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Journal of English for Academic Purposes 20 (2015) 69e89

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Purpose statements in experimental doctoral dissertations

submitted to U.S. universities: An inquiry into doctoral
students' communicative resources in language education
Jason Miin-Hwa Lim a, *, Chek-Kim Loi a, Azirah Hashim b, May Siaw-Mei Liu c

Centre for the Promotion of Knowledge and Language Learning, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (Malaysian University of Sabah), Locked Bag
2073, 88400 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Department of English Language, Faculty of Languages and Linguistics Building, University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Universiti Teknologi MARA, Locked Bag, 88997 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

a r t i c l e i n f o

a b s t r a c t

Article history:
Received 1 August 2014
Received in revised form 25 June 2015
Accepted 25 June 2015
Available online xxx

While it is widely known that purpose statements are generally incorporated in dissertations and academic journal papers, graduate student writers often encounter difculties
in the writing of such crucial statements. This paper looks into the extent to which doctoral
candidates use inter-move shifts to strategically arrive at their purpose statements, and
how they employ communicative resources to construct such pivotal statements that drive
their entire studies. Based on an analytical framework developed by Swales (1990; 2004)
and relevant qualitative data provided by specialist informants, we have analysed a corpus
of experimental doctoral dissertations submitted to 32 American universities within a
period of 10 years in order to ascertain (i) the degree to which research purpose is presented in dissertation introductions, (ii) how preceding rhetorical segments are strategically connected with purpose statements, and (iii) the ways in which prominent lexicogrammatical structures are used to attain strategic communicative functions. The ndings of this study have illustrated how instructors in English for Academic Purposes (EAP)
can possibly prepare relevant teaching materials aimed at guiding learners to present the
foundational segments that determine the overall direction of their studies.
2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Genre analysis
Dissertation writing
Purpose statements
Communicative functions

1. Introduction
Research in English for academic purposes often seeks to provide insights into the structures and meanings of academic
texts, into the demands placed by academic contexts on communicative behaviours (Hyland & Hamp-Lyons, 2002, p. 3).
Findings pertaining to different academic genres can generally become overt and pedagogically meaningful to both instructors and learners only if the communicative behaviours concerned are seen in close relation to the structures and
meanings of the discourse under specic circumstances. In a similar vein, the writing of dissertations often engages discursive
structures, lexico-grammatical structures and their associated meanings that need to be carefully studied with reference to
the expectations and requirements in an academic context in higher education.

* Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses:, (J.M.-H. Lim), (C.-K. Loi), (A. Hashim), (M.S.-M. Liu).
1475-1585/ 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


J.M.-H. Lim et al. / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 20 (2015) 69e89

The writing of dissertations in higher education constitutes an important portion of a graduate degree programme which
requires submission of a report upon the completion of a research project. Nonetheless, in the process of completing a study,
student writers generally need to be systematically guided throughout the process of completing a dissertation or thesis
(Kwan, 2013), which generally encompasses different phases such as reviewing related literature, describing research designs
and methods, reporting results, and discussing ndings in the form of explanations, interpretations, generalisations and
recommendations (Basturkmen, 2009; Koutsantoni, 2006; Kwan, 2006). In this regard, genre analysts' interest in studying
such student-generated texts (dissertations and theses) has escalated as an extension from the initial concerns about texts
produced for student writers (textbooks) and texts produced by expert writers (journal articles) (Thompson, 2005, p. 208).
In relation to this, efforts made in preparing teaching materials for graduate dissertation writing instruction are likely to be
increasingly important in some nations that offer a large number of graduate programmes. In the United States, for example,
the number of international students in graduate programmes (many of whom were second language novice writers) rose by
eight percent from the fall of 2011 to the fall of 2012 (Patton, 2013). In this context, to ensure that graduate students are able to
proceed consistently in their dissertation writing endeavour, it would be important to conduct a thorough study that informs
specic writing instructors (particularly instructors in English for Academic Purposes who have been requested to provide
special guidance to novice writers in dissertation writing) and supervisors about how graduate students generally present the
major parts that inform readers about the focuses of their studies.
In the initial stages of graduate students' research writing undertaking, if instructors and supervisors intend to provide
novice writers with systematic guidance, a major component that needs to be given due emphasis is the writing of purpose
statements (e.g., The current study aims to provide a detailed account of Spanish-speaking ELLs' home language backgrounds
, The overall goal of this quasi-experimental study is to investigate whether , etc.), which are also known as
announcing (the) present research descriptively and/or purposively (Swales, 2004, p. 232). These purpose statements, often
employed to spearhead the development of a dissertation (Feak & Swales, 2011), are used to systematically link different
discursive components of a study in order to present a coherent report that contains neatly-matched textual segments. How
these segments are combined with purpose statements to indicate the direction of a study remains a noteworthy domain that
merits in-depth research. Although we are aware that purpose statements constitute an indispensable part of a research
endeavour, the nexus of different rhetorical elements needs to be analysed in detail to help us comprehend how a study is
aptly framed to guide the initial development of a dissertation. Such studies have important implications which need to be
explored to facilitate the process of writing instruction.
Given the importance of studying the purpose statements in doctoral dissertations, we will rst consider how purpose
statements are viewed in literature related to research introductions in general. Many of these past discourse-analytic studies
into research introductions (e.g., Hirano, 2009; Samraj, 2005; Soler-Monreal, Carbonell-Olivares, & Gil-Salom, 2011) have
been guided and/or inuenced by Swales' (1990, 2004) seminal schematic structure of research introductions. In a more
recent model, Swales (2004) recommended a schematic structure for analysing research introductions which comprises three
moves, namely (i) establishing a territory (in Move 1) in which information elements about a particular topic are presented
in an order of increasing specicity, (ii) establishing a niche (in Move 2) in which experienced writers usually indicate a gap
in past studies, follow a recent research trend, or extend the existing line of research development, and (iii) presenting the
present work (in Move 3) in which researchers may present purpose statements, research questions and/or hypotheses, and
some other optional information elements encompassing denitional clarications, summaries of methods, and statements
highlighting the value of their research.
Based on Swales' (1990, 2004) three-move model(s), some studies have been conducted to identify the extent to which the
frequencies of moves vary across disciplines such as Conservation Biology and Wildlife Behaviour (Samraj, 2002, 2005),
Computer Science (Shehzad, 2011), English for Specic Purposes (Hirano, 2009), and Agricultural Sciences (Del Saz Rubio,
2011). Despite these numerous studies on research introductions in recent years, relatively little attention has been
devoted to the language resources needed to present purpose statements. For example, although Hirano (2009), Del Saz Rubio
(2011) and Soler-Monreal et al. (2011) have studied the research introductions in English for Specic Purposes, Agricultural
Sciences and Computing respectively, they have largely directed their attention to the sequences of the three introductory
moves mentioned above, thus paying less attention to the specic lexico-grammatical structures needed to accomplish these
moves. Studying and understanding rhetorical moves, however, requires analysts' knowledge of both content and its associated linguistic exponents (Kanoksilapatham, 2005, p. 272). Genre analysts need to look into the close interfaces between a
rhetorical move and its lexico-grammar as linguistic features could help better describe and illustrate the communicative
functions of each move (Cortes, 2013, p. 34). It is through our knowledge of the specic language associated with each
move that we can further develop our knowledge of a genre (Henry & Rosenberry, 2001, p. 155). In the context of research
introductions, for instance, Cortes (2013) found that the objective of this study was and the objectives of this study were,
the purpose of the present study is to and the purpose of this study was to constitute the recurrent expressions or lexical
bundles that are frequently used to trigger research announcements in Move 3 (Cortes, 2013, p. 41).
More importantly, a purpose statement generally stands out as the only obligatory step in Move 3 that must be incorporated by
all experienced writers while all the other steps are merely optional or probable in some disciplines (Swales, 2004, p. 232). The
need to comprehend the rhetorical functions and linguistic realisations of purpose statements can be more clearly justied for two
reasons. First, past studies that reported some ndings on research purposes (e.g., Cortes, 2013; Del Saz Rubio, 2011; Hirano, 2009;
Ozturk, 2007; Samraj, 2002, 2005; Sheldon, 2011) were based on analyses of research article introductions rather than the
dissertation/thesis introductions. For instance, purpose statements have been found in 78.33%, 81.67% and 83.05% of research article

J.M.-H. Lim et al. / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 20 (2015) 69e89


introductions in Civil Enginerring, Software Engineering and Biomedical Engineering respectively (Kanoksilapatham, 2015);
however frequencies of such statements may differ in other disciplines, particularly when another genre, such as doctoral dissertation introductions are involved. Second, although certain studies provided useful ndings about dissertation/thesis introductions,
their focuses were largely on differences in move sequences (e.g., Soler-Monreal et al., 2011), citations and authorial presence (e.g.,
Samraj, 2008). In regard to frequencies of purpose statements, it was briey noted that the aims of doctoral research were
mentioned in only 60% of the doctoral thesis introductions in English and 80% of those in Spanish (Soler-Monreal et al., 2011).
Attention has yet to be directed to the rhetorical strategies that the doctoral candidates use to present purpose statements using a
broad range of salient lexico-grammatical structures in relation to other adjacent steps. If we are to provide novice writers with
relevant pre-instructional advice on how to present purpose statements appropriately to guide the overall development of their
entire research, we will have to rst analyse the communicative functions of purpose statements in connection with (i) other text
segments associated with them, and (ii) their prominent lexico-grammatical structures in their dissertation/thesis introductions.
In response to the gaps in previous research reviewed above, this study has opted to study the signicance, positioning,
shifts and lexico-grammatical structures used by doctoral students to present purpose statements in the introductory
chapters (ICs) of their dissertations which are based on experimental research procedures. Each doctoral dissertation, in the
context of this study conducted in the United States, was completed in partial fullment of the requirements for a doctoral
degree programme that includes a taught course component (Allison, Cooley, Lewkowicz, & Nunan, 1998; Swales, 2004).
Experimental doctoral dissertations were selected in this study for two reasons. First, experimental research often forms a
sizeable component of research in social sciences and education given that it often involves research into variations in
performance and other related behaviours of human subjects (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2009; Hoyle, Harris, & Judd, 2002).
Second, in terms of structural patterns and rhetorical conventions, reports based on experimental methods have been
identied as being representative of empirical research reports in general (Lin & Evans, 2012), and the English used in
experimental research is highly conventionalised, thus suggesting that it would be important for both novice writers and
instructors to comprehend, study and master the detailed conventions in experimental research (Lim, 2014; Weissberg &
Buker, 1990). The eld of language education was given the focus because numerous doctoral dissertations on language
education could be collected via the ProQuest search engine, thus facilitating a quantitative analysis of a sufciently large
sample of recently completed doctoral dissertation introductions.
Given the major role of experimental research in language education and the importance of studying doctoral students'
usage of purpose statements in the context of writing instruction, four related research questions are formulated as follows:
(1) To what extent are purpose statements signicant in the presentation of experimental doctoral dissertations on language education?
(2) How frequently do doctoral students incorporate purpose statements in the initial, medial and nal positions of the
introductory chapters of these dissertations?
(3) What inter-move shifts do doctoral students use to link different rhetorical elements to purpose statements in their
introductory chapters?
(4) How do doctoral students use intra-step transitions and lexico-grammar to present purpose statements in their
introductory chapters?
The rst research question requires some general qualitative data (elicited from specialist informants) in order to
ascertain the extent to which purpose statements are considered by these informants as signicant in the writing of
doctoral dissertations based on experimental research. Given the degree of signicance of purpose statements, the second
research question seeks some quantitative data, grounded on a textual analysis, to ascertain the frequency with which
purpose statements are incorporated and their occurrences in initial, medial and nal positions of the doctoral dissertations.
In this study, the initial, medial and nal positions of an introductory chapter are dened respectively as the rst, second
and third portions of an introductory chapter. This means that each introductory chapter has been divided into three equal
portions, each of which contains the same number of words. The third research question further seeks qualitative data in
the form of salient and recurrent shifts illustrated via instances obtained in a textual analysis, which is supported by our
specialists' informants' statements, to nd out how doctoral students use inter-move shifts (shifts from one move to
another) to achieve the related communicative functions in introducing and guiding their studies. Grounded on a more
thorough analysis of the introductory chapters, the fourth question seeks primarily qualitative data to reveal the intra-step
transitions (transitions between different segments of a purpose statement) and the range of possible lexico-grammatical
structures used by the doctoral candidates in this over-arching step to augment the clarity, persuasiveness and credibility of
their research plan and endeavour.

2. Research methods
2.1. Sampling procedure
This investigation was conducted in three stages involving (i) a careful selection of published doctoral dissertations on
language education, (ii) an inquiry into the dissertations using the genre-based analytical framework, and (iii) face-to-face


J.M.-H. Lim et al. / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 20 (2015) 69e89

semi-structured interviews with advisors supervising the writing of doctoral dissertations. We rst selected 32 doctoral
dissertations on language education from a pool of 270 published doctoral dissertations associated with the keywords
experimental research using the ProQuest search engine. Subsequently, a purposive sample was collected based on the
criteria that (i) all doctoral dissertations should be based on quantitative experimental research related to language education, and (ii) they were submitted to U.S. universities during a recent period of ten years. Specically, these dissertations were
selected in this study for four reasons. First, we were concerned that lexico-grammatical features of purpose statements in
quantitative studies might differ from those based on qualitative research (and purpose statements might be rhetorically
linked with other text segments if dissertations based on qualitative studies had also been included). Second, the highly
conventionalised nature of quantitative experimental reports (Lim, 2014; Weissberg & Buker, 1990) made it possible to use
doctoral dissertations based on experimental studies as a reasonable starting point for a detailed investigation into the
linguistic realisations of purpose statements. Third, taking the possibility of disciplinary differences into consideration, this
study has focused only on language education as an academic eld, in which enough recent samples could be selected from a
pool of numerous doctoral dissertations submitted to U.S. universities. Fourth, to minimise possible biases resulting from
diachronic and geographical variations (changes over a long period of time and differences across geographical regions), we
chose the most recent doctoral dissertation available from each U.S. university at the time when we began this six-year study
in November 2009 provided that the university concerned had at least a doctoral dissertation that met the criteria mentioned
It needs to be acknowledged here that 37.5% (12/32) of the doctoral dissertations in this study were written by second
language writers originating from non-English speaking countries. However, using Soler-Monreal et al.'s (2011, p. 6) criterion
for selection, the dissertations were supervised and/or assessed by English-speaking academics in an English speaking
nation. This means that the dissertations were written by candidates at the highest graduate degree level in the U.S. and
corrected by advisors in an English speaking country. In terms of subject matter and rhetorical patterns, the data based on the
sample also merits some attention as it is genuinely reective of the actual contents presented in doctoral dissertations on
experimental research in language education.
To ensure that the right sample was collected, abstracts and major chapters characterising the type of each study were
studied before a decision was made on whether the dissertation could be incorporated as part of the sample. The criteria
adopted in identifying quantitative experimental research were in accordance with the characteristics expounded by Gay
et al. (2009) and Creswell (2008). This was done to ensure that the experimental study reported in each dissertation
involved an empirical test under controlled conditions aimed at examining the validity of a hypothesis about a causal relationship deduced from a theory or other sources of information. In this context, the experimental study reported in each
dissertation involved a selected group of participants or subjects assigned to various treatment conditions and/or control
groups, and the intervention or treatment described explicitly (in the subsequent method section/chapter) were also directly
related to the research questions or hypotheses that guided the study (Gass, 2011; Hocking, Stacks, & McDermott, 2003;
Warner, 2013). All the doctoral dissertations, completed in partial fullment of the requirements for the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree or the Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.), were submitted to U.S. universities between 2001 and 2009.
The doctoral students included in this sample had passed the dissertation examination and obtained their degrees. Only one
doctoral dissertation submitted to each of the 32 U.S. universities was chosen to ensure that the results would not be skewed
owing to the requirements of (or inuence from) a small set of institutions or graduate schools. This was done to obtain an
evenly distributed sample that would not exhibit any over-reliance on the expectations of only a portion of U.S. universities.
2.2. Data analysis and coding
In regard to data analysis, we adopted Swales' (1990, 2004) move-step analytical framework to examine the doctoral
dissertations in terms of the communicative functions of each introductory chapter. First, each introductory chapter was
separated into the three generic moves reviewed above so that all the segments related to purpose statements could be
distinctly identied. The frequency of purpose statements was then counted using the criterion that each purpose should
minimally comprise a main clause insofar as its occurrence was not interrupted by any other step mentioned above. In cases
where another step was inserted, the steps related to a purpose statement appearing immediately before and after it were
counted as two different occurrences of the same step. This procedure, as used in previous studies (Lim, 2010, 2011), was
adopted in this research because we were interested in nding out how frequently a rhetorical step recurs in different positions of a text.
Prominent shifts from one information element (a communicative move or its constituent step) to a purpose statement
were recorded if they indicated recurrent connections between different information elements. Frequencies of purpose
statements were then studied with reference to their positions of occurrence. In this context, reliability is dened generally as
the degree to which a method consistently measures whatever it is measuring (Gay et al., 2009, p. 158), and as such, coding
reliability in this investigation refers to the degree of inter-coder consistency in categorisng a text segment as being related to
a purpose statement (and not another rhetorical step) when different coders are engaged in coding the same text segments.
The different segments were then categorised independently by the second coder, a graduate English language instructor
who had taught English for more than 20 years. To ensure that the second coder was sufciently familiar with the process of
coding, we rst briefed the second coder on the rhetorical functions of each of the 11 rhetorical steps proposed by Swales
(2004), using authentic examples published in previous studies (Lim, 2012; Samraj, 2005; Swales, 2004). In cases where

J.M.-H. Lim et al. / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 20 (2015) 69e89


discrepancies occurred, a discussion was conducted to ascertain the possible nuances causing the differences between the
choices made by the published writers and those made by the second coder. This was done to ensure that the second coder
could distinctly differentiate the functions of the various rhetorical steps before the actual coding process began. The two
coders found a total of 110 segments that were initially coded as purpose statements. These segments were labelled independently by the coders, and an inter-coder reliability analysis (IRA) was conducted using the Statistical Package for Social
Sciences (SPSS) to calculate the Cohen's kappa statistic as explained by Von Eye and Mun (2005, p. 132e133). A kappa statistic
of 0.978 was obtained (p < 0.001), thus indicating that the inter-coder agreement was outstanding or almost perfect. [Kappa
statistics from 0.61 to 0.80 are considered substantial, and those between 0.81 and 1.00 indicate almost perfect agreement
(Landis & Koch, 1977, p. 165).] A thorough discussion was then conducted on the functions of the segments upon which
disagreement arose, and only 108 segments were conrmed by both coders as purpose statements.
Having ascertained the frequency of purpose statements and their associated shifts, our attention was directed to how the
doctoral candidates fullled the rhetorical functions of purpose statements using communicative resources, comprising
clause elements and different categories of phrases or words. All segments related to purpose statements were then recorded
and analysed as authentic instances from the published dissertations. In cases where the information elements showed
obvious lexico-grammatical structures, the recurring instances were tabulated to demonstrate the prevalent patterns (that
can be used for preparing instructional materials for novice writers). All the prominent language resources were ascertained
using the lexico-grammatical descriptions explained by several authors. These linguistic descriptions included those related
to (i) the categorisation of clause elements, comprising subjects, predicators, objects, complements and adverbials (Downing
& Locke, 2006; Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, & Svartvik, 1985), (ii) nominal groups in academic writing (Hamp-Lyons & Healey,
2006), (iii) procedural verbs and investigative verbs (Lim, 2006; Thomas & Hawes, 1994), (iv) suggestion indicators (Lim,
2008), (v) copular verbs, innitives, subordinators and cleft sentences (Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad, & Finegan, 1999),
(vi) negative adjectives (Lim, 2006; Swales, 1990), and (vi) types of adjuncts and subjuncts (Greenbaum & Quirk, 1990; Quirk
et al., 1985). In regard to the tenses used by the doctoral students in presenting purpose statements, all nite verbs (verbs
indicating tense distinction) used by the writers (in purpose statements) were highlighted before the frequencies of the verbs
in the simple past, simple present and simple future were calculated and analysed. We specically focused our attention on
tense-aspect usage because we had noticed (in our teaching of EAP courses) that second language learners often had doubts
about tense-aspect usage in purpose statements, thus suggesting that it might be helpful to obtain some relevant data
showing the frequencies of actual tense-aspect usage in the writing of purpose statements in doctoral dissertations.
2.3. Interviews with specialist informants
After the initial analysis, semi-structured interviews were conducted with two experienced doctoral dissertation advisors
who had successfully completed their supervision of experimental research in language education. The informants were
chosen using Bhatia's (1993, p. 34) criteria for selecting specialist informants in that each informant interviewed in this study
should be (i) a practising member of the disciplinary culture in which the genre is routinely used, and (ii) an individual who
was able to conrm the analyst's ndings, bring validity to his insights, and demonstrate psychological reality to his
analysis. In relation to this, both informants had successfully supervised experimental research in Applied Linguistics at a
doctoral degree level in the United States and were familiar with the requirements involved in writing doctoral dissertations
in the discipline. Among other dissertation advisors, the specialist informants interviewed in this study were specially
selected after we had checked their publications and supervision records to ascertain that they (i) were not the supervisors of
the dissertations included in the corpus (so that individual biases could be minimised), (ii) were professorial advisors with
vast expertise in the presentation of doctoral dissertations based on experimental research methods, and (iii) were recommended by their colleagues (via emails) as those who had the ability to provide objective views (on experimental doctoral
research) as the third-party specialist informants.
The interviews were used to seek qualitative data that could answer (i) the rst research question that focuses on the extent
to which purpose statements are considered by these informants as signicant in the doctoral dissertations, and (ii) the third
research question that seeks additional qualitative data, based on the informants' statements, to ascertain how doctoral students use some inter-move shifts to full the related communicative functions in their dissertation introductions. As the interviews were semi-structured, the rst researcher adjusted the language choices to ensure that the specialist informants could
provide related information in accordance with the questions posed to them. Given that the rst researcher was a visiting
academic with no previous personal relationship with the renowned specialist informants, electronic mails were rst sent to
the informants so as to obtain their consent for face-to-face interviews. Both interviews were digitally recorded in the ofces of
the supervisors, and were conducted after the rhetorical analysis was completed so that all questions arising from the two
earlier phases could be posed to the specialist informants. Verbatim transcriptions of the interviews were then done after the
interviews to ensure that the spoken data could be subsequently used to triangulate the ndings obtained through the
discourse-analytic approach even though the information elicited from informants constituted additional supportive data.
3. Findings
Some general ndings based on the specialist informants' statements will be reported rst before the quantitative results
are presented about the positioning of purpose statements and their lexico-grammatical realisations.


J.M.-H. Lim et al. / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 20 (2015) 69e89

3.1. Signicance of purpose statements

So far as the signicance of purpose statements is concerned, specialist informants' views appear to complement each
other in regard to where and how purpose statements need to be presented. Supervisors often attempt to advise doctoral
candidates to avoid writing too much about the existing literature that is not associated with the experimental study.
Specialist Informant A (SIA), in particular, was careful in stating whether introductions containing purpose statements should
be written rst. According to SIA, doctoral candidates need to conduct some pilot experiments to ensure that they could nd
something interesting, and that the dissertation is durable and it's not going to kind of produce just nothing, and hence
usually there is some experimental data that has been collected before they start writing the introduction. This practice was
ascribed to the fact that in U.S. universities doctoral students need to defend the dissertation prospectus before defending the
dissertation itself. According to Specialist Informant A, the prospectus usually includes a literature review, which may not be
as broad and detailed as the nal literature, but it includes a substantial literature review, and it usually includes some
experimental ndings. SIA pointed out that doctoral candidates might report three to ve experiments but they might have
done one to three experiments before presenting the prospectus and proceeding with all or some of the experiments at a later
stage. This means that some purpose statements might have been written before all the ndings are obtained and they may
typically revise the introductory chapter in the nal stage.
In contrast, Specialist Informant B (SIB) highlighted the need to write a schematic introduction. This means that purpose
statements are crucial in the beginning and may function as signposts around which literature can build on. SIB pointed out
that even though doctoral candidates' literature review can be very extensive or more abbreviated, she expected a more
abbreviated form containing twelve pages, instead of a hundred pages, at the beginning of a study in order to preclude the
possibility of them wasting time, winding up nothing important. SIB pointed out the importance for doctoral candidates to
use a schematic introduction with clear purpose statements to sharpen their thinking (about) what it is that they are doing
and their direction.
3.2. Positioning of purpose statements
Given the signicance of purpose statements, we will now focus on the positioning of such statements in the doctoral
dissertations (see Table 1). As an analysis of the positions of occurrences of purpose statements requires some basic information about the lengths of the introductory chapters, it should rst be reported here that the average length of a dissertation
introduction was 3927.31 words, while the lengths of the introductions may range between 1001 and 11,876 words. As shown
in Table 1, purpose statements are rst introduced in the initial portion in most (56.3% or 18/32) of the dissertations, thus
suggesting that the majority of the doctoral candidates preferred to state the purpose of their studies at least briey at the
onset of their dissertations. More specically, purposes are announced right in the rst paragraph of an introductory chapter
in 18.8% (6/32) of the dissertations. Overall, in more than two thirds (68.8% or 22/32) of the dissertations, purpose statements
are found in the medial portion of an introductory chapter. In terms of overall frequencies, purpose statements appear in all of
the dissertations and have a mean frequency of 3.38, thus supporting Swales' (2004) view that purpose statements constitute
an obligatory step.
3.3. Inter-move shifts
3.3.1. Inter-move shifts from territorial establishments to research announcements
Closely associated with the aforementioned positions of occurrence of purpose statements are how writers use other
information elements to rhetorically shift to purpose statements. First, writers often move from centrality claims in establishing a territory to a research announcement. These central claims, as shown in Fig. 1, may contain noun phrases commending past research (e.g., one of the main vocabulary learning strategies, noteworthy practices, etc.) and phrasal
combinations containing suggestion indicators that highlight the prominence of existing ofcial recommendations of a
learning approach, technique or program (e.g., should be taught and practiced, has recommended the program, may
enhance EFL learners listening comprehension and ability, etc.). Such centrality claims differ from value statements
mentioned by Swales (2004, p. 232) in that writers merely cite past researchers' recommendations or their own pre-research
observations to highlight the practicality of an approach or strategy in language education. These citations that underscore
the necessity and practical utility of an approach, method, or technique recommended in past studies or through the doctoral
candidates' personal observations may then be ensued quickly by research announcements containing deictic expressions
(e.g., the present study). The purpose statements that follow such centrality claims in the doctoral dissertations, as indicated
in Fig. 1, may comprise lexemes denoting a driving force or objectives to be attained (e.g., impetus, aims, etc.) ensued by
investigative verbs (e.g., to examine, to probe, etc.).
Despite the pivotal role of inter-move shifts from centrality claims in establishing a territory to announcing the present
research purposively and descriptively mentioned above, doctoral students may move back and forth between territorial
establishments and purpose statements (as shown in Fig. 2). The insertion of purpose statements is relatively prominent
between preceding and subsequent territorial establishments especially when the centrality of a treatment variable (e.g.,
introducing social interaction and dialogue in the classroom, sequencing tasks based on degree of cognitive complexity, etc.)
needs to be underscored in the doctoral dissertation writers' attempt to justify the focus of their experimental research.

J.M.-H. Lim et al. / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 20 (2015) 69e89


Table 1
Lengths of introductory chapters, frequencies of purpose statements and their verbs in the simple past, simple present and simple future.
Dissertation no.

Length of IC
Frequency of
Freq. of all purpose Freq. of verbs in Freq. of verbs in the Freq. of verbs in the
(no. of words) purpose statements statements
the simple past simple present
simple future
in different
positions of a

Number of dissertations (x)
Percentage of
dissertations (x/32  100%)

1.03 1.22 1.13
56.3 68.8 56.3 100.0




Apart from presenting centrality claims, dissertation writers may also use (i) descriptions of real-world problems in Move
1, or (ii) gap indications in Move 2 to add credence to the need to conduct research in a new area. According to Specialist
Informant A (SIA), early chapters are crucial for studying the motivation of the experiments to show how the experiments
build upon prior work or ll gaps in the prior literature and readers need to understand from (the) beginning (initial)
chapters why these particular experiments are exactly the right experiments to do. SIA has also pointed out that the most
crucial element in the IC is the motivation for the current experiment and it also would be a major problem if the literature
reviews were incomplete, that is if people just miss large areas of literature that are relevant to their current studies. By the
word motivation in experimental research, SIA referred to why we have to do this experiment when candidates have to
make the case that either nothing that exists has been done before but yet it is the obvious next step in the advancement of
science, or something that has been done before but it has been done wrong(ly), and we need to do it in the right way.
SIA has also stressed the necessity to avoid advising doctoral candidates to attempt a project which is completely unconnected to any literature, completely novel, or not really tied to any past literature. She emphasised that how a doctoral
project builds upon prior literature has to be made very clear, and this resembles a clarication of concepts via topic generalizations (Swales, 2004, p. 230) in Move 1. The informant also stressed that a doctoral candidate's literature review could
further appear as (i) an attempt to resolve a controversy or something that seems like it is impossible to resolve, and (ii) a
way of correcting some misconception that is based on some faulty research, which are akin to the different strategies used
for indicating a research gap through highlighting conicting ndings or limitations in past research in Move 2 (Lim, 2012). In
regard to these gaps, Fig. 3 shows that purpose statements are more commonly preceded by niche establishments than
descriptions of real-world problems. While there is no denying that a description of the necessity to overcome a real-world


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Fig. 1. Shifts from territorial establishments (via centrality claims) to present research announcements.

problem may also pave the way for a purpose statement, writers appear to have the propensity to foreground a gap in past
research before presenting the purpose of the research clearly, and this will be explained in the following section.
3.3.2. Inter-move shifts from territorial establishments to niche establishments and research announcements
In comparison to the aforementioned shifts from Move 2 to Move 3, shifts from Move 1 via Move 2 to Move 3 are prevalent
in the corpus of language experimental dissertations. Two ways of completing 1-2-3 cycles have been identied. First, as
shown in Fig. 4, writers begin a 1-2-3 cycle by using a niche establishment that focuses on a centrality claim functioning as a
link between a preceding territorial establishment and a subsequent purpose statement. Specically, writers normally
establish a territory by focusing on the prominence of an effective treatment programme suggested by past researchers, and
subsequently point out an aspect of language learning that has been overlooked in these past studies (see Fig. 4). These
centrality-focused territorial establishments are characterised by either phrasal combinations signalling prominence (e.g., an
important life skill, it is important to establish, etc.) and suggestion indicators (e.g., recommend, should aim, etc.), and
they are immediately contrasted with a research gap indicated using negative adjectives denoting the scarcity of past studies
in the suggested area/s (e.g., under-valued, under-utilized, limited, unknown, etc.). Closely connected with these gap
indications are the subsequent research announcements that inform readers of the candidates' ability to full the need
overlooked in past studies.
The second type of 1-2-3 cycle begins with a problem-focused territorial establishment, as illustrated in Fig. 5, even
though some attempts to highlight the centrality of an issue or instructional treatment may be added to it. In regard to this,
Specialist Informant A has pointed out that it's very nice if you can also make some real-world connections, but it is
oftentimes not very easy to do in the lab. For instance, she also had students who were interested in bilingualism and
attempted to establish connections with the real-world stuff based on their own experience rather than literature. Some
students, according to SIA, did research on lexical ambiguity among elementary school children because they had served as
public school teachers for a while and had witnessed how children struggling with ambiguity in language, and eventually that
experience became a motivating factor for them to conduct the research. SIA, however, felt that even though experience as
a teacher was also important, doctoral candidates had to connect it to existing literature because such real-world descriptions were merely kind of extra or optional. Examples of 1-2-3 cycles that hinge on such problem-focused descriptions and gap indications are illustrated in Fig. 5, which shows that the doctoral students generally describe the problem
encountered by learners and instructors in the process of language acquisition using expressions describing negative phenomena (e.g., teachers rather than students do most of the talking, have poor academic outcomes, may be disproportionately represented, ineffective instructional environments, have had spurious levels of success) in contrast to phrasal
combinations highlighting the positive contributions of an instructional approach or a technique reported in past research
(e.g., decreased disproportionate evaluation, decreased special education referral and placement rates, etc.).

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Fig. 2. Shifts between territorial establishments and purpose statements.

Fig. 3. Inter-move shifts from territorial establishments (via descriptions of real-life problems) to present research announcements.



J.M.-H. Lim et al. / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 20 (2015) 69e89

Fig. 4. Intermove-shifts from centrality-focused territorial establishments to gap indications (in niche establishments) and present research announcements.

Different types of niche establishment also co-occur in the same doctoral dissertation. Fig. 6 furnishes some qualitative
evidence that illustrates the co-existence of different gap indications after a problem-focused territorial establishment in a 12-3 cycle. It shows that it is possible for the writers to contrast two sets of conicting past research ndings in order to bring
to light the resulting uncertainty as a research gap. For example, doctoral candidates may rst cite some researchers' results
showing that phonological recoding has an insignicant effect on accessing word meaning, and subsequently quote other
studies that suggest the prominent role accorded to phonological recoding. Such conicting or competing ndings are
presented notably with the intention to foreground some uncertainty resulting from insufcient previous studies, thus
suggesting a research gap to be bridged in relation to the role of phonological recoding, which is eventually presented
explicitly as an experimental treatment in the subsequent research announcement.
3.4. Intra-step transitions and lexico-grammatical structures engaged in purpose statements
The ways in which purpose statements are realised rhetorically in doctoral dissertations on language education can be
fully grasped if we consider (i) the intra-step shifts concerned, and (ii) the salient lexico-grammatical structures involved.
Fig. 7 illustrates clearly how doctoral candidates generally provide a transition from purposive announcements to descriptive
announcements. On the one hand, a purposive announcement states either (i) the learners' activities that were studied in a

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Fig. 5. Shifts from problem-focused territorial establishments to gap indications (in niche establishments) and present research announcements.

doctoral research project, or (ii) the ultimate goal that the instructors were attempting to achieve via experimental instruction. On the other hand, a descriptive announcement generally avoids the use of objective-related headnouns (e.g., goal,
purpose, etc.) but may provide general information regarding how a research objective has been achieved (via specic
activities, such as organising a lesson, focusing on content, allowing an instructor to facilitate lessons, or diversifying activities
in a programme).
We have also found two possible ways in which research announcements are developed in stages. The rst way of
developing purpose statements comes in the form of statements arranged in a sequence of increasing specicity (see Fig. 8).
Both general and specic announcements are characterised by innitive clauses, and the specicity distinction is signalled by
placing an investigative verb (e.g., examine) in a general statement that indicates the relationship between variables. This


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Fig. 6. Shifts from territorial establishments to different gap indications (in niche establishments) before present research announcements.

general statement is used prior to specic statements headed by investigative to-innitives (e.g., to determine, to test, etc.)
and communicative to-innitives (e.g., to describe, to explain) that deal with (i) individual variables separately, (ii) relationships between a selected variable and other variables, or (iii) the different sub-sets of relationships arranged according
to their various degrees of signicance. The second way of sequencing research announcements is to present clear-cut
purpose statements rst, and subsequently support them with justications as shown in Fig. 9. These justications generally require the use of reason adjuncts (e.g., Since self-efcacy involves the mediation of one's ability beliefs , due to the
sharp increase in the number of these students across the country, etc.).
Given the possible ways in which purposive and descriptive announcements (i.e., research announcements) are developed, we can now examine in greater detail how they are realised linguistically across the corpus of experimental doctoral
dissertations. Nine syntactic patterns are employed by the doctoral students in research announcements. The degrees of
prevalence of these syntactic structures across the 32 dissertations are illustrated in Table 2. The rst ve structures which are
relatively rare (used in less than 10% of the doctoral dissertations) are those using a third-person noun phrase (NP) referring to
the doctoral candidate (i.e., the researcher), an NP denoting research in the sentence-subject position (i.e., this study) and a
cleft sentence comprising a noun phrase referring to research purpose.
Interestingly, as shown in Table 2, the prominent structures used in the doctoral dissertation introductions often include a
circumstance adverbial, particularly an additive adjunct (e.g., In addition, Additionally, etc.), time-relationship adjunct (e.g.,
Finally), emphatic subjunct (e.g., Indeed), or a contingency adjunct (e.g., To address the inadequacy of the traditional literacy
instruction , in order to fully understand the variations in their literacy achievement, because this study occurred in a
school of this type, etc.). The salient structures used in more than 20% of the dissertations comprise (i) a noun phrase (NP)
denoting research (in the sentence-subject position) and an active verb denoting a research objective (e.g., this report will
focus on, The current study aims to provide, etc.), (ii) an NP denoting research ensued by an investigative verb and an NP in
the sentence-object position (e.g., this study examines readers' affective reactions , etc.), and (iii) an NP denoting research
objective followed by a copular verb and a to-innitive clause (e.g., The objective of this study was to compare , etc.),
which are employed in 21.9% (7/32), 46.9% (15/32) and 53.1% (17/32) of the doctoral dissertations respectively. These nominal
groups (NPs with post-modiers in this study) constitute a major characteristic of academic writing (Hamp-Lyons & Healey,
2006, p. 20), thus explaining why they are most frequently employed in doctoral dissertations.
While our experience in guiding graduate dissertation writing has revealed that candidates are often uncertain as to
whether the simple past or the simple present needs to be used in announcing the purpose of a graduate study (and supervisors occasionally have different views regarding the correct tense usage), the ndings of this study have, to a large
extent, revealed that the doctoral students' tendencies in tense-aspect usage actually vary across the corpus collected from 32
universities in the United States. Among the 17 candidates who used NPs denoting research objectives in sentence-subject
positions to announce research purposes (i.e., those using fronted goal-focused NPs) in the doctoral dissertations (see

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Fig. 7. Shifts from purposive announcements to descriptive announcements.

Fig. 8. Shifts from general purposive announcements to specic purposive announcements.

Table 2), less than a third (35.3% or 6/17) employ the simple present (as exemplied in Table 3) while a vast majority (70.6% or
12/17) of them demonstrated a propensity to use the simple past to announce their research purpose (as exemplied in
Table 4).
Two of the aforementioned objective-related headnouns, focus and goal (in NPs denoting research objectives in
sentence-subject positions), are followed by only the present-tense copular verbs (see Table 3). In contrast, another objectiverelated headnoun purpose is always followed by a past-tense copular verb (see Table 4). In this structure, the subject
complement generally species the goal(s) of a doctoral study using a nominal to-innitive clause containing an investigative

Fig. 9. Shifts from inceptive purpose statements to subsequent purpose justications.


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Table 2
Syntactic choices used in presenting research announcements.
Syntactic choice

Instance of present research announcements

Percentage of

To-innitive clause indicating the aim of the study

nominative rst-person pronoun
reporting verb denoting a suggestion
noun phrase denoting an approach to language

To address the inadequacy of the traditional

literacy instruction and the disadvantageous
home literacy environment for ELLs, we
propose an alternative approach to literature discussion,
Collaborative Reasoning (CR), aiming to promote ELLs'
oral and written English development. (IC27: 13)
Additionally, because this study occurred in a school of
this type, the researcher examined students' attitudes
toward cooperative learning and students' motivation
toward reading. (IC6: 3)
The dissertation study is grounded on three perspectives
whose common characteristic is using tasks to promote
L2 development: task-based language teaching, interaction
hypothesis, and cognition hypothesis (IC22: 12)
Indeed, it is the intention of this study to examine
whether the instructional method using daily poetry
reading and weekly poetry writing is skillful instruction
that will benet rst graders, especially those learning
English as a second language. (IC29: 7)
This study is designed to investigate the relationship
between writing self-efcacy, story-writing performance
on a standardized test, and teacher ratings of writing
among sixth grade students. Since self-efcacy involves
the mediation of one's ability beliefs in a particular
domain, student performance (IC1: 6)
In addition, as a third indicator in the study,
the impact of students' attitude feedback on their scores
after integrating YouTube video clip as their teaching
material is investigated. (IC32: 6)
The current study aims to provide a detailed account
of Spanish-speaking ELLs' home language backgrounds
in order to fully understand the variations in their
literacy achievement. (IC27: 9)

3.1% (1/32)

NP referring to the doctoral candidate

active investigative verb
noun phrase denoting a possible relationship
between variable(s)
NP denoting research
passive foundational verb
prepositional phrase indicating the research focus
Cleft sentence containing an NP referring to a
research objective
to-innitive clause indicating a possible effect
of an independent variable on a dependent variable
NP denoting research
passive procedural verb
to-innitive clause indicating a possible relationship
between independent and dependent variables

NP denoting a possible effect of an independent

variable on a dependent variable
passive investigative verb
NP denoting the study
active verb denoting a research objective
NP describing learners' backgrounds
adverbial (innitive clause) indicating a
research focus
NP denoting research
active investigative verb
NP indicating relationship(s) between dependent and
independent variables
NP denoting a research objective
copular verb
to-innitive clause indicating a research focus (on
a possible relationship between dependent and
treatment/independent variables)

3.1% (1/32)

9.4% (1/32)

3.1% (1/32)

9.4% (3/32)

15.6% (5/32)

21.9% (7/32)

Finally, this study examines readers' affective reactions

to the narrative and expository genres as well as to
reading particular texts. (IC28: 4)

46.9% (15/32)

The objective of this study was

to compare two groups of ELL students as they received
Spanish vocabulary instruction in rst grade. (IC31: 3)

53.1% (17/32)

Note: salient language features are underlined.

verb followed by (i) a conjunctive subordinator that introduces a nominal clause (as in to determine whether , to
investigate how , etc.), or (ii) a noun phrase indicating varying levels of competence, performance or effect (as in to
investigate the extent to which , to evaluate the L2 phonological patterns through , to examine the relationship among
, to investigate the effect of , etc.), to distinguish groups with different characteristics or suggest alternative possible
outcomes resulting from the inuence of a treatment variable in the experimental research. For instance, these structures
may include a verb phrase (e.g., will enhance, will positively enhance, etc.) that signals a possible effect of an independent
variable (i.e., the use of cooperative learning with fourth- and fth-grade students in a Saudi school, the use of cooperative
learning in secondary stage (tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades) in Saudi Public Girls Schools') on a dependent variable (i.e.,
reading performance, ESL reading performance). Semantically, the contents presented are generally about identifying the
effect of a treatment variable (e.g., poetry reading, auditory training, cooperative learning, learning model, etc.) on other
learner variables (including motivation, learning experience, or learning performance in reading, listening, speaking and
writing). This means that the sentence complements in this structure are often associated with determining the degrees of
differences between control and experimental groups in terms of the ability to master language rules, language learning
patterns, attitudinal factors and/or motivational variables.
Looking more closely at the prevalence of all the structures engaging investigative verbs in research announcements, we
have found that three salient structures engaging the use of investigative verbs are recurrently used in this corpus to present
purpose statements (see Table 5). These three structures comprise (i) a passive verb (e.g., was conducted) preceded by an NP
denoting research (e.g. research) and followed by a to-innitive investigative clause (e.g., to nd out ), (ii) a passive
investigative verb (e.g., will be analysed) linked with a preceding NP denoting a linguistic mechanism (e.g., These

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Table 3
The use of the present-tense copular verbs in NPs denoting research objectives in purpose announcements.
Syntactic choice

Instance of sentences containing present-tense copular verbs

NP containing a research focus

present-tense copular verb

The focus of this study is one of the phonological challenges facing these English L2 learners e target production
of the consonant cluster. (IC7: 1)
The focus of this dissertation is interlanguage pragmatics (IC5: 4)
Although both global and local writing competencies are necessary and are taught in the experimental classes,
the focus of this project is to assess local skills and the retention of those skills over a ten-week period As
noted previously, the primary focus of this project is to assess the proofreading and editing skills of students
enrolled in the Business Information classes (IC23: 6)
The overarching goal of the dissertation study is to examine to what extent task-based language teaching with
varying levels of task complexity promotes L2 learning as compared to traditional instruction (EC22: 11e12)
A central goal of this study is to further advance the growing body of knowledge regarding effective ways to use
metacognitive instruction to improve student achievement and learning. (IC26: 4)
The goal of the current quasi-experimental study is to address the limited oral English prociency of ELLs and
evaluate an alternative approach to classroom discussion, Collaborative Reasoning, as a means to promote the
oral language and literacy development of Spanish-speaking ELLs. (IC27: 2)
The overall goal of this quasi-experimental study is to investigate whether and how Collaborative Reasoning
discussions impact the development of oral and written English prociency for young English language
learners (ELLs), as well as their motivation and L2 learning attitudes. (IC27: 22)

NP containing a research goal

present-tense copular verb

Note: salient language features are underlined.

programmatic elements ), and (iii) an active investigative verb denoting a research objective (e.g., aims to investigate)
preceded by an NP denoting the dissertation/study (e.g., the current study) and ensued by an NP denoting language aspect/
variable(s) (e.g., the efcacy of utilizing knowledge of Arabic's main word formation process ). In cases involving the verb
to seek (as engaged in the third structure shown in Table 5), both the simple past (as in sought to determine ) and the
simple present (as in seeks to determine ) are used by doctoral candidates. In contrast, the verb to aim is more often
presented in the simple present (e.g. aims to investigate , aims to provide , etc.) in the corpus. As the component about
the analysis of investigative verbs is largely qualitative in this study, a larger sample will be needed in future research to
ascertain the degrees of tense-related consistency.
Another common structure begins with an NP denoting research in the sentence-subject position, but the difference is that
it is followed by an investigative verb (instead of a copular verb mentioned above). Table 6 shows how purposive and
descriptive announcements are presented in ways that involve the use of the subject-predicator-object (SPO) structure, in
which the subject is occasionally preceded by an additive or time-relationship adjunct. A more careful analysis reveals that the
investigative verb used as a sentence-predicator is more frequently presented in the simple past than in the simple present or
the simple future. (As this is a largely exploratory qualitative study, a bigger sample might be needed for a more precise
illustration of the differing percentages of these three tenses in this aspect.) Each predicator is generally ensued by a sentenceobject in the form of noun phrase that states the writer's intention to investigate the relationships between treatment and
dependent variables in language learning. In announcing research purposes, the doctoral students often employ sentence
objects in the form of nominal clauses beginning with conjunctive subordinators (e.g., whether, if, how, etc.) or noun
phrases relating to the effects of specic independent variables on related dependent variables (e.g., the concept of ultimate
attainment in adult second language acquisition, readers' affective reactions to the narrative and expository genres , etc.).
With regard to verb usage, we need to consider the types of verbs employed in each case. Some useful information that can
be gleaned from Table 7 is that three major categories of verbs are frequently used to announce the present research purposively and descriptively. While copular verbs (e.g., is, was/were, etc.) may appear only in the simple past and the simple
present, we have found that objective-related verbs (e.g., aims, aimed, will target, etc.) and investigative verbs (e.g., examines, examined, will examine, etc.) may be in the simple past, simple present and simple future. Interestingly, other
categories of verbs, which do not fall under these categories, appear to be used primarily in the simple present when the
communicative function is to announce the current research (see Table 7).
A more thorough analysis of overall tense-aspect usage has shown that the simple present, simple past and simple future are
more commonly employed in purpose statements (see Table 1). The overall distribution of tenses therefore has furnished more
conclusive statements concerning the relative importance of the simple present and the simple past across the corpus of purpose
statements. Table 1 illustrates that in the presentation of purpose statements, the simple past and the simple present are used in
68.8% (22/32) and 71.9% (23/32) of the doctoral dissertations respectively (with mean frequencies of 3.31 and 3.16 respectively),
thus showing that the writers have almost the same propensity to use the simple past and the simple present. In contrast, merely
about a third (11/32) of the dissertations engage verbs in the simple future, with a mean frequency of only 0.63. This indicates
that when research objectives are expressed in the doctoral dissertations, writers' overall tendencies to use the simple past and
the simple present are primarily the same (while the simple future is largely avoided by most of the doctoral candidates).
4. Discussion and pedagogical implications
To sum up, this study has demonstrated the signicance of purpose statements in experimental doctoral dissertations and
how doctoral dissertation writers strategically use a wide range of inter-move shifts and intra-step transitions to lay the


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Table 4
The use of past-tense copular verbs in the subject-predicator-complement (SPC) structures for purpose announcements.
Subject (NP containing an
objective-related headnoun)

Predicator (past-tense Complement (primarily to-innitive clauses that state the objective of identifying
copular verb)
the relationships between treatment and dependent variables in language learning)

The purpose of this study


The purpose of this study


The purpose of this study


The purpose of the present study


The purpose of this study


The purposes of this study


The general purpose of this exploratory was

(comparative), and explanatory
(correlational) study
One purpose of the study


to investigate whether deaf students receiving instruction in phonemic awareness

and phonic skills from a phonics treatment package were able to generalize these
skills to read novel words. (IC3: 1)
to investigate the extent to which the use of cooperative learning with fourth- and
fth-grade students in a Saudi school will enhance their reading
performance (IC6: 3)
to evaluate L2 phonological learning patterns through the productions of onset
consonant clusters by adult Japanese learners of English. (IC7: 41)
to investigate the ability of adults with aphasia to switch between rule sets in a
predictable and an unpredictable presentation. (IC9: 15)
to investigate the effects of auditory training known as temporal training on
reading, language and auditory processing skills of children diagnosed with
temporal auditory processing disorders. (IC13: 2)
three fold: rst, to investigate how the use of cooperative learning in secondary
stage (tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades) in Saudi Public Girls' Schools
will positively enhance their ESL reading performance. (IC16: 4)
to examine the relationship among demographic characteristics,
language-learning experience, motivation, language-learning strategies, and
expected course grade among English-speaking college students who are
learning a Romance language (IC24: 6)
to determine whether teacher behaviour changed as a result of using the SIOP
model. (IC25: 11)

Note: salient language features are underlined.

ground for purpose statements and employ lexico-grammatical structures to construct the statements that determine the
tracks along which their dissertations would proceed. With respect to the signicance of such statements, our specialist
informants stressed the importance of writing a schematic introduction, thus indicating that it is vital to advise doctoral
students in the eld of language education to avoid writing too extensively about the existing literature that is not closely
associated with their experimental studies in the introductory chapter. To help candidates delimit the scope of their literature
(and reserve more detailed literature in a subsequent chapter), EAP instructors may recommend that candidates write some
initial purpose statements that function as signposts around which only the most pertinent extracts of literature are
More specically, substantiating Swales' (2004, p. 232) observation, this study has ascertained the obligatory status of
purpose statements in experimental doctoral dissertations on language education. As mentioned above, purpose statements
were found in (i) most of the research article introductions in certain Applied Sciences, such as Civil Engineering, Software
Engineering and in Biomedical Engineering, in which the statements occurred in 78.33%, 81.67% and 83.05% of the research
introductions (Kanoksilapatham, 2015), and (ii) only 60% of the doctoral thesis introductions about Computing in English. In
contrast, such statements are found in 100% of the experimental doctoral dissertations on language education in this study.
More specically, over two thirds of the doctoral candidates demonstrate a propensity to present purpose statements in the
medial portion of an introductory chapter. A possible explanation is that the doctoral candidates generally need to furnish a
considerable amount of relevant background information on research niches and existing real-world problems in order to lay
the ground for a well-substantiated presentation of purpose statements (although an introductory chapter is generally followed by a subsequent chapter that focuses on reviewing literature associated with theories, concepts and past studies in the
related research domain). EAP materials prepared in this context may therefore place more emphasis on how writers can
possibly support their purpose statements (in the introductory chapter) with relevant researchable questions, possible
contributions and denitions of key terms to be employed in their experimental dissertations, so that readers are prepared to
accept the initial plan of their research.
Nevertheless, pedagogical applications of this study need to include certain recommendable strategies even though they
may not occur in all doctoral dissertations. For instance, more than a half of the doctoral students rst introduce their exact
research purposes briey in the initial portions of their dissertations, thus illustrating that EAP instructors (and supervisors)
may need to adopt a considerably open stance in allowing their students to strategically specify their research purposes at the
onset of their introductory chapters if they perceive that there is a need to direct readers' attention early enough to the key
thrust of their studies.
Analysing the positions of occurrence of purpose statements has also led us to take a closer look at the information elements preceding such crucial statements. Our ndings appear to suggest that doctoral candidates generally use three key
rhetorical strategies to pave the way for their purpose statements. In relation to this, instructors may incorporate some related
strategies in EAP materials. First, more emphasis could be placed on how novice writers can use territorial establishments in
Move 1 (without shifting immediately to gap indications in Move 2) to set the stage for their purpose statements. In this
regard, two optional sub-strategies may be introduced to graduate students. The rst sub-strategy involves the presentation

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Table 5
Syntactic choices of prominent structures involving investigative verbs in present research announcements.
Syntactic choice

Instance of purpose statements in passive structures

NP denoting research passive verb

to-innitive investigative clause

First, this research was conducted to investigate if Explicit Experienced Grammar Instruction
could improve teacher candidates' spoken grammatical accuracy, and if so, to what extent.
Second, since English teacher candidates are typically advanced English learners, the research
was conducted to investigate the degree to which instruction would help advanced English
learners improve oral grammaticality (IC8: 10)
Research is needed to investigate the effects of auditory training known as temporal training
on the reading, language, and auditory processing skills of children with temporal auditory
processing disorders. Research is needed to nd out if reading and language skills improve
with temporal auditory training. (IC13: 2)
These programmatic elements, those identied within The Texas Reading Initiative and the
associated instructional components designated by CIERA, will be further explored within
this study. (IC12: 7)
In this study the LLMTs of NN (Rowe, 1999a, 1999b, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2001a, 2001b, 2005)
were researched regarding their effectiveness for curbing the Matthew Effect (Stanovich, 1986)
in which good readers become better readers while poor readers become worse
readers (IC19: 8)
However, aggregate data from the Law Enforcement (LAWE) and Paralegal Studies (PARA)
classes, which are meant to provide additional interest and awareness of usage levels of typical
College of Technology students, will also be analysed. (IC23: 6)
The current study sought to determine if explicit phonics teaching to adults with an alphabetic
background different to English would lead to enhanced phonological and orthographic
awareness in English. (IC15: 6)
The study specically aims to investigate the efcacy of utilizing knowledge of Arabic's main
word formation process, i.e., the root ad pattern system, in vocabulary learning by adult L2
Arabic learners. (IC17: 5)
Considering the slump period of intermediate grade ELLs,
the current study will target fth grade English language learners. (IC27: 3)
The current study aims to provide a detailed account of Spanish-speaking ELLs' home language
backgrounds in order to fully understand the variations in their literacy achievement. (IC27: 9)
The present study also seeks to determine the relative difculty of narrative and expository
text genres in L2 reading, as well as the contribution of individual differences to
comprehension of each genre. (IC28: 4)

NP denoting linguistic mechanism(s)

passive investigative verb

NP denoting the dissertation/study

active investigative verb denoting
a research objective (including
investigative phrasal/innitive verb)
NP denoting language aspect/variable(s)

Note: salient language features are underlined.

Table 6
SPO structures used in descriptions of participants.
Subject (noun phrase denoting the Predicator (investigative verb in the past/ Object (noun phrase or nominal clause stating the writer's intention to
research) with occasional adverbials present simple with occasional adverbial/s investigate the relationships between treatment and dependent
variables in language learning)
This study


This study


Moreover, as the secondary research

question, the present research
This dissertation

also investigated

More specically, this study


The study


Second, this study

will investigate

Finally, this study


Note: salient language features are underlined.

whether the Corrective Reading-Decoding A curriculum could be

modied to meet the unique needs of deaf learners and result in the
students' ability to demonstrate acquisition and generalization of the
phonic skills taught in program. (IC3: 9)
whether implementing cooperative learning in the classrooms in The
Islamic Saudi Academy in Washington, D.C., had an impact on the
achievement of grade four and ve students in reading performance.
(IC6: 4)
if grammar instruction would impact second language speakers'
uency. (IC8: 10)
the concept of ultimate attainment in adult second language
acquisition (SLA). (IC11: 1)
Robinson's cognition hypothesis, focusing on the main and interaction
effects of one task complexity factor (/ reasoning) and one task
condition factor (pair grouping) on interaction driven learning
opportunities and L2 development in a task-based language teaching
classroom context of Korean EFL learners. (IC22: 11e12)
the effectiveness of VE SETRs on vocabulary development and reading
comprehension in rst grade Spanish-speaking classrooms when
compared with a traditional vocabulary instruction using the adopted
core reading curriculum and the SETR only enhancement. (IC31: 4)
if CR has a differential intervention effect on the language and
motivation outcomes for children with varying initial English
prociency. (IC27: 22)
readers' affective reactions to the narrative and expository genres as
well as to reading particular texts. (IC28: 4)


J.M.-H. Lim et al. / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 20 (2015) 69e89

Table 7
Main categories and instances of verbs used in the simple past, simple present and simple future in purposive and descriptive announcements.
Verbal Category

Simple past

Simple present

Simple future

Objective-related verbs

sought to determine;
attempted to investigate

will target;
will focus

Copular verbs
Investigative verbs

(the objective/s) was/were

were researched
triggered (the researcher's
motivation to explore..);

seeks to determine;
attempt to gain;
sets out to investigate
(the objective) is
is investigated;
proposes (to investigate); allow (researchers to infer);
has (two distinct but relevant goals );
involves (the mediation of one's ability beliefs );
is needed (to nd out); offers (opportunities to access
audio-visual materials); is grounded on

Other verbs

will examine;
will investigate;
will be analysed
will present

Note: Other verbs refer to those which are not used as objective-related, copular, and investigative verbs.

of centrality claims using noun phrases commending past research in a bid to underscore the possible utility of a cited
learning approach or technique, which is subsequently adopted and presented in a purpose statement. Another recommendable sub-strategy may engage descriptions of existing real-life problems in the actual teaching or learning process (that
may not be cited in past research) to foreground an urgent need for a new technique or programme, which is then delineated
in a purpose statement. EAP instructors can also encourage graduate candidates who conduct experimental research in
language education to consider using such delineation of real-life problems as a form of territorial establishment to accentuate the need for a treatment programme (functioning as a possible experimental intervention), thus justifying the selected
focus of their research as expressed in their purpose statements.
The second possible strategy that may be introduced to novice writers is associated with the deployment of gap indications to add credence to the need to conduct research in a new domain, which is fully expressed in purpose statements. In
this context, an instructor may rst highlight the use of negative adjectives that foreground some existing research lacunas,
particularly an aspect of language learning overlooked in past investigations. Graduate students in this setting could use these
vital components that associate previous research limitations and resulting uncertainties to pave the way for a full presentation of research purposes. Subsequently, learners may be further guided on how they may combine the two strategies
mentioned in 1-2-3 cycles to advocate a recommendable approach that mitigates the effects of an existing learning problem,
resolves a controversy reected in current literature, or recties a misconception resulting from past studies.
While the aforementioned inter-move strategies have provided essential information for guiding new doctoral students to
lay the ground for their research purpose, this study has illustrated how doctoral students also use intra-step transitions and
related lexico-grammatical structures systematically to organise their purpose statements. As this study has found that
research announcements are often developed in stages (as shown in Figs. 7e9), novice writers may be engaged in exercises
requiring them to arrange purpose statements in stages of increasing specicity, and to present clear-cut purpose statements
supported with justications involving the use of reason adjuncts. More specically, EAP instructors may highlight some
deictic expressions and innitive procedural verbs, as exemplied in this study, to illustrate how novice dissertation writers
can possibly provide a rhetorical transition from purposive announcements to descriptive announcements. To help second
language learners and/or novice writers who encounter problems in distinctly presenting purpose statements, instructors
may consider directing learners' attention to the language resources employed in descriptive announcements (which primarily avoid the use of an objective-related headnoun, but instead, furnish vital descriptive information concerning how a
research objective has been attained).
A more detailed analysis of the linguistic realisations of purpose statements has revealed that three of the nine syntactic
structures are frequently employed by the doctoral students in the 32 dissertation introductions concerned. This means that
in the initial exposure given to dissertation writers, three major structures can be highlighted in relation to the lexicogrammatical choices used. The prevalent structures which may be rst recommended to novice writers attempting to
write purpose statements could include those major structures which (i) engage an investigative verb and an NP in the
sentence-object position, (ii) involve an NP denoting research ensued by an active verb indicating a research objective, and
(iii) engage a copular verb and a to-innitive clause.
Focusing on verb usage, we have some recommendations relating to how doctoral students employ verbs to construct the
core message of purpose statements. In general, although instructors may consider incorporating more items requiring the
use of the simple present or the simple past, our ndings suggest that it would not be justiable to rule out the usage of the
simple future as a possible alternative verb form in purpose statements in experimental studies. More specically, three
points relating to investigative verbs, objective-related verbs and copular verbs are recommendable to EAP practitioners here.
First, the three salient structures that engage the use of investigative verbs do deserve some attention if instructional materials are needed to show how investigative verbs can be used in active and passive structures (engaging different tenses)
that contain noun phrases stating the research focus of their studies.

J.M.-H. Lim et al. / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 20 (2015) 69e89


Second, in regard to the instructional guidance provided to dissertation writers, our study suggests that instructors
can be more denite in their explanation about certain categories of objective-related verbs. On the one hand, instructors might be more certain in recommending the use of the simple present for certain objective-related verbs such
as to aim while highlighting the current relevance of a doctoral study. On the other hand, it appears sensible to adopt a
more open and tentative position in giving instruction relating to the usage of other objective-related verbs such as to
seek (as in seek to investigate and sought to investigate) which may be presented either in the simple present (when
the writers prefer to highlight current relevance of the research focus), or in the simple past (when the writers prefer to
foreground the initial plan that incorporated the original objective of the study prior to the process of writing the
Third, some recommendations for novice writers can be made in regard to how doctoral students link noun phrases
with copular verbs to express purpose statements in the SPC structure (see Table 4). For instance, when focus or goal is
used in a noun phrase in the sentence-initial subject, we may actually recommend that the copular verb be written in the
simple present so as to accentuate the current signicance of the study. Another interesting example is associated with the
use of the headnoun purpose. In Cortes' (2013, p. 314) study of research article introductions, in particular, the copular
verb in both the simple present and simple past (e.g., the purpose of the present study is to and the purpose of this study
was to) were identied as verbs used recurrently. Nonetheless, in this investigation into doctoral dissertation introductions in language education, purpose (as in the purpose of the study is to) is employed consistently in connection
with a copular verb in the simple past (i.e., was) by the doctoral students in experimental studies, thus suggesting that in
cases where a novice writer uses a headnoun denoting an initial and general direction of the study (e.g., purpose), instructors might consider advising learners to consistently use a past-tense copular verb (rather than a present-tense
copular verb) in an introductory chapter of a dissertation in a bid to underscore the original cause or reason motivating
the study.
While a higher degree of deniteness may be considered in guiding learners to use the SPC structure mentioned above, it
appears rational to adopt a relatively tentative position when novice writers need to use investigative verbs in an SPO
structure (as exemplied in Table 6). To be precise, although it is possible for instructors to generally recommend the use of an
investigative verb in the simple past (in the sentence-predicator position) while referring to a completed study that needs to
be introduced in the doctoral dissertation, our ndings have revealed that doctoral candidates also recurrently employ the
simple present in the same position to direct readers' attention to the current signicance of the research story being
Instructors may also devise exercises requiring learners to use subordinators (encompassing subordinate conjunctions and
conjunctive adverbs) in sentence-complement positions (immediately after the investigative verbs as shown in Table 6) in
order to raise learners' consciousness of (i) the subordinators and nominal clauses denoting varying levels of subjects'
competence and effects of an independent variable. Exercises devoted to such a focus are likely to stimulate learners' language awareness given that the lexico-grammatical structures in the sentence-complement positions clearly encapsulate the
main focus of a study via a distinct statement of the writer's intention to investigate the relationships between treatment and
dependent variables in language learning.
Overall, the purpose statements analysed in this study can be meaningfully adapted and presented to enlighten novice
writers conducting experimental research in the eld of language education, particularly in the initial process of dissertation
writing, if sufcient emphasis is placed on how the statements are positioned and introduced using relevant shifts and
language resources. The doctoral candidates' planned research focus needs to be viewed in relation to pertinent past studies
that provide enlightening information on (i) the degree of prevalence, contribution, and acceptability of a research domain,
(ii) the meaning and scope of established concepts, and (iii) different categories of traceable lacunas left behind by previous
research as explained in this paper. With respect to such information, this study has brought forth a wide spectrum of
rhetorical transitions and language resources which can be clearly explained in teaching materials targeted at novice writers
attempting to chart a possible route for their research in language education. To provide an initial impetus for the development of a dissertation, it is recommended that these shifts and lexico-grammatical structures be elucidated to dissertation
writers concerned if they encounter difculties in framing their purpose statements in the context of numerous existing
studies in their academic discipline.
Despite the broad range of pertinent information provided in this study, some research limitations need to be acknowledged in relation to our suggestions for further studies. First, as this study has focused on the doctoral dissertations on
experimental research in language education in the United States over a decade, more research needs to be conducted to
ascertain how the presentation of purpose statements in doctoral theses/dissertations may vary across different academic
disciplines, socio-cultural domains or geopolitical regions. Second, although this study has illustrated pedagogically useful
instances of salient and recurrent inter-move shifts actually employed by doctoral students, it would be interesting and
meaningful to obtain more quantitative data in future research in order to indicate distinctly the frequencies with which
writers accomplish the related inter-move shifts exemplied in Figs. 1e9. Third, as an additional insight, even though we have
not found any notable difference in the use of purpose statements written by rst language writers compared to those
presented by second language writers (constituting more than a third of the doctoral dissertation writers in this study), it
would be interesting and necessary to employ a larger sample in future research to ascertain if there are signicant variations
between rst and second language writers in the presentation of purpose statements and related information elements in
doctoral dissertations.


J.M.-H. Lim et al. / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 20 (2015) 69e89

Many thanks to the Fulbright Organisation and the Institute of International Education (IIE) of the United States of America
for providing and administering a generous research grant that has made it possible for the rst researcher to conduct a large
part of this study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. We are grateful to Professor John M. Swales, Professor Deborah
Keller-Cohen and Professor Julie Boland for their professional views and insightful comments related to this study that focuses on the essential communicative resources used in purpose statements.

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Jason Miin-Hwa Lim is an Associate Professor of English at the Malaysian University of Sabah. He has numerous research-based publications, including
works on ELT and ESP in System (Elsevier), Discourse Studies (Sage), Journal of English for Academic Purposes (Elsevier), Iberica (Spain) and English for Specic
Purposes (Elsevier). Dr. Lim was also (i) a Fulbright Research Scholar at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2009 and 2010, and (ii) a Research Fellow at
the SEAMEO-RELC in Singapore in 2014 and 2015. He has also been invited to be a keynote speaker in four recent international conferences on languages and
Chek-Kim Loi holds a PhD in linguistics from the University of Otago, New Zealand and she has been an academic visitor at the University of Warwick, United
Kingdom. Her main research interests are genre analysis, corpus linguistics and academic writing. She has published in the Journal of Pragmatics (Elsevier),
Journal of English for Academic Purposes (Elsevier), Discourse Studies (Sage) and Ib
erica (Spain)
Azirah Hashim is a Professor in the English Language Department, Faculty of Languages and Linguistics. She is the Dean of the Humanities Research Cluster
at the University of Malaya. In 2009, she was awarded the Georg Forster Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers, Alexander von Humboldt
Foundation, Germany. Her publications include papers in Multingua (Walter de Gruyter), World Englishes (Wiley) and Text and Talk (Walter de Gruyter)
May Siaw-Mei Liu is a Senior Lecturer at the Academy of Language Studies at Universiti Teknologi MARA, Sabah, Malaysia. She completed her doctoral study
in Applied Linguistics in 2012. She has been actively involved in research and publications in the eld of genre studies, discourse analysis, and language
teaching. Her latest co-authored publications include a textbook entitled Writing Expository Essays on Organisational Behaviour: A Coursebook on English for
Academic Purposes.