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Corpus-based genre analysis is an emerging approach to the analysis of academic writing practices that considers the recurring linguistic patterns of academic genres in terms of the rhetorical goals that writers employ them to realize. Ideally, it entails manual rhetorical move-step annotation of each text in a corpus and identification of recurring linguistic features (e.g., lexical, phraseological, syntactic), which are then mapped to each other.

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Correspondence to Xiaofei Lu .

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The Research Questions

  1. 1.

    What level of intercoder reliability can be achieved in rhetorical move-step annotation of a corpus of academic writing and what methodological practices can help maximize such intercoder reliability?

  2. 2.

    What language features distinguish or correlate strongly with different rhetorical moves and steps?

  3. 3.

    How do expert writers vary their use of items and structures at different linguistic levels (e.g., lexical, phraseological, and syntactic) to achieve their rhetorical goals?

  4. 4.

    Are academic writing learners adequately aware of the importance of the mappings between rhetorical functions and language forms?

  5. 5.

    Do academic writing teachers pay adequate attention to the mappings between rhetorical functions and language forms in pedagogy?

  6. 6.

    How might corpora of academic writing annotated for rhetorical moves and steps and their associated language features be used in genre-based writing pedagogy to improve L2 learners’ genre competence?

  7. 7.

    How will learning outcomes be affected by presenting rhetorical and linguistic structures in isolation or in tandem in academic writing pedagogy?

  8. 8.

    Do raters pay adequate attention to the mappings between rhetorical functions and language forms?

  9. 9.

    How can we reliably assess the appropriateness and effectiveness of the mappings between rhetorical functions and language forms in learner writing?

  10. 10.

    What is the quantitative relationship of form-function mappings to human ratings of writing quality?

Suggested Resources

Biber, D., Connor, U., & Upton, T. A. (2007). Discourse on the move: Using corpus analysis to describe discourse structure. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Based on the introductory chapter, the term “discourse analysis” in this book is used in the broad sense of analyzing discourse, as the authors divide “discourse analysis” into three branches: study of structural organization of texts, study of language use, and study of social practices and ideological assumptions. This work focuses on the first two major lines of research with the aim of merging the top-down perspective adopted in the study of structural organization (e.g., genre analysis) and the bottom-up perspective in the study of language use (e.g., corpus analysis). After the introductory chapter, the main body of this book is divided into two main parts. The first part is dedicated to the top-down approach (Chaps. 2–5) and centers on Swalesian move analysis, while the second part is dedicated to the bottom-up approach (Chaps. 6–8) and emphasizes Multi-Dimensional Analysis of lexico-grammatical features, which is based on the TextTiling procedure. Chapter 9 illustrates the differences between the two approaches by comparing their respective descriptions of biology research articles.

Tardy, C. M. (2009). Building genre knowledge. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press.

This work traces the development of genre knowledge of four multilingual graduate students through their learning and practices in an ESL writing class, disciplinary subject courses and disciplinary research. The author presents a four-dimensional model of genre knowledge (formal, rhetorical, process, and subject-matter), which develops toward the integration of initially isolated components. The first chapter lays the groundwork by discussing foundational concepts used in the follow-up analysis. Chapter 2 introduces the research context and participants. Chapters 3 and 4 examine the students’ genre knowledge development through their engagement in an ESL writing class, focusing on the class assignments of writing job application cover letters and conducting genre analysis. Chapter 5 analyzes the four participants’ exposure, production and development of their knowledge of the multimodal presentation slides genre across different learning contexts. Chapter 6 shifts to disciplinary content courses with a focus on the genres of lab reports and reviews. Chapter 7 traces one participant’s master’s thesis writing process during which his advisor’s feedback on the drafts plays a central role in the development of his knowledge of the master’s thesis genre. Chapter 8 analyzes the sole doctoral student among the four focal participants and considers his learning process in writing conference-related research papers. Chapter 9 examines the development of genre knowledge building and offers pedagogical suggestions. By reading this book, academic writing instructors and researchers can gain insights into how individual students in different disciplines and in various learning contexts develop academic literacy and genre knowledge through engaging in general English language classes, disciplinary content courses, as well as other tasks and interactions.

Charles, M., Pecorari, D., & Hunston, S. (Eds.) (2010). Academic writing: At the interface of corpus and discourse. London: Continuum.

This edited collection represents an effort to explore the interface between corpus linguistics and discourse analysis. The two approaches are not regarded as opposing, as some scholars have argued, but rather serve as two ends of a continuum. This idea is outlined in the editors’ preface. The main body of this book includes 14 studies of academic writing organized in three foci: genre and disciplinary discourse, interpersonal discourse, and learner discourse. Each study represents an author’s perspective of academic writing research, situated on either end of the corpus-discourse analysis continuum. Collectively, these studies cover a wide diversity of genres, disciplines, methods and linguistic features. In addition to the preface and main chapters, the afterword written by John Swales is also worth reading. He begins with a brief discussion of the preface and afterword genres themselves, and then presents his own reflections on some of the studies included in this volume. Swales concludes with a noteworthy reflection on the extent to which researchers can incorporate aspects of the other side of the continuum, stating that “we will often see that it is typically somewhat easier for discourse analysts to incorporate corpus linguistics than for corpus linguists to expand their textual horizons to encompass the discoursal plane”.

Swales, J. M., & Feak, C. B. (2012). Academic writing for graduate students (3rd ed.). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Now in its third edition, this popular EAP textbook targets both first and second language English graduate student writers. Considering the diversity of academic genres that target readers face in academia, the authors construct their course book with the aim of raising genre awareness of graduate student writers by guiding them through a series of analytical and writing tasks. The tasks draw on corpus and genre-based approaches to writing analysis, integrating them for pedagogical purposes. The first of the book’s eight chapters presents basic concepts of genre theory that are essential for the following material and for considering writing as a series of choices in relation to community expectations. The second and third chapters outline two broad structural patterns of academic writing: the general-to-specific pattern and the problem–solution pattern. Chapters 4–6 deal with three largely pedagogical genre families, including data interpretation and discussion, summaries, and critiques. The last two chapters tie these skills and writing purposes together in an overview of research article writing for publication. The design and arrangement of the tasks in each chapter align well with the authors’ strong belief in the “rhetorical consciousness raising” cycle (i.e., analysis-awareness-acquisition-achievement), with each chapter entailing comprehension and production tasks, conceptual genre discussion as well as language preparation for particular genres. This book can be used as a textbook in a general EAP program or as a reference book for apprentice academic writers in any discipline.

Whitt, R. J. (Ed.) (2018). Diachronic corpora, genre, and language change. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

With the collective position that genre both affects language change and constitutes a locus of language change, the studies in this volume examine the interplay between language change and genre using diachronic corpora, showcasing the effectiveness of corpus-based methodologies as well as highlighting the issues and challenges in this line of research. The volume consists of three parts. Part I includes three chapters that focus on methods, resources and tools in diachronic corpus linguistics. Niehaus and Elspass describe the composition of the Nineteenth-Century German Corpus and illustrate the benefits of integrating texts of diverse registers and genres for studying language variation and change. Jurish discusses how the open-source program DiaCollo can be used for diachronic, genre-sensitive collocation profiling. Atwell introduces a range of classical and modern Arabic corpus resources developed by researchers at the University of Leeds. Part II include two chapters that examine language change in specific language usage domains. Taavitsainen traces changes in generic features of English medical writing from 1375 to 1800 using diachronic medical corpora, while Gray and Biber document the patterns of linguistic change in academic writing and discuss the quantitative and functional nature of such changes. The eight chapters in Part III employ multi-genre diachronic corpora to explore how genre affects the analyses and findings of language change and variation at varied linguistic levels and in diverse languages. Overall, this volume provides an excellent state-of-the-art overview of corpus and genre-based studies of language variation and change.

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Lu, X., Casal, J.E., Liu, Y. (2021). Corpus-based Genre Analysis. In: Mohebbi, H., Coombe, C. (eds) Research Questions in Language Education and Applied Linguistics. Springer Texts in Education. Springer, Cham.

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