A textual and Contextual Comparison of Voice in Student Writing in the eap preparatory Course and Two Undergraduate Courses at the University of Botswana

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A Textual and Contextual Comparison of Voice in Student Writing in the EAP Preparatory Course and Two Undergraduate Courses at the University of Botswana

  • Presenter: Boitumelo Tiny Ramoroka ( Research student)
  • Centre for Applied Linguistics
  • University of Warwick
  • e-mail: b.t.ramoroka@warwick.ac.uk

Overview of developments in ESP Approach to Genre Analysis and Academic Writing

  • Genre- communicative events with a particular purpose which is identified by its discourse community.
  • In the earlier work on genre analysis much interest was on macro-structures of texts and the move structure was central to work in this tradition.
  • Main proponent for this tradition is Swales (1990) known for ‘moves analysis’.
  • Bhatia (1993) work showed how genres are constructed within specific discourse communities e.g. job applications, sales promotion letters, case studies

Overview of developments- contd.

  • The move analysis provided a very helpful tool in describing schematic structures of texts and the relationship between form and function of each move.
  • Knowledge derived from analysis was used to provide insights for material designers (description of the argumentative essay developed by Hyland (1990), Henry and Roseberry (1997) .
  • This approach (linguistic/textual) has been criticised ( New Rhetoric) that it does not pay enough attention to the context in which the texts have been produced.
  • NR focuses on ethnographic methods of genre analysis rather than linguistic methods & explores the beliefs, attitudes and the values of DC that engages in the genre . They stress fluidity of genres , that they are ever changing and can be manipulated by participants.

Overview of developments- contd.

  • Recent developments show a shift from working purely with textual analysis to examine the socio-cultural contexts in which specific genres are produced. “Text are but one aspect of the broader context of situation” (Flowerdew &Wan 2010: 81).
  • Genre theory has gone beyond
  • “ textual analysis of linguistic data in order to incorporate a multi-dimensional and multi-perspective framework for analysis of academic, professional, institutional and other work place genres” (Bhatia 2008: 166).

Overview of developments- contd.

  • For instance, in terms of methodological approaches there is increasing use of ethnographic methods such as interviews with insider informants, participants observations, and other analytical methods to enrich the data and to uncover values, beliefs, attitudes of the members of the discourse community within which a particular genre is produced.
  • Examples of research
  • Bhatia 2008; Flowerdew and Wan 2010; Nesi and Gardner 2006;
  • Gardner 2008.

Overview of developments- contd.

  • Research has moved on to look at rhetorical features that might differentiate various genres.
  • Work has examined the interpersonal dimension of academic writing
  • Examples:
  • Use of personal pronouns in writing (Kuo 1999; Tang and John 1999; Sheldon 2009)
  • Use of hedges and attitude markers (Hyland 2005; Luzon 2009;
  • Mur Duenas 2010)
  • Some of these studies have reinforced the view of discourse variation and that each discourse community has ways of doing things which are related to their practice.

Overview of developments- The notion of metadiscourse

  • Over the last decade there has been a shift in the way academic writing is perceived based on the view that writing is a social communicative engagement between the writer and the reader .
  • There is wealth of studies with interest in this notion from both a theoretical and practical perspective
  • Metadiscourse has emerged as one of the tools to explore the interactional nature of texts and textual ‘voice’

The concept of voice

  • The concept of ‘voice’ is used to refer to “expressions of the writer’s own views, authoritativeness and authorial presence” in writing. (Ivanic and Camps 2001:7)
  • Other terms that are used for the same concept are ‘writer identity’ (Ivanic 1998), ‘self representation’ (Ivanic and Camps 2001).
  • Another term associated with this concept is the notion of ‘interactional metadiscourse’ (Hyland 2005)
  • All these terms are related to the concept of voice “in the sense that they often identify similar discursive features associated with individualism found in written texts” (Stapleton 2002:178).

The notion of metadiscourse

  • “ A cover term for self reflective expressions used to negotiate interactional meanings in a text, assisting the writer to express a viewpoint and engage with readers as members of a particular community (Hyland 2005:37).
  • Metadiscourse is organised under two functional headings (it draws insights from SFL description of language-based on Halliday’ macro functions of language- ideational, textual and interpersonal)
  • Textual interpersonal
  • Organization of discourse reflects writer stance
  • towards both proposition
  • and the readers

Analytical Framework – Hyland’ (2005) interactional metadiscourse features

  • …The ways the writers conduct interaction by intruding and commenting on their message. The writer’s goal is to make his or her views explicit and to involve readers by allowing them to respond to unfolding text. This is a writer’s expression of textual “voice” (Hyland 2005:49 )
  • The interactional MD features “impart an interpersonal tenor to a piece of writing: signaling the level of personality a writer invests in a text through self-mention, hedges, attitude and the markers of reader involvement...” (Hyland 2008: 155).
  • Expressed through a range of rhetorical features which perform specific functions – hedges, self mention, engagement markers, boosters , attitude markers and use of evidentials.

Hyland’s interactional metadiscourse model

  • Self mention- refers to degree of explicit author presence in the text- realized by use of 1st person pronouns, the author, the writer
  • Hedges- used by the writer to recognize alternative viewpoints and so withhold commitment to the proposition- might, possible, may, perhaps
  • Boosters- help writers to express with certainty what they have to say- in fact, definitely, It is clear, indeed
  • Engagement markers- used to explicitly address readers and engage them in a dialogue- you, ? And inclusive we
  • Attitude markers-indicate writer’s affective attitude to proposition- Unfortunately, I agree, surprisingly

Hyland’s interactional metadiscourse model

  • Evidentials –attribution of propositional content to another source (how students signal citations in their writing so that there is a clear distinction between their ideas and those of the sources)
  • Use of evidentials may be viewed as a key aspect of how writers manage voice
  • the production of a text is populated with one’s point of view or ‘voice’ as well as ‘voices of other texts’ and as such writing ‘can be regarded as inevitably acts of intertextuality, in a generative rather than simply reproductive way’ (Viete and Phan Le Ha 2007: 42-43).
  • T4: You cannot just write an essay without consulting sources, but can you stand there and argue a point…Can I hear that this is a person who has their point of view…

Analysis of Self mention- Tang and John’s (1990) taxonomy

  • Typology of possible identities behind 1st person pronouns in academic writing
  • Least Powerful Most powerful
  • Authorial presence authorial presence
  • …I as guide I as architect…. I as opinion holder / originator

Thomas and Hawes (1994) classification for reporting verbs

  • Used this classification to analyze the use of evidentials.
  • Done according to the function the reporting verb performed in a sentence.
  • Informing verbs- associated with neutral passing of information from source to reader- writer doesn’t comment or interpret information being reported.
  • Argumentative verbs- the verbs don’t signal neutrality in the communication of information as the writer’s voice clearly intervenes

The study-Aims and Research questions

  • The main aim of this study is to explore and compare the presentation of writer voice in EAP and discipline specific writing by undergraduate students.
  • 1. Are there any variations in the use of interactional
  • metadiscourse features in the writing produced in
  • the EAP preparatory course and two disciplinary
  • courses which are Media Studies and Primary Ed.?
  • 2. Are there any variations in the use of IMD
  • features in writing produced by undergraduate L2
  • and L1 (BAWE) writers working on similar essays?

The study-Aims and Research questions

  • 3. Are there any patterns about where in the text IMD features occur more frequently? For instance, can we find evidence that certain features are more frequent in the introduction, body or conclusion of the essay and does it vary by corpus?
  • 4. What do EAP tutors and tutors in the two departments consider as good writing?


  • I made use of the following corpora
  • Corpus Size
  • No. of texts
  • L2
  • EAP texts
  • 28 872
  • 55
  • u/graduate
  • Media Studies texts
  • 33 825
  • 20
  • writing
  • Primary Education texts
  • 36 572
  • 20
  • L1 u/graduate
  • BAWE texts
  • 45 753
  • 28


  • The study can be characterized as mixed methods- both quantitative and qualitative comparisons were made. (textual and contextual analysis)
  • Qualitative decision were made to label features as interactional metadiscourse and were coded in Nvivo
  • MD is a relative concept in that text items only
  • function as MD in relation to another part of the
  • text. So what might be MD in one rhetorical
  • context may be expressing propositional material
  • in another (Hyland 2005:24).


  • Made use of frequency counts and wordsmith 5 concordance tool. The concord tool provides quantitative data for comparison e.g. Frequency of each item per 1000 words and how many times a particular feature appears in the whole corpus.
  • Independent t-tests were performed where means of each feature across the different corpora were compared to determine whether there were any significant statistical differences.
  • Interviews with students and tutors (26)- analyzed using Nvivo 7 software (contextual analysis)

Findings- Quantitative textual comparison

  • Frequency Distribution of IMD Features in EAP and Media Studies Writing per 1000 words
  • S/Mention
  • Hedges
  • Boosters
  • A/markers
  • E/Markers
  • Evidentials
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • MS
  • 40 1.18
  • 49 1.45
  • 36 1.33
  • 9 0.27
  • 14 0.42
  • 39 1.1.6
  • EAP
  • 63 1.62
  • 69 2.39
  • 31 0.26
  • 8 0.26
  • 12 0.41
  • 68 2.17
  • Frequency Distribution of IMD Features in EAP and Primary Education Writing per 1000 words
  • S/Mention
  • Hedges
  • Boosters
  • A/markers
  • E/Markers
  • Evidentials
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • PE
  • 29 0.78
  • 32 0.86
  • 16 0.45
  • 2 0.06
  • 9 0.24
  • 158 4.26
  • EAP
  • 63 1.62
  • 69 2.39
  • 31 0.26
  • 8 0.26
  • 12 0.41
  • 68 2.17

Findings- Quantitative textual comparison

  • Frequency Distribution of IMD Features in L2 (MS and PE) and L (BAWE) Writing per 1000 words
  • S/Mention
  • Hedges
  • Boosters
  • A/markers
  • E/Markers
  • Evidentials
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • N f/1000
  • L2
  • 69 1.96
  • 81 2.31
  • 52 1.56
  • 11 0.33
  • 23 0.66
  • 197 5.42
  • L1
  • 80 1.74
  • 146 3.19
  • 42 0.82
  • 18 0.24
  • 38 0.82
  • 43 0.92

Qualitative textual comparison

  • Use of Self-mention
  • Students used 1st person pronouns in the different stages of the essays mainly in ‘non controversial contributions such as stating discourse goals’ (‘I as the guide’ and ‘I as the architect of the essay to organize the overall structure of the essay, to signal a counter argument or refer the writer to what has already been said.
  • e.g. In this essay I am going to argue that…
  • I will focus on…, I will express my opinion…
  • The results show that L1 writers were more comfortable with the assertive role and did not only present themselves as architects of the essays but also formulated ideas and thoughts in their writing- used the role of ‘I as the opinion holder’ with cognitive verbs like think and believe and in my opinion.

Quantitative and Qualitative textual comparison

  • Where students did not overtly signal their presence thru use of 1st person pronouns they used other strategies where they removed themselves as agents ( this increased objectivity and detachment)
  • Other forms of author reference used were the writer, the researcher, the author, the exclusive we (PE students)
  • e.g. The researcher believes…, in this argument we shall indicate…, But below we shall list…
  • Where they did not use the first person pronouns students were still present as architects of their essays
  • e.g. This paper is going to focus on… Finally the paper will try to provide useful suggestions…

Quantitative & Qualitative textual comparison

  • Use of evidentials
  • There were differences in use of evidentials between L1 and L2. “use of citation for knowledge display and for demonstrating one’s ability to apply a theory may be a more prominent function of citation in students’ writing” (Petric 2007:239).
  • The L2 writers generally maintained a neutrality in the use of evidentials which did not incorporate the perspective of the student writer.
  • the source authors state, say, call refer

Quantitative & Qualitative textual comparison

  • Use of evidentials
  • Use of sources was associated with plagiarism- tutors were concerned that students’ essays lacked originality and a personal voice
  • T10- what is called plagiarism is a result of students not being able to distinguish the academic voice (voice of sources) and their personal voice… They tend to mix them and at times it is difficult to identify the students’ voice.
  • Integrating sources into writing is supposed to “reflect both the utterer’s voice and the voices from whom s/he has borrowed” (Scollon et.al 1998:228)

Possible causes of variations in MD use

  • Qualitative findings did not only reveal how students used the IMD features in their writing but also revealed variations in use in each department.
  • EAP writing showed higher frequency of occurrence of IMD features than the two dept. Adel (2006:199) discussing the issue of personal essays argue that “they have a very high involvement factor, and are narrative rather than argumentative in character.”

Possible causes of variations in MD use

  • Students lacked the confidence to present their voice “as they feel they are not able to challenge the opinions of established academic’ (Read 200:394).
  • Tang (1999:S34) students can be intimidated by using 1st person pronoun to originate their ideas because they see themselves to be at the “lowest rungs of the academic ladder.”
  • Differences between L1 and L2 and between MS , PE and EAP could be because of the writing conventions for each group of students with respect to writer visibility and interaction with an imagined audience (Adel 2006)

views of students & disciplinary tutors

  • It seemed that students’ choice of whether to use or to avoid 1st person pronouns and engagement markers like ‘you’ was defined by their tutors’ beliefs, preferences and practices in their departments.( discourse community based preferences Hyland 2002: 124)
  • When it is a general essay I don’t have to use ‘I think that…’ I can say ‘one may think…’ (S2- PE)
  • You talk about ‘the researcher did this… we don’t use I’ (S2- PE)
  • Yes, as in ‘I’, yes sometimes I use them but I am scared knowing the lecturer…If its prof. I sometimes can do that. ‘In this essay I am going to… I think, in my opinion’. Yes words like that but if it is T2 I would rather put myself away from the essay… (S5-MS)
  • …yes they have personal opinions on some of those things but really they cannot say those things with authority. I have always encouraged them to say ‘one would… and this takes the blunt personal thing out. (T6- PE)


  • Interviews provided a fuller understanding of the tutors’ beliefs about what constitute good writing
  • What are perceived to be appropriate conventions… vary depending on specific contexts
  • This has implications for students who have no other source of support other than the EAP preparatory course and they seem to use what they learn in the EAP course in their disciplines.
  • Students need to be made aware of disciplinary preferences in their EAP writing.


  • Flowerdew, L. (2008) “Corpora and context in professional writing” in V.B Bhatia, J. Flowerdew and R. H. Jones (eds.) Advances in discourse studies. London: Routledge. 
  • Flowerdew, J. and A. Wan (2010) “The linguistic and the contextual in applied genre analysis: The case of the company audit.” English for Specific Purposes, 29, 78-93.
  • Gardner, S. (2008) Integrating ethnographic, multidimensional, corpus linguistic and systemic functional approaches to genre description: an illustration through university history and engineering assignments. In E. Steiner and S. Neumann (eds.) ESFLCW 2007: Data and Interpretation in Linguistic Analysis. Universität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken. http://scidok.sulb.uni-saarland.de/sulb/portal/esflcw/
  • Luzon M. J. (2009)”The use of we in a learner corpus of reports written by EFL Engineering students”. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 8, 192-206.
  • Mur Duenas, P. (2010) ‘Attitude markers in business management research articles: A cross cultural corpus-driven approach.’ International Journal of Applied Linguistics, (20(1), 50-71.
  • Nesi, H. and S. Gardner (2006) Variation in disciplinary culture: university tutors’ views on assessed writing tasks’. Unpublished paper, CELTE, University of Warwick, 1-19.

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