Schmitt 2009), which concluded that non-native speakers “over-rely on forms which are […} common in the language” (ibid. 147).

In the final chapter of this section, Giuseppe Palumbo examines the characteristics of comparable sets of texts from university websites in European, British and North-American varieties of English at a morpho-syntactic level. His contribution, “ Studying ELF Institutional Web-based Communication by Universities: Comparison and Contrast with English Native Texts” considers the distribution of part-of-speech categories, distribution of verb tenses, ratio of modal verbs and the use of pronouns; with the exception of verbs, especially their progressive form, which tend to be more frequent in the native varieties, the other language components present striking homogeneity across the native and non-native varieties of English. Importantly, this convergence relies on rhetorical models, and is more obvious than the one exhibited by spoken native English and EFL.

Part IV: “Pedagogical Implications in EAP” debuts with Chapter Eleven “Genre, Corpus and Discourse: Enriching EAP Pedagogy” by Maggie Charles. Despite criticism of the teaching of genres in classroom, the author proposes four highly engaging pedagogical tasks showing how genre and discourse can be addressed via corpus-based methods, using thesis and chapter introductions and students’ self-compiled personal corpora of RA. The first two tasks highlight the variation within the part-genre and compare the studied part-genre (introduction to the whole thesis) with others (introductions to individual chapters). The last two tasks provably help students investigate two main discourse functions in RA: ‘indicate a gap in research’ (showing a high occurrence of the term ‘research’) and ‘defend your research against criticism’ (by using the semantic sequence ‘although/though/while/whilst + POSITIVE EVALUATION + NEGATIVE EVALUATION + REASON (optional)’).

Chapter Twelve is called “Text and Corpus: Mixing Paradigms in EAP Syllabus and Course Design”, by Maria Freddi. The author starts from her course ‘Skills in English for the Humanities’ but provides a wider analytical model that can be applied to other settings. She presents the syllabus and course design process step by step, considering students’ feedback and evaluation. The need to improve listening comprehension and note taking was revealed by the students’ need analysis questionnaire, along with genre conventions and rhetorical functions. These and other findings helped create a content-based syllabus, where communication, lexis, grammar and language functions foster the acquisition of academic reading skills. Next, the specific ‘disciplinary textuality’ (Fuller 1998, 47) (i.e. content and its language) is investigated in corpora via concordancing; thus, internal variation is found in noun phrases, which can be tackled by specific reading skills, such as unpacking information and understanding key terms or hedging.

Finally, in Chapter Thirteen “Changing the Bases for Academic Word Lists”, Paul Thompson starts by describing the background, constitution, data used and methods behind four sets of baseword lists. The BNC 1K and 2K lists show the highly frequent vocabulary used in EAP teaching contexts. The author also includes a list of the ‘most frequent 2000 word families’ to the above in his ‘Vocabulary for Academic Lecture Listening’. This list was made using frequency and range types and tokens drawn from the four disciplinary domains in the BASE corpus lecture transcripts, cross-referenced against the BNC and trialled on MICASE lectures. Finally, it was shown that this tool, despite being compiled from limited resources, provides a broad lexical knowledge for comprehension of academic spoken discourse, which is useful for teachers, learners and materials developers alike.


The chapters in this book can be of great use to both practitioners of and researchers in the field of EAP, as they approach English in the context of academic study and scholarly exchange. A wide range of linguistic, applied linguistic and educational topics are treated from the perspective of EAP, including academic style, genre and discourse analysis, teaching methodology, research writing and speaking at academic levels, ELF in academic contexts and others. In addition to general EAP, the authors also consider subject-specific language (selected from a vast number of disciplines: sociology, medicine, economics, law, mathematics, politics, materials science) and the production of teaching materials (textbooks, university syllabi, word lists).

The book comes at a time when EAP has attracted great interest due to the poignant need for academic English of both students and researchers in an increasingly globalized world. Two productive approaches have been highly acclaimed: the study of academic research genres and the investigation of language corpora, seen “as constituting a continuum from top-down to bottom-up” (Charles, Pecorari and Hunston 2009, 3), rather than as conflicting ideas. Taking a step further, this collective volume proposes the integration of the mentioned approaches with the overt aim of supporting academic learners.

EAP is addressed in this book in unity and diversity together. The common core is represented by the role of genre analysis and corpus linguistics in EAP, and their pedagogical applications, which is further narrowed by grouping chapters into four parts; these help the reader focus on the area of interest more effectively, be it corpus-based research into EAP, contrastive EAP rhetoric, ELF in academic settings, or pedagogical implications in EAP. Part II features only one chapter, and this imbalance does not seem unavoidable: interculturality in EAP research is a compelling trend which should deserve equal attention. Unity is also displayed at a formal level: the layout and organization of the book are symbiotic, from the cohesion of each chapter, to references and appendixes.

Diversity is displayed mostly in four areas: the methods chosen, the selection of corpora, the contexts where the authors did their previous research, and the amount of research material available: while some admit to the limitations imposed by the difficulty of covering a large spectrum of academic discourse elements (i.e. M. Sala’s expressions of observation, interpretation and argumentation in a corpus of 200 articles in four disciplines), others willingly narrow down the investigation to a few lexico-grammatical units or niche corpora (i.e. conditional constructions in medical posters - Chapter Five; the prepositions ‘among’ and ‘between’ – Chapter Three); as most authors profess even from the introduction, their research is not exhaustive, and the results are far from an unchallengeable generalization.

In connection to this, all contributors suggest further directions of study to reconfirm (or confirm) and expand their findings. For example, G. Bordet suggests that the absence of pivotal terms can have some repercussions for the discursive strategy, which should be investigated. Likewise, Šarlota Godnič Vičič and Mojca Jarc claim that the complex interplay of factors behind intradisciplinary variation needs to be extended from the study of sociology to other domains, while Stefania Maci agrees that 50 medical posters may not make a sizable corpus; however, in relation to the chapter mentioned last, the author is proud to inaugurate a new research path into the linguistic specificities of such a ‘neglected’ genre: posters.

Diversity is also allowed and encouraged in the nominalization of the key terminology; for example, Gledhills’ ‘lexico-grammatical patterns’ are also addressed as ‘patterns of lexis’, ‘collocational networks / frameworks’, ‘lexical bundles / chains’, ‘semantic sequences’, ‘recurrent word combinations’ and ‘fixed expressions’, with the main purpose being to connect with previous work in the field of EAP phraseology. While acknowledgement of the theoretical background is motivating for the reader and also mandatory for any piece of research, the indiscriminate use of quasi-synonymic expressions as key terms in one’s work may seed some confusion. Researchers may rightfully believe they have found new metalanguage which better mirrors the concept previously named in other ways; but the question here would be: is consistency to be expected throughout a piece of academic writing for the sake of cohesion, or should variety and inclusion prevail?

One particular merit of the book is the compilation and analysis of very large corpora of authentic academic materials: recordings, transcripts, articles, book reviews, needs analysis forms, PhD abstracts and theses, posters and university websites to obtain full-proof results in each linguistic investigation. Special attention goes to recordings (of the oral presentations analysed in Chapter eight) and posters (already mentioned) as genres insufficiently addressed so far by EAP researchers. The consistent use of word lists for cross-reference, and concordancers to detect frequency and salience of words and phrases adds reliability to the outcome of the investigations. One extension of this might be to find ways to account for linguistic variation in EAP in time, as the increasing use of electronic media in academic environments may trigger significant corpus changes.

One other important side of the volume is professed in the title: pedagogical implications. Applications in teaching are addressed not only in Part IV, whose overt focus is on such practical implications, but throughout the book. In Chapter Seven, Rosa Loréz Sanz explicitly signals the applications of intercultural research in EAP teaching, citing Spanish universities. Maggie Charles discusses both pros and cons of teaching genre and discourse issues in the classroom by analyzing four tasks from two separate courses, where the focus lies on the students’ own writings. A highly applicative side is evident in Chapter 12, where the author presents her text-corpus approach to academic English by reflecting on the needs analysis questionnaire and syllabus of the 36-hour course called ‘Reading Skills in English for the Humanities’, as shown in detail in the appendix. This is followed by an evaluation of the course from the part of the students, and the use of such feedback to amend the course. Involving students in the creation and evaluation of one’s course acts as a fair and handy quality control procedure, and sets a model which exceeds the realm of teaching EAP.

As a conclusion, I would like to say that most authors incorporate the work of Swales (especially 1990) as a starting point in their investigation. This is highly predictable, as Swales set a clear path to the study of specialist varieties of language in relation to research genres and language learning. The contributions in this book pay significant tribute to the concepts clearly defined by Swales, but also proceed to fine-tuning individual manifestations of genre in the chosen linguistic context. Here it is particularly useful to notice the great extent to which the authors develop their positions into free-standing research.


Carter-Thomas, Shirley and Rowley-Jolivet Elizabeth. 2008. If-conditionals in medical discourse: From theory to disciplinary practice. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 7:191-205.

Charles, Maggie, Diane Pecorari, and Susan Hunston. 2009. Academic writing: At the interface of corpus and discourse. London: Continuum.

Durrant, Philip, and Norbert Schmitt. 2009. To what extent do native and non-native writers make use of collocations? International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching 47(2):157-177.

Fuller, Gillian. 1998. Cultivating science. In Reading science. Critical and functional perspectives on discourses of science, ed. Jim R. Martin and Robert Veel. 35-62. London: Routledge.

Mauranen, Anna, Carmen Pérez-Llantada, and John M. Swales. 2010. Academic Englishes: A standardized knowledge? The world Englishes handbook, ed. Andy Kirkpatrick. 634-652. London, New York: Routledge.

Swales, John. 1990. Genre analysis. English in academic and research settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ileana Chersan is Assistant Professor in English for Law Enforcement at the Police Academy in Bucharest. She has published on EAP and ESP testing and material design, and English linguistics. She is also co-author of English for Law Enforcement, Macmillan.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781443874397
Pages: 350
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