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Choix du Thme et Progression

Thmatique dans le 'Extended

Essay' du Baccalaurat
Tome 1
(de 2 tomes)

Memoire de deuxieme annee de Master Recherche

Lettres, Langues & Cultures Etrangeres
Aire Culturelle du Monde Anglophone
Presente a lUniversite Aix-Marseille
Par monsieur Paul White
Sous la direction de madame Linda Pilliere
Session septembre 2015

The aim of this research project was to analyse 26 examples of the International Baccalaureate's
(IB) Extended Essay in History according to North's (2005) categorisation of orienting Themes
(textual, interpersonal and experiential) and topical Themes as well as McCabe's (1999) realisations
of thematic progression, in particular the simple linear progression and constant progression
Many studies have found correlations between Theme choice, particularly use of circumstantial
Themes, and thematic progression, particularly the use of simple linear progression and constant
progression, and a writer's first language, their level of proficiency in English, and also disciplinary
variation. Other studies have focused on the pedagogical possibilities surrounding teaching
students, especially non-native English learners, how to use Theme in their academic writing. The
basic hypothesis of the present study was that the successful use of Theme choice and thematic
progression correlates to the subject grades received by IB students.
The corpus consists of 26 extracts of 25 t-units (clause complexes) each, all written for the History
Extended Essay, which received subject grades ranging from A to E. The texts were sourced from a
international secondary school in the South of France, and also from the IB's publications '50
Excellent Extended Essays and 50 more Excellent Extended Essays' (2011). None of the
participants had received any kind of instruction regarding how to use different Themes and
thematic progression in their texts. Regarding Theme choice, the analyses carried out focused on
correlating the use of all orienting Themes, textual Themes, interpersonal Themes and experiential
Themes with subject grades. In relation to thematic progression, the analyses undertaken searched
for correlations between the use of simple linear progression, constant progression, and the ratio of
simple linear progression to constant progression with subject grades.
Positive, statistically-significant correlations were identified between the use of all orienting
Themes and subject grades, and the use of simple linear progression and subject grades. Where no
statistically-significant correlations were first identified, further research uncovered correlations for
some sub-categories. For example, although the use of experiential Themes did not correlate with
subject grades, the use of long experiential Themes (consisting of 10 words or more) was found to
be significant. The occurrence of these long experiential Themes often coincided with the use of

the simple linear progression, which in providing local cohesion allowed the writer to use the
topical Theme either to present new information without compromising cohesion, or to provide an
extra level of cohesion through the use of constant progression. As for the analysis of constant
progression itself and subject grades, although no correlation was found, a sub-category which I
define as 'inference constant progression' did correlate with subject grades. The essence of this subcategory is that it involved Themes linking back to previous Themes not through simple repetition
of the same words, or through substitution of a previous Theme with a pronoun, but instead used
synonyms, possessive adjectives, semantically-related words, and rephrasing to connect one Theme
to a previous one. This allows a writer to expand their use of vocabulary at the same time as
creating tight cohesive links through subtle shifts in the focus of the argument between t-units
referring to the same subject. Finally, although no correlation was found between the ratio of
simple linear progression to constant progression and subject grades (see Soleymanzadeh and
Gholami, 2014), some observations about the complex interaction of the use of orienting and topical
Themes, together with the use of new Themes, simple linear progression and constant progression
were highlighted. The main points to emphasize are that both elements which promote cohesion
like simple linear progression and constant progression, and those involved in breaks in cohesion
like new Themes, work together in the orienting and topical Theme positions to create complex
arrangements in highly-cohesive texts. I therefore argue that analysis of cohesion in academic
writing needs to go beyond fixations on correlations of global categories (like simple linear
progression or circumstantial Themes and cohesion) and instead look for both sub-categories of
these functions as well as interaction patterns between all these elements, whether taken
individually they are considered to assist in cohesion or not.
Finally, it is hypothesized that further research into the use of cohesion in the Extended Essay could
lead to the production of pedagogical materials which could help the tens of thousands of students
around the world who must write an Extended Essay as part of their IB qualification each year.
The referencing system used in this dissertation is the Harvard system (see
Key words: Functional grammar, Orienting Themes, Topical Themes, Thematic Progression.

1. What is Theme?
1.1 The Origins of and Controversy surrounding Theme

1.1.1 The Historical Origins of Theme

1.1.2 Theme as content topic

1.1.3 Theme as Given/Known

1.1.4 Theme/Rheme in Communicative Dynamism

1.1.5 Theme as initial position

1.1.6 Theme as message onset

1.2 Halliday's operationalisation of Theme

1.3 An alternative operationalisation of Theme


1.4 Topical Themes


1.5 Thematic progression


2. Studies in the use of Theme in academic writing

2.1 Theme and Thematic progression and cohesion in learner English writing


2.2 Language background and Theme use


2.3 Proficiency level and Theme use


2.4 Disciplinary differences in the use of Themes


2.5 Instruction in the use of Theme and textual cohesion


3. Corpus and procedure

3.1 The corpus


3.2 Analytical framework

3.2.1 T-units as the unit of analysis


3.2.2 Orienting Themes identified


3.2.3 Which types of TP counted


3.2.4 Hypotheses


4. Findings and Discussion

4.1 Orienting Themes
4.1.1 Total orienting Themes


4.1.2 Textual Themes


4.1.3 Interpersonal Themes


4.1.4 Experiential Themes


4.2 Thematic Progression

4.2.1 Simple linear progression


4.2.2 Constant progression


4.2.3 Ratio of Simple linear progression to constant progression


4.3 Combinations of Theme Choice and Thematic progression


5. Conclusion
5.1 Conclusion


5.2 Pedagogical implications


5.3 Improvements and further study


6. Bibliography


List of Tables
1. The difference between Theme and content topic

2. Examples of Theme in declarative clauses

3. Predicated Themes

4. Textual and interpersonal Themes

5. Halliday's example of the most extended Theme

6. Examples of marked Themes


7. Subject grades received


8. Two paratactically linked clauses presented in reverse order


9. Two hypotactically linked clauses presented in original and reversed order


10. Some examples of conjunctive adjuncts


11. Some examples of modal adjuncts


12. Examples of circumstantial adjuncts


13. Examples 1 & 2 of omitted topical Themes


14. Examples 3 & 4 of omitted topical Themes


15. Example of use of rhetorical questions


16. Example 1&2 - Long experiential Themes


17. Example 3 & 4 - Long experiential Themes


18. 4 examples of simple linear progression


19. An example of the use of simple linear progression in orienting Themes


20. 4 examples of inference constant progression


21. 3 examples of repetition constant progression


22. The interaction of Theme choice and thematic progression


List of Charts
1. Use of orienting Themes


2. Median use of all orienting Themes


3. Total orienting Themes used


4. Use of textual Themes


5. Use of interpersonal Themes


6. Use of experiential Themes


7. Use of long experiential Themes


8. Use of simple linear progression


9. Use of simple linear progression in orienting Themes


10. Use of constant progression


11. Use of types of constant progression


12. Ratio of simple linear progression to constant progression


List of Figures
1. Simple Linear Progression


2. Constant progression


3. Circumstantial adjuncts


4. Circumstantial, modal and conjunctive adjuncts


5. Derived Theme


6. Split Rheme


7. An example of split-Theme


8. Gradient of content integration of Framing Adverbials


1. What is Theme?
1.1 The Origins of and Controversy surrounding Theme
1.1.1 The Historical Origins of Theme
In 1844, Weil proposed that the structuring of the clause reflects the train of thought of the
speaker/writer (henceforth the term speaker will stand for both). This enabled Weil to identify a
partitioning of the clause between what is already known to the speaker and listener/reader
(henceforth the term listener will stand for both) and what is foregrounded by the speaker as new
information. The known information already shared between speaker and listener constitutes a
"point of departure, an initial notion which is equally present to him who speaks and to him who
hears..." (Weil, 1844, p.29). For Weil, the point of departure is synonymous with the initial position
in the clause structure and contains information known to both speaker and listener. Weil therefore
combined psychological, syntactic and sociological aspects of communication in this first simplistic
definition of what was later named Theme. These various concerns of communication were to form
the basis of the many academic disagreements and debate which have surrounded this linguistic
concept right up to the present day.
1.1.2 Theme as content topic
Almost a century after Weil's observation of a two-part structure in the clause, the Prague School
linguist Vilem Mathesius first formulated the categorisations of Theme and Rheme as part of his
theory 'Functional Sentence Perspective'. For Mathesius "... an overwhelming majority of all
sentences contain two basic elements, a statement and an element about which the statement is
made" (Mathesius, 1975, p.81). The statement is realised in the Rheme, and it is made in relation to
the Theme.

For a recent definition, Michael Halliday of the Sydney School defines Theme in the

2014 edition of his 'Introduction to Functional Grammar' as:

Theme is the element that serves as the point of departure of the message; it is that
which locates and orients the clause within its context. The speaker chooses the Theme
as his or her point of departure to guide the addressee in developing an interpretation of
the message; by making part of the message prominent as Theme, the speaker enables
the addressee to process the message. (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2014, p.89)
This is a lengthened and revised definition compared to that used in all previous editions of 'A
Introduction to Functional Grammar' up to 2004 (Halliday, 1985, 1994; Halliday and Matthiessen
2004). The above definition limits Theme to the point of departure, related to syntactic and social
factors, in particular the use of the empathy regarding the listener's perspective when the speaker

aims to convey a particular interpretation of a message. The earlier definition of Theme was
broader: "The Theme is what is being talked about, the point of departure for the clause as a
message" (Halliday 1967b, p.212). This earlier definition gave rise to problems concerning the
conflation of Theme with the 'content topic' of the text, that is 'what is being talked about' ('content
topic' must not be confused with the functional grammar definition of 'topic' discussed below in
section '1.1.3 Theme as Given/Known'). To illustrate this, Table 1 below shows an extract of text
from the corpus of the current study.

The difference between Theme and content topic

In July 2005,

four terrorist attacks occurred in London, deliberately planned to

killed innocent bystanders.

The explosions

are believed to have been ordered and organised by the Islamic AlQaeda organisation and leaders of the Madrassas.
have not all been fully investigated due to their autonomy.

These extreme "brain

washing" schools

which have been researched rely heavily on mindless repetition of

selected extracts from the Koran, delivered with both verbal and
physical threats.

Table 1 - Illustrating the difference between Theme and topic, lines 1a21 to 1a24 of the corpus of this study.

Although there is a shift from a focus on 'terrorist attacks' in the Rheme of the first sentence and the
Theme and Rheme of the second to 'brainwashing schools' in the last two sentences, both of these
arguments relate to the text's central concern, the 2005 London terrorist attacks. However, the first
sentence has a time adverbial in the Theme position. The content topic of the text is not exclusively
July 2005, so this Theme reflects much more ambiguously what the text is about. Downing states
that since content topic and Theme often do not coincide, the definition of content topic can be a
"rather elusive category" (Downing, 1991, p.121). Witte gives an example sentence about which
there could be disagreement concerning identifying the content topic:
Without care from some other human being or beings, be it a mother, grandmother,
sister, nurse, or human group, a child is very unlikely to survive. (Witte, 1983, p.319)
Witte identified 'a child' to be the content topic of this sentence. However, given that there is a long
Thematised prepositional phrase before the grammatical subject, it is possible to imagine that the
argument could be 'the consequences of a lack of care', or even 'the historical, limiting role of
women in society'. In most cases this ambiguity is resolved by reading the surrounding text.
Nevertheless, the conflation of Theme as point of departure for a message and content topic can be
regarded as overly generalising, especially when considering what Halliday defined as highly

marked Themes (see section '1.2 Hallidays operationalisation of Theme').

1.1.3 Theme as Given/Known
In the preceding paragraphs the term 'content topic' has been used to signify the general semantic
content of a text, however many researchers have instead used the term 'topic' here. Mathesius'
position is that the point of departure is "that which is known or at least obvious in the given
situation and from which the speaker proceeds" (Mathesius, 1939, p.171). While initially stating
that Theme was analogous with given or known information, he later specified that "...theme need
not be a known piece of information" (In Dane 1989, p.25). However, many researchers have
taken Theme to be synonymous with Given (see Gutirrez Ordez 1997; Whitley 1986). The main
problem with this is that what is Given is determined by the listener, and therefore depends on what
any particular individual is able to infer from any given message. Halliday states that:
The Theme is what I, the speaker, choose to take as my point of departure. The Given is
what you, the listener, already know about or have accessible to you. Theme + Rheme
is speaker oriented, while Given + New is listener-oriented. (Halliday and Matthiessen
2014, p.120).
For Halliday Given and New form part of the information unit, which while often overlapping the
grammatical clause, does not necessarily do so. In fact, the information unit is defined semantically
and can be identified through changes in the use of tone groups by the speaker.
Both the structures of Theme and Rheme and Given and New are selected by the speaker, and very
often are realised in the same elements in a clause. However, this is not always the case. As an
example, Halliday and Matthiessen show how playing with the two systems can result in the
speaker "putting the other down, making him feel guilty and the like" (ibid, p.120).
// ^ are / you coming / back into / circu/lation //
(ibid, p.120)
Here, 'into circulation' is treated as the norm, and therefore Given information, while the New
information culminates in the tonally emphasized 'back'. This inversion of the information unit has
been mapped onto the Theme-Rheme structure to produce rhetorical effects. This approach
differentiates Halliday's stance on Theme from the Prague School linguists such as Mathesius and
Firbas, who at times have conflated Theme with Given. Halliday and Matthiessen (2014) make a
functional distinction between Theme and topic as understood from a functional grammar

The label Topic usually refers to only one particular kind of Theme, the topical
Theme (see Section 3.4); and it tends to be used as a cover term for two concepts that
are functionally distinct, one being that of Theme and the other being that of Given
(ibid, p.89)
Halliday states that when Theme and Given are operationalised in the same word group, the
combination creates a Topical Theme, meaning that the definition of Theme cannot be simply
information which is given/known. The separation of Theme and Given has not however been the
position taken by many other linguists. Fries (1981) commenting on this distinction, labelled the
Prague School approach as 'combining' and Halliday's as 'splitting'.
1.1.4 Theme/Rheme in Communicative Dynamism
Jan Firbas, a Prague School linguist, states that the point of departure "is not the beginning of the
sentence, but the foundation-laying element of the lowest degree of Communication
Development.." (Firbas, 1987, p.145). The elements in a clause can be graded according to their
communicative dynamism (henceforth CD), with context-dependent elements having the lowest
level of dynamism while new information has the highest. While this scale of CD often increases
linearly through the progression of a clause, and therefore is mirrored in the Theme/Rheme
organisation, this is not necessarily always the case. Two other factors can interfere with this linear
progression, the context and semantic structure. If something is retrievable from the immediate
context, that is situational or textual, and is placed near the end of the clause, it can over-ride the
default increasing of CD towards the end of the clause. In relation to semantic structure, some
words can be context-independent, and if placed in the Theme position also work against the default
increasing of CD through the clause. McCabe (1999) explains: "some subjects are context
independent, especially in the case of verbs which denote appearance or existence on the scene, e.g.
A boy came into the room" (ibid, p.59). While Firbas's theory lends much greater flexibility to the
interaction between Theme and Given, in practice it is very difficult to operationalise when
performing analyses on real texts. Martin comments on this problem when he says that the theory
fails in that "it generally proves more practical to draw a line between Theme and Rheme" (Martin,
1992a, p.151). In addition, Hawes and Thomas (1997) refer to the difficulty also in assigning a
precise level of CD for different elements in a clause. Since Theme cannot be defined sociosemantically by identifying it with the content topic, or as Given information, and is difficult to
identify precisely using CD, many researchers have settled for a purely syntactic definition.

1.1.5 Theme as initial position

Many linguists (see Barcelona Sanchez 1990) have mis-interpreted Halliday's description of the use
of Theme in English, defining Theme as a solely syntactical function, that of being at the beginning
of a clause. Halliday does state that "...the element selected by the speaker as Theme is assigned
first position in the sequence" (Halliday, 1976, p.179), but later remarked that this previous quote
was "intended to say how the Theme in English is to be recognized [but] was taken as a statement
of how it is to be defined" (Halliday 1988, p.33 in Fries and Francis 1992, p.45). So, for Halliday,
Theme occurs in the initial clause position in English, and is often realised through information
which is Given or known by both speaker and listener, but these two elements do not suffice to
define the function of Theme.
1.1.6 Theme as message onset
Mauranen notes that despite all the theoretical ambiguity regarding Theme, it has remained an
intriguing concept for researchers due to "its interesting position at the interface of grammar and
discourse" (Mauranen, 1993a , p.104). While Theme is found in the initial position in the English
clause, its real functional definition relates to its role of structuring information within the clause
and between the individual clause and the text/context, or 'co-text', in which it is embedded. While
this formulation of the concept of Theme hints towards psychological factors involved, Halliday has
always preferred to focus on the social co-text in which the language act takes place.
Halliday's long time collaborator Christian Matthiessen (1995) did however explore the
psychological underpinnings of Theme, formulating his theory of Theme as contributing to the
creation of an 'instantial system' between speaker and listener. This system is created through
selection of elements from a general system.
From the speaker's point of view, an instantial system is the system of selections s/he has
to make in producing the text; from the listener's point of view, an instantial system is
the system that s/he can create out of the interpretation of the unfolding text.
(Matthiessen, 1995, p.22)
Theme plays a very important part in this construction of knowledge through any particular
instantial system as it "enables the process of interpretation by guiding the listener to a particular
node in the instantial network, making it unnecessary for him/her to search the whole network"
(ibid, p.27). Theme is thus psycho-sociological in nature, relating both to the construction of
knowledge between speaker and listener, but also strongly reflecting the communicative intention of
the speaker. Enkvist states that What is optimal in textual terms depends on the speaker/writer's
intentions and motives, on the text type and on the text strategy" (Enkvist, 1984, p.58). Many

semantic and syntactic choices in the construction of a text contribute to the success or otherwise of
the communication. However, as McCabe notes, Theme plays a fundamental role in "the
expression of the speaker's perception of reality and the concerns of the speaker to communicate
that perception of reality to the listener" (McCabe, 1999, p.66). Theme orients the listener as to the
direction of the clause, the place of the new information presented in the clause in relation to the
surrounding discourse, and can also highlight cohesive or interpersonal considerations on the part of
the speaker (see section '1.2 Halliday's operationalisation of Theme' for a discussion of textual and
interpersonal Themes).
Returning to Halliday's definition of Theme which combines initial clause position with the point of
departure for the message of a clause, Davies explains that Theme initiates "the semantic journey",
adding that if a different starting point is chosen a different journey results (an oral statement by
Davies in McCabe, 1999, p.62). The organisation of elements in a sentence, and therefore the
choice of Theme, strongly influences the way the message can be understood by the listener.
McCabe takes the semantic sensitivity of the Theme position into account when she gives her
definition of Theme:
The definition of Theme used in this study places Theme at the point where the
grammar of the clause meets the surrounding text and also relates to the thought in the
speaker's mind. (ibid, p.54)
The initial clause position is not explicitly mentioned in her definition as it is simply a
phenomenological truism of English, but not necessarily of other languages, and so not of Theme as
a function. The function of Theme, labelled as 'message onset', includes its role in the grammar of
its encompassing clause, how it connects the information contained in this to its co-text, and how it
reflects the communicative intentions of the speaker. The coincidence of Theme with given/known
information between speaker and listener doesn't form part of the definition. To be able to
operationalise Theme as an analytical tool, the following section will focus on the concerns of the
researcher when analysing Theme in texts. The concerns covered are the range of Theme, that is
the dividing point between Theme and Rheme, the functional content of Theme (textual,
interpersonal and experiential), and Thematic Progression (henceforth TP).
1.2 Halliday's operationalisation of Theme
As regards the extent or range of Theme, Halliday remarks:
the Theme contains one, and only one... experiential elements. This means that the
Theme of a clause ends with the first constituent that is either participant, circumstance
or process. (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2014, p.105).
Halliday and Matthiessen define an experiential element as "a representation of some process in
ongoing human experience; the Actor is the active participant in that process" (ibid, p.83). This

'Actor' can be realised in different ways. As a participant it is realised by a noun-phrase which often
coincides with the grammatical subject, but can also often be a noun-phrase which is thematised in
the initial clause position before the subject. As a circumstance it is realised through adverbial
groups and prepositional phrases. Finally, as a process it is represented through a verbal group,
which although in a declarative clause is not usually found in the Theme position, is thematised in
interrogative and exclamative clauses in English. If a nominal, adverbial, verbal group or
prepositional phrase occurs in the thematised clause initial position before the grammatical subject,
the latter is not assigned thematic status. This results in what Halliday terms a 'marked Theme',
whereas the occurrence of grammatical subject as Theme he calls an 'unmarked Theme'. Table 2,
taken from Halliday and Matthiessen's 'Introduction to Functional Grammar' (2014) summarises the
difference between the unmarked Theme and the marked Theme.
Examples of Theme in declarative clauses


Class example

nominal group: pronoun as


I # had a little nut-tree

she # went to the baker's
there # were three jovial Welshmen
nominal group: common or
a wise old owl # lived in an oak
proper noun as Head
Mary # had a little lamb
London Bridge # is fallen down
nominal group: nominalization what I want # is a proper cup of
(nominalized clause) as Head coffee
adverbial group
merrily # we roll along
prepositional phrase
on Saturday night # I lost my wife
Complement nominal group: common or
a bag-pudding # the King did make
proper noun as Head
Eliot # you're particularly fond of
nominal group: pronoun as
all this # we owe both to ourselves
and to the peoples of the world [[who
are so well represented here today]]
this # they should refuse
nominal group: nominalization what they could not eat that night #
(nominalized clause) as Head the Queen next morning fried
Table 2 - Examples of Theme in declarative clause. Theme-Rheme boundary is shown by #
(Halliday and Matthiessen 2014, p.100)
Referring to an example of unmarked Theme given in Table 2, Halliday defines 'there' in 'there were
three jovial Welshmen' as an existential clause. 'There' only indicates the existence of something
which is then presented in the Rheme, leading to these types of clauses to be called 'presentative' or

'presentational' clauses (Van Valin and LaPolla, 1997, p.208). Although it could be argued that
'there' does not function as other non-existential subjects, it is certainly not a marked Theme, such
as 'merrily', 'on Saturday night', 'a bag-pudding', 'Elloit', 'all this', 'this' and 'what they could not eat
that night', all of which precede a clearly identifiable grammatical subject. For this reason, 'there',
and also 'it', in existential clauses are defined as grammatical subject and included in the analysis of
unmarked Themes. Two other example sentences of a complex structure given in Table 2 are 'what
I want is a proper cup of coffee' and 'what they could not eat that night the Queen next morning
fried'. In traditional grammar, the structure of 'wh- relative clause + be + complement' is defined as
a pseudo cleft (Huddlestone and Pullum, 2005). Halliday and Matthiessen instead define it as a
thematic equative, "it sets up the Theme + Rheme structure in the form of an equation, where
Theme = Rheme" (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2014, p.93). Regarding the examples from Table 2,
the relative clauses 'what I want' (i.e. the thing I want) and 'what they could not eat that night' (i.e.
the thing(s) they couldn't eat that night) function as a nominal groups within the clause, they are an
examples of 'nominalisation' (see ibid, p.94). The difference between them again is that while both
fall into the thematic position, 'what they could not eat that night' is followed by the grammatical
subject of the main clause, 'the Queen'. It is therefore useful to consider 'what I want' as a
nominalised subject as again it helps to distinguish between marked and unmarked clauses.
One final element which utilises the existential subject 'it' is the predicated Theme, more commonly
referred to as a cleft sentence.
Predicated Themes
it was Jane that started it
it wasnt the job that was getting me down
is it Sweden that they come from?
it was eight years ago that you gave up smoking
Table 3 - Predicated Themes (Halliday and Matthiessen 2014, p.122)
Halliday and Matthiessen's description of this function is that it identifies "one element as being
exclusive at that point in the clause" (ibid, p.122). These are more examples of equative
constructions, however there is a difference to the nominalisation examples in Table 2.
Nominalised Themes automatically map the Theme + Rheme structure onto the Given + New,
meaning that the Rhematic element "becomes strongly foregrounded information" (ibid, p.122),
something which is unexpected or improbable. Predicated Themes on the other hand can carry
new information at the same time as maintaining a contrastive meaning, i.e. 'that person, place, time
instead of another'. As in the case of nominalised Themes, only the whole construction of the
predicated Theme is considered as fulfilling the Theme role, i.e. 'it was Jane', 'it wasn't the job', 'is it

Sweden' and 'it was eight years ago'.

There may however be other elements for Halliday which precede the single experiential element
(participant, circumstance or process). These are textual and interpersonal Themes, the inclusion of
which can result in multiple Themes. Table 4 below summarises the sub-categories of textual and
interpersonal Themes.




modal or comment adjunct



conjunctive adjunct

finite verb operator (yes/no

Table 4 - Textual and interpersonal Themes (Halliday and Matthiessen 2014,
Regarding textual Themes, continuatives signal a move in the dialogue, that is a response or
introduction of a new point in a monologue (e.g. yes, no, well, oh, now...), conjunctions link clauses
together (parataxis links one clause to another through expansion, hypotaxis binds one clause to
another through projection), and conjunctive adjuncts perform the same function as conjunctions
but are realised through adverbial groups or prepositional phrases. In relation to interpersonal
Themes, modals or comment adjuncts signal the speaker's judgement or attitude, vocatives are
typically names, or other items, used to address someone, and finite verb operators are the small
group of auxiliary verbs thematised in unmarked yes/no interrogatives.
The example that Halliday and Matthiessen (2014) use for the most extended Theme is given in
Table 5 below.






the best

be to join

Table 5 - Halliday's example of the most extended Theme (Halliday and Matthiessen 2014:107)
In the example given in Table 5, the first experiential element, 'the best idea', coincides with the
position of grammatical subject and is named the topical Theme. However, while there is the
conflation of Theme and grammatical subject after textual and interpersonal Themes, when a
circumstantial Theme, or adjunct (such as 'merrily we roll along' or 'on Saturday night I lost my
wife' from Table 2 above), or a marked nominal group, or complement (such as 'Elliot' or 'a bag

pudding' from Table 2 above) occur in the Theme position, the following grammatical subject is not
included in the thematic analysis.
1.3 An alternative operationalisation of Theme
Objections to Halliday's limitation of the range of Theme to one experiential element relate to the
utilisation of Theme as a tool in discourse analysis. There are various studies of Theme in
languages other than English that use alternative formulations of the concept. Steiner and Ramm
(1995) show that in German Theme does not need to include an experiential element and
Hasselgrd (1998) argues that the finite verb can be thematic in declarative clauses in Norwegian.
In another cross-lingual study, Martin and Rose argues that including the subsequent participant
after a circumstantial Theme 'enables us to map a text's method of development, and to relate it to
comparable texts in other languages.' (Martin and Rose, 2003, p.133). Likewise, Arus, in a
comparative study of Theme choice in English and Spanish, states that there are some 'thematized
circumstances that exhaust the thematic potential [and other] thematic circumstances which do not.'
(Arus, 2006, p.13). While these studies are interesting as they relate to the function of Theme,
which should in Halliday's view be applicable to any language, there are many other studies that
argue for a re-formulation of the application of Theme in English. Various studies (Davies 1997;
Fries 1995; MacDonald 1992 1994; Gosden 1992 1993; Lowe 1987) argue that unmarked Themes
are used for 'topic continuity' (that is, continuity of the main argument of a text), whereas marked
Themes are used for change, discontinuity. The marked Themes in Table 6 below are taken from
the corpus of the present study. They are used to focus on temporal settings, while the subjects
instead indicate the main participants in this text, gay men and women.

Examples of marked Themes

Marked Theme


Until the late 19th century,

most gay men and women

Even up until the early years of most gay men and women
the 20th century,

did not realize that there was a

term for their attraction to
others of the same sex.
were afraid of not only what
others would think of them

Table 6 - Lines 2c8-2c9 taken from the corpus textWhy historically, has San Francisco been
regarded as the home of the gay rights movement?
Thematising the grammatical subject allows then both for the analysis of topic continuity in a text


as well as the identification of the main participants. Using the Hallidayan operationalisation, only
'Until the late 19th century', 'Even up until the early years of the 20th century' would be considered
Thematic. While these are certainly connected to the argument of the text, the association of San
Francisco with the gay rights movement, they do not track the central content topic, the experiences
of gay men and women. Charolles (1997, 2005) identifies these types of adverbial phrases as
'indexation links', as they provide cohesion not just to the sentence in which they are found, but to
the text from that point on (see the second sentence in Table 6 above). Despite this special function
of cohesion, these adverbial phrases are connected to but do not track the central concern of the text
as the topical Themes do. For the current study, I will use North's (2005) distinction between
orienting and topical Themes. Orienting Themes include textual, interpersonal, experiential
Themes. The last category covers any experiential element (mostly circumstantial adjuncts) which
do not perform the role of participant in the clause. The topical Theme fills participant roles within
the clause, and as North declares "is normally the grammatical subject, or occasionally another
element such as a thematized complement or predicated Theme" (North 2005, p.437, see also Table
2 for thematized complements and Table 3 for predicated Themes). No marked complement
Themes and only one predicated Theme (see line 3g12 in the corpus) were found in the corpus of
the present study. For this reason, apart from the exception mentioned above, for the purposes of
the present study the topical Theme can be thought of as being realised exclusively through the
grammatical subject.
1.4 Topical Themes
MacDonald says the subject slot is...the most important spot for determining what a writer is
writing about and how questions about epistemology, construction or agency enter into the writers
thinking (MacDonald, 1992, p.539). If orienting Themes show the rhetorical importance of
thematising elements for the purposes of building coherence in a text, topical Themes reveal most
clearly what the main concerns of the writer are. Forey analysed the use of Theme in workplace
texts, finding that "the highest frequency of occurrence of Theme choices in the present corpus were
unmarked Themes, and the majority of these were simple Themes" (Forey, 2002, p.128). Simple
Themes are analogous to the topical Theme when realised through the grammatical subject.
Regarding the textbook 'Working with discourse' (Martin and Rose 2003), Forey also notes that "the
choice of Subject/Theme is pertinent because the writer may include evaluation within their choice
of Subject" (Forey, 2002, p.128-9). Including the topical Theme allows the present study to
consider all types of thematic structuring, from the use of unmarked orienting Themes which


contribute to local cohesion, to topical Themes which track the main concerns of the writer.

1.5 Thematic Progression

The formulation of the idea of TP in the 1970s and 80s was motivated as a response to attacks on
the conceptual validity and unity of the idea of Theme itself. According to Levinson
"terminological profusion and confusion, and underlying conceptual vagueness, plague the relevant
literature to the point where little may be salvageable" (Levinson, 1983, p.25). To this and other
such positions, Halliday replies that:
The problem is that it takes too long to present the grammar step by step in this way; so
we tend to start with the labels, and it is forgotten how they were arrived at and what
they are for. Thus, when we investigate the proportionality in English set out above, we
find that the variation in sequence means something: being first expresses a function in
the clause, and we give this a label Theme... (Halliday, 1994, p.xxxii)
The tendency to want to impose 'traditional grammar' labels on the constituents of functional
grammar devalues the descriptive power of this system. As Van Huffel points out, "the essence of
Theme... should be that it functions within text" (Van Huffel, 2007, p.15). Dane (1974), who was
part of the Prague School, was the first to identify that Themes can relate to other clauses in
different ways. Fries (1981) validated this theory of TP through the observation of different types
of TP correlating with different genres of text. More recently, Wei Jing notes in her review of
research articles from 1983-2013 into Theme-Rheme: "The earliest articles focused on Theme types
in learner English, and later, scholars examined thematic progression" (Wei Jing, 2014, p.76). The
growing popularity of thematic progression as a means of analysing texts reflects a general
acceptance of its validity as a method for highlighting cohesive strategies.
The following studies focus on two patterns of TP in professional and student writing. Referring to
three articles which have influenced the present study (Dane 1974; McCabe 1999; North 2005),
Soleymanzadeh and Gholami state that:
The bigger this ratio of simple linear progression (SLP) to constant progression (CP),
the better would be an essay according to argumentative essay writing norms
(Soleymanzadeh and Gholami, 2014, p.1813)
Figures 1 and 2 below illustrate these two types of TP, as identified by Dane (1974), with examples
given from the corpus of the present study.


Simple Linear Progression



Following the first slave ship

of 1691, their numbers

grew at an incredibly fast rate to support the massive growth of

cotton and other labour intensive agriculture.

These agricultural areas

lay largely in the southern states.

It was these southern states

that primarily formed the centre of African American presence,

where they were numerically by far the majority ethnic group.

Figure 1 - Simple Linear Progression, from lines 3g9-3g11from the corpus of the present study
Constant progression


The First World War

was fought across Europe, the European colonies and the

surrounding seas from 1st August 1914 until 11th November 1918.


created a major struggle which altered enormously the political,

economic, social and cultural nature of Europe.

This war

was felt in one way of another throughout the world as each nation
from every continent indirectly or directly entered the war.

Figure 2 - Constant progression illustrated with lines 3e14-3e16 from the corpus of the present
Figure 1 illustrates simple linear progression where the Theme of the second and third sentences are
taken directly from the Rheme of the preceding sentence. The choice of Theme in the second and
third sentences of Figure 2 show an example of constant progression as these Themes are directly
related to the Theme of the preceding sentence. Fries (1983) found that academic texts employ a
high percentage of SLP as this enables expansion and explanation which is important when
discussing complex issues. SLP is integral to the meta-functions of defending or opposing an idea
while convincing the reader to agree with the argument that Reid (1988) identified as central to
academic argumentative texts. Ren, Cao, Yuanyuan and Li carried out a pedagogical study to help
students improve text unity through their 'Thematic Operational Approach'. In analysing a sample
corpus of academic writing exercises, they found that "that the most frequently used pattern is
simple linear progression " (Ren et al., 2009, p.144). However, Watson-Todd, Khongput,
Darasawang identified the problem of a lack of SLP (which they term sequential progression),
"texts with a relatively low proportion of sequential progression could be viewed as potentially
problematic" (Watson-Todd et al., 2007, p.9). Finally, various other studies (Jalilifar 2010; Wang


2007; Almaden 2006; Belmonte & McCabe 1998) have found an overuse of CP as compared to SLP
in student undergraduate writing. They highlight the particular difficulties that non-native English
speakers find in building cohesion into their academic texts. These issues and more, such as
English learner writing cohesion, language transfer, language proficiency, disciplinary variation and
the effect of instruction, will be investigated in greater detail in the following section.


2. Studies of the use of Theme in academic writing

2.1 Theme and Thematic progression and cohesion in learner English writing
As regards the construction of a text by English learner writers, Thompson says that thematisation
greatly contributes to "how speakers construct their messages in a way which makes them fit
smoothly into the unfolding language event" (Thompson, 2004, p.141). This smooth unfolding of
the language event depends heavily on the overall semantic organisation of a text. As Martin
The idea behind Theme and Rheme need not be confined to the clause only, but can be
extended to the paragraph, section, or entire text, depending on the number of layers in
the text (Martin, 1992a, p.156).
However, the operationalisation of this principle, that is selecting Themes appropriate to the culture
of a particular academic field, presents difficulties especially for non-native English speakers.
Hoey (2005) notes that only experienced readers who are fully integrated into an academic
discipline are culturally primed to expect the structural and semantic organisation of Theme and
Regarding experimental studies, Ma (2001) showed that English learners who achieved higher
grades used proportionally more SLP and CP patterns of TP. Wang (2010) extended this study by
showing that to achieve higher overall grades students not only need to employ a range of TP (in
this case CP, SLP, split-Theme and split-Rheme (see section '3.2.3 Types of TP counted' for
explanations of split-Theme, split-Rheme)), but also use particular types of Theme, like the multiple
Theme and the clausal Theme (i.e. subordinate clause experiential Themes). These two studies
demonstrate that the successful use of Theme in academic writing cannot be accounted for through
a simple ratio like SLP to CP as suggested by Soleymanzadeh and Gholami (2014).
Typical problems that non-native English speakers encounter include using Themes which are not
connected to the preceding or following Themes, resulting in a lack of cohesion (Zhang, 2004;
Cheng, 2002). The distinctions between highly coherent non-native academic writing and that of
low coherence can be seen particularly clearly in Theme choice and thematic progression. Melios
found in English learner writing that:
high scoring coherent essays employ dense and complex nominal groups in ideational
themes, a wide variety of textual themes, and different forms of thematic progression...
[while] low scoring papers frequently overuse unmarked themes of simple nominal
groups or pronouns and overuse theme reiteration in a way that makes the text difficult

to follow and appear to lack development (Melios, 2011, p.iv).

The forms of TP used by the writers of the high scoring essays included the use of SLP and CP,
while low scoring essays used only topical Themes, with some CP which was achieved only
through repetition. As evidenced by some of the above studies, non-native students often have to
contend with language transfer from their mother tongue when trying to select Themes and build
TP. To successfully employ Theme and Rheme in constructing a coherent and cohesive text, the
English learner must know both which types of Themes (textual, interpersonal and experiential) are
most common to a particular discipline as well as be able to use these in certain disciplinaryspecific patterns of TP.
2.2 Language background and Theme use
In relation to correlations of first language and Theme choice, the selection of adverbial groups used
to link clauses together has received much attention. These adverbial groups are analogous to
Halliday's category of circumstantial Themes. Chinese students often misused linking adverbials,
mistaking 'on the contrary' for 'however' (Crewe, 1990), or using 'on the other hand' without
intending to employ contrast (Field and Yip, 1992). Green, Christopher and Lam found that
Chinese learners had a greater tendency to place "topic-fronting devices (beginning For and
Concerning) and logical connectors (Besides, Furthermore and Moreover) to introduce new
information" (Green et al., 2000, p.99). This led to a breakdown in cohesion as the default
information structure of Given + New was too often inverted. Likewise, Rowley-Jolivet and CarterThomas (2005) found that native speaker presenters at scientific conferences used more locative
adverbs (here, there) in the Theme position, which entails subject-verb inversion to maintain the
Given + New structure, in oral presentations than non-native speakers. This allowed the native
speakers to employ SLP structuring in linking following clauses to the initial clause which
described a visual support. When comparing Hong Kong English learners' writing with that of
professional native speakers, the learners overused 'moreover, nevertheless, therefore' (Milton and
Tsang, 1993), while Swedish students of English underused resultative (therefore, thus,
accordingly) and contrastive (however, despite, nonetheless) linking adverbials (Altenberg and
Tapper, 1998). Herriman states that related to Swedish English learners:
They would, in particular, benefit from an increased awareness of how Themes and
Theme progressions may be used to manage the logogenetic build-up of information as
it accumulates in their texts. (Herriman, 2009, p.24)
A final study found overuse of linking adverbials both by Chinese and British students, the former

overusing 'so, and, also, thus, but', while the latter overused 'however, so, therefore, thus,
furthermore' (Bolton, Nelson and Hung 2002). Crewe (1992) hypothesized that such overuse of
linking devices may indicate a tendency for surface logic, an attempt to disguise the poor
structuring of the underlying text.
2.3 Proficiency level and Theme use
In Jalilifar's study of Iranian student's oral proficiency in English, he found that "students level of
language proficiency monitor the use of linear and split thematic progression chains" (Jalilifar,
2010, p.31). Likewise Medve and Taka (2013) also found that the use of SLP increased in line
with increase in proficiency levels of students. However, Wei (2013a) found that as learners'
proficiency increases, their use of Themes becomes more like that of native speakers', particularly
related to the frequency of topical Themes, textual Themes, interpersonal Themes and Theme
markedness. The difference in the findings of these two studies is related to the register of the
speech involved, with Jalilifar (2010) and Medve and Taka (2013) concentrating of academic oral
activities whereas Wei (2013a) focused on general language fluency. However, other studies such as
Soleymanzadeh and Gholami (2014) found no links between students' IELTS scores and scores
based on TP. They suggest including TP in the marking grid for the IELTS exam. Also, Donohue
and Erling (2012) found no correlation between a diagnostic language test 'Measuring the Academic
Skills of University Students' and student grades in three subjects. Despite these observations, it
seems likely that proficiency has as much or more influence on Theme use as linguistic background.
One area in which both high proficiency native and non-native speakers might struggles is adopting
the Thematic tendencies of their particular discipline(s).
2.4 Disciplinary differences in the use of Themes
The following studies have been carried out at undergraduate level into inter-disclipinary
differences in Theme use. Ebrahimi and Khedri (2011) compared research article abstracts in
Chemical Engineering and Applied linguistics, finding that Chemical Engineering abstracts
employed both interpersonal (14% to 5%) and textual (27% to 23%) more than Applied Linguistics
abstracts. They also found that SLP and CP were used more in the Chemical Engineering abstracts.
Idding (2008) investigated the different uses of Theme in the Humanities and Biochemistry, finding
that while the percentage use of textual Themes was the same in both subjects, the Humanities
students used more interpersonal Themes, and also more unmarked, topical Themes (i.e. simple

Themes). From the two studies, it seems clear that the academic writing in the humanities tends to
employ less orienting Themes as well as less thematic progression strategies when compared to teh
natural sciences. Ghadessy (1999) compared article abstracts from 30 different academic
disciplines, finding that Geography articles used many more simple Themes than Finance (84.6% to
47.4%), while Finance used many more multiple Themes that Plant Pathology (52.6% to 10%) and
Sociology used more unmarked Themes than Film and Cinema studies (100% to 70.6%). Although
he presented a more complex picture through involving so many disciplines, again the tendency of
Geography and Sociology to use more simple Themes than other disciplines is evident. Whittaker
(1995) investigated the use of Theme by authors of academic articles in Economics and Linguistics.
She found that these academic disciplines employ many experiential Themes, while both used very
few interpersonal Themes (under 10%). This can be attributed to the need to present arguments as
objectively as possible in both disciplines. The differences found in these studies indicate a high
level of disciplinary variation concerning what is normally thematised in a clause, though clearly
more research is need to map these more precisely. The studies also reveal some general
characteristics of academic writing, such as the rare use of interpersonal Themes.

Given that the corpus of the present study consists of 26 history papers, some papers which looked
at the use of Theme in the humanities follows. Some studies which relate more closely to this
include Taylor (1983) and Lovejoy (1998) who both found that circumstantial Themes in academic
textbooks were more common in history textbooks, and in the case of Lovejoy also psychology
textbooks, as compared to textbooks of the natural sciences. This is consistent with the studies
above which showed limited use of textual and interpersonal Themes in the humanities (Ebrahimi
and Khedri, 2011; Idding, 2008). Another study involving history papers was written by North
(2005), in which she compared Theme choice according to the academic disciplines of the
participants. She found that the higher grades achieved by students with a background in arts
compared to those whose background is in the natural sciences, which was correlated to their
greater use of orienting, especially circumstantial Themes referring to the views of historians. One
possible reason why the arts and not the science students wrote in this way is that the former have
"a greater tendency to present knowledge as constructed and contested, rather than as a plain matter
of fact" (ibid., p.449). This reflects the epistemological approach of the arts students, in which they
are used to creating "interplay between data and argument" (Becher 1989, p.87). North concludes
that "variation in disciplinary culture is reflected in academic writing, leaving its trace in the
linguistic and rhetorical features of disciplinary texts" (North, 2005, p. 431). Concerning students

of history, Greene highlights how arguments must be built through the weighing up of competing
arguments, where "what is said is inseparable from who said it" (Greene 2001, p.527).

2.5 Instruction in the use of Theme and textual cohesion

The consideration given to cohesion in many academic writing textbooks focuses almost
exclusively on the use of textual Themes, that is 'reference words' or 'transition expressions', which
are analogous to Halliday's conjunctions and conjunctive adjuncts (see Bailey 2015; Haynes 2010;
Gillett, Hammond and Martala 2009; Hartley 2008; Butler 2007; Kotz 2007; Murray and Moore
2006; Davis and Liss 2006; Savage and Mayer 2005; Zemach and Rumisek 2005; Jordan 2003;
Leki 1998; Hogue 1996). For example, Hennessey claims in his book 'Writing an Essay' that
cohesion and unity can be achieved through using a network of connectives (Hennessey, 2002,
p.71). Likewise, Donald, Moore, Morrow, Wargetz and Werner state that coherence is achieved
through transition, meaning a transitional word or phrase (Donald et al., 1995, p.270). Alonso
and McCabe (2003) openly criticize this approach, stating that while academic writing materials
focus on cohesive devices, little attention is given to TP in example texts. One widely used
textbook, 'Writing Academic English' by Oshima and Hague (2006), does contain one exercise (see
Oshima and Hague, 2006, p.37) which focuses on how a key element of a paragraph topic sentence
is picked up in the other sentences of the same paragraph. This does not constitute a thorough focus
on TP, failing to highlight the flow, or lack thereof, between each sentence with the next. The main
focus of these textbooks is generally on specific argumentation approaches such as description,
classification, comparison/contrast, persuasion, cause and effect, definitions, examples, and on
broadly structural elements such as topic sentences, introductions, conclusions, paragraph ordering,
and also on the process of writing, including note-making, researching, planning, drafting, and
reviewing, all of which come under the field 'Academic literacies'. There is a wide variety of
research carried out on the subject of academic literacies. Coffin and Donohue (2012) carried out a
review study focusing on the differences of the approach to academic writing between academic
literacies and systemic functional linguistics (henceforth SFL). They state that while academic
literacies has focused on "ethnographic investigation... identifying practices, student identities, and
conflicts that individual language users experience in university writing" (Coffin and Donohue,
2012, p.64), SFL instead focuses on "linguistic analysis to establish the nature of disciplinary
discourse... research and pedagogy have concentrated on texts, language in use and the language
system" (ibid, p.64). While both are acknowledged as contributing to issues surrounding academic


writing, the latter forms the basis of the current study due to its ability to reveal structures and
practices in academic texts which might be used to produce teaching materials. Returning to the
published academic writing textbooks mentioned at the start of this paragraph, Bohnacker observes
that "discourse-driven word order patterns are... largely ignored in descriptive grammars, teacher
training and language teaching materials" (Bohnacker, 2010, p.133). This oversight can have
negative consequences on their readers' ability to formulate a text which conforms to both general
academic style as well as that of their particular discipline, which can be revealed through SFL
While TP has been overlooked in academic writing textbooks, there are many research studies
focused on the pedagogical importance of teaching TP. For instance, Wang (2007) identifies the
problem of the brand new Theme:
The problem of a brand new Theme is extremely common in the work of inexperienced
writers, who put new information in Theme position. For example, the illiteracy rate is
quite high in some rural areas. Here Theme 'The illiteracy rate' is in Theme position in
the sentence, however this is the first mention of this information. Where this goes
wrong, the communication can suddenly break down at the sentence level (Wang 2007,
By fully incorporating this typical student error into the flow of her research article, that is without
using inverted commas, Wang gives a powerful example of the type of the confusing effect of the
type discontinuity typical in student academic papers. She concludes her article by imploring
academic writing teachers to look beyond traditional grammar notions to more discourse-based
approaches, such as TP. In a review of academic English teaching at the University of Sydney,
Jones noted that students had difficulties "not so much in grammar and sentence structure as in the
ability to fashion a coherent argument where sentences and ideas relate to one another without
missing links of meaning" (Jones, 2007, p.145). Meanwhile, Watson-Todd et al. (2007) investigated
the relationship between connectedness of discourse, of which TP is central, and professor feedback
to students at a Thai university. They found that professors' comments on students' writing reflected
more "the actual content and the form of argumentation more than on the connectedness" (WatsonTodd 2007, p.20). While it could be argued that subject teachers will always be more concerned
with the contents of an argument rather explicitly with its structure, this neglects the evidence that
certain types of TP, particularly the use of SLP, correlate with student attainment and academic
journal writing style (see sections '2.1 Theme and Thematic progression and cohesion in learner
English writing' for student attainment studies, and section '2.4 Disciplinary differences in the use
of Themes' for journal writing styles).

In relation to TP intervention studies, Ebrahimi and Ebrahimi (2012a) separated students into three
groups who followed different academic writing courses. The results were that students who had
only followed a traditional grammar course were unlikely to use SLP and CP, those who had
additionally completed a course on paragraph writing performed better, while those who had also
followed an essay writing course were the most proficient in handling Theme choices and TP. Ren
et al. found in their pedagogical experiment that at the end of the study the participants not only
"know how to use the acquired thematic progression consciously and properly in their writing, but
are even able to notice new TP patterns... themselves. They are satisfied with their progress in their
writing" (Ren et al., 2009, p.144). In the article 'Teaching coherence to ESL students: a classroom
enquiry' by Lee (2002), the value of raising students awareness of coherence is seen as vital for
improving general academic style. Likewise, Watson-Todd et al. argue that "a greater awareness of
the usefulness and manifestations of connectedness may allow tutors to give specific comments on
cohesion and coherence for the benefit of students' writing" (Watson-Todd et al., 2007, p.22). In
Albufalasa's (2013) doctoral thesis into the teaching of thematic structure and generic structure to
EFL students, she found that the two experimental groups which included TP instruction "were
more successful in using the different thematic patterns across their essays to interweave their ideas
to maintain more cohesive and coherent essays" (Albufalasa 2013, p.162). Finally, regarding
Martin's statement above that Theme can be analysed at different levels in a text, Xudong (2003)
used thematic analysis as a self-revision technique with two students where he found that by
analysing macro-level (whole text) Themes and their connected hyper-Themes (paragraph), students
were able to understand and improve the cohesion of their texts. The present study will seek to
discover whether there is a correlations between content-based subject grades in history and Theme
choice and the use different types of TP. If such is the case, this would indicate that the students
achieving lower grades could have benefited from instruction in the use of Themes in building a
logical, cohesive text. It would also support the above-mentioned studies advocating the explicit
teaching of TP, as well as serve to highlight the negative effect from its omission from academic
writing textbooks.


3. Corpus and procedure

3.1 The corpus
The Corpus consists of 26 extracts from the International Baccalaureate (henceforth IB 1) Extended
Essay, totalling 12,017 words. The IB provides the most widely recognised primary and secondary
level international qualifications in the world. The programme covering the last two years of high
school is called the 'Diploma Programme' (henceforth DP) and is the most widely studied of the 3
IB qualifications. There is great emphasis on international understanding and community
engagement in all 3 programmes, but especially in the DP. For example, students undertake
community work through the 'Community, Action, Service' initiative 2 and are encouraged to reflect
on what constitutes knowledge in the 'Theory of Knowledge' course 3. They also have to undertake
an individual research project on an issue of their choice, which culminates in the writing of a 4,000
word academic paper, called the Extended Essay (henceforth EE). In the guidelines provided by the
IB for writing the EE (Extended Essay Guide, 2013), they state that the EE "acquaints them [IB
students] with the independent research and writing skills expected at university" (Extended Essay
Guide, 2013, p.2). This is the first time that the majority of the IB students have had to write an
academic paper which includes:
- Title Page
- Abstract
- Contents Page
- Introduction
- Body (development/methods/results)
- Conclusions
- References and bibliography
- Appendices
(ibid, p.15)
The IB specifies that the paper must take the form of "formally presented, structured writing, in
which ideas and findings are communicated in a reasoned and coherent manner, appropriate to the
subject or subjects chosen" (ibid, p.2). In regard to the findings of the use of circumstantial themes
in history academic papers (North 2005; Greene 2001; Lovejoy 1998; Becher 1989; Taylor 1983), I
chose to analyse extracts from 26 history EEs (see section '3.2 Analytical framework' for details of
how the length of the abstracts was determined). I obtained the papers from two sources, 21 papers
dating from 2009-2014 were obtained from the 'International Bilingual School of Provence'
1 See
2 See
3 See

(henceforth IBS, see and 5 from the IB publication '50 More Excellent
Extended Essays' (2011). The reason for including these latter papers was to extend the range of
subject grades in the study. The 21 IBS papers received grades from B to E, with only 1 paper
achieving a B, whereas the five papers taken from the IB publications appropriately all received
grade As. This means that the grade distribution over the whole corpus was more even, see Table 7

Subject grades received


Table 7 - Frequency of subject grades received in the corpus

All essays are graded by an external examiner who is a subject expert, often a former or present IB
teacher connected to a different IB school. These grades are arrived at through the assigning of the
best matching descriptors related to 11 criteria:
- Criterion A: Research question
- Criterion B: Introduction
- Criterion C: Investigation
- Criterion D: Knowledge and understanding of the topic studied
- Criterion E: Reasoned argument
- Criterion F: Application of analytical and evaluative skills appropriate to the subject
- Criterion G: Use of language appropriate to the subject
- Criterion H: Conclusion
- Criterion I: Formal presentation
- Criterion J: Abstract
- Criterion K: Holistic judgement
(summarised from Extended Essay Guide, 2013, p.23-28)
Although only Criterion G explicitly addresses the language content of the EE, the objective of the
current study is to correlate the subject grades arrived at through the assessment of all these criteria
with various aspects of thematic choice and progression. Firstly, to ensure that there are not any
other variables which influenced the grades assigned, the characteristics of the students who wrote
them will be analysed.
With respect to language content, the IB states in its grading guidelines that regarding 'Criterion G Use of language appropriate to the subject:
This criterion is not meant to disadvantage students who are not writing in their first
languageas long as the meaning is clear, the historical content will be rewarded
(Extended Essay Guide, 2013, p.97).

The IB states both that students must engage in "high-level research and writing skills, intellectual
discovery and creativity" (ibid, p.2), but also that they must "present ideas in a logical and coherent
manner" (ibid, p.31). However, no specific language expectations are used in the marking criteria.
The IB is taken by more non-native English speakers than native English speakers each year.
Ballantyne and Rivera report that "There were a total of 88,892 second language candidates for the
IBDP across the five year period 2008-12" (Ballantyne and Rivera, 2014, p.4). In relation to the
corpus of the present study, there were 10 English native speakers, 9 of whom came from the
United Kingdom, with one coming from Canada, and 16 non-native English speakers from
Germany (6), France (4), Italy (1), Sweden (1), Poland (1), Lebanon (1), Japan (1), and Costa Rica
(1). There was no correlation between first language and subject grades (r=0.1132, p<0.625), which
supports the IB's aim to not discriminate based on students' first languages. However, examiners
who grade the EE might discriminate based on language use, in particular the use of Theme choice
and progression, irrespective of the first language of any particular student. Considering further
variables, there were 10 male students and 16 female, although again no correlation was found
between grade achieved and gender (r=0.416, p<0.060). The students had a variety of History
teachers during their IB History courses, but both this (r=0.1432, p<0.543) and the year in which
they completed their EEs (r=0.1632, p<0.459) do not correlate with the subject grades they
The preparation and guidance afforded to the students during the writing of their EEs at IBS and the
approaches used in specialized preparation textbooks did not give any unequal advantage to any
individual students. The sessions undertaken with students at IBS regarding the language content of
the EE focused mainly on editing exercises aimed at "upgrading student writing to a more formal
register" (quotation from an e-mail from Patricia Reboulet, a teacher and EE coordinator at IBS,
2015). Academic writing textbooks, such as those reviewed in the section '2.3 Theme in academic
writing', are not used, as they are "laborious and frustrating" (ibid, 2015). Instead, some websites
such as Purdue Owl1 are used, especially teaching the referencing of source texts and for attaining
the correct overall format. Subject tutors also cover the grading criteria as detailed in the 'Extended
Essay Guide' (2013), which includes subject specific language criteria, but as already shown
through Criterion G for history papers, does not guide students as to specific linguistic expectations.
As regards textbooks, there are two publications currently available: 'The IB extended essay: An A+
in 6 easy steps!' (Cspedes, 2013); 'Three: The ultimate student's guide to acing the extended essay
1 See

and theory of knowledge' (Zouev, 2008). Both titles cover areas such as:
- Finding a topic
- How to carry out research
- Analysis and Evaluation
- Citing sources in the text
- Writing the abstract/introduction/conclusion etc.
While these are no doubt very helpful for many IB students, the books again follow the same basic
approach of guiding students through the process of writing, rather than dissecting the finished
product that they will be expected to produce for functional linguistic features. The approach
therefore is very similar to that of the general academic writing textbooks reviewed in the section
'2.3 Theme in academic writing'. All these study supports neglect a significant body of research
which highlights the links between disciplinary, and general academic practices, and linguistic
features in academic texts of different disciplines (as reviewed in the section all of section '2.
Studies of the use of Theme in academic writing'). Referring again to the IB Extended Essay
Guide, Criterion E for history states:
Students should be aware of the need to give their essays the backbone of a developing
argument... Straightforward descriptive or narrative accounts that lack analysis do not
usually advance an argument and should be avoided
Essay Guide, 2013, p.97).
The title of Criterion E is 'Reasoned argument'; however the construction of such types of
arguments and familiarity and mastery of associated linguistic features, especially Theme choice
and progression, are mutually reliant factors. If students are aware of how other texts build in logic
and reasoning, they come to know not only how to use certain linguistic devices but also how to
build a reasoned argument itself. This proposition is backed up by several intervention studies
mentioned earlier (Albufalasa 2013; Ren et al. 2009; Watson-Todd et al. 2007; Xudong 2003).
As to the texts chosen to be a part of the corpus, all orthographic, punctuation and grammatical
errors contained in the original texts have been faithfully reproduced in the corpus of this study. On
some occasions some simple assumptions were made about the intention of the writer, for example
the repeated use of the word 'German' instead of 'Germany' in 'Paper 1b - How significantly each
event contributed to Hitlers elections as chancellor in 1933. Given the supporting context, the
author considers these assumptions to be of low subjective value and so has not made any special
emphasis regarding this in the analysis.


3.2 Analytical framework

3.2.1 T-units as the unit of analysis
The basic unit of analysis used in the current text is the t-unit. This is defined by Fries to mean 'an
independent clause with all hypotactically related clauses which are dependent on it" (Fries, 1994,
p.229). The distinction between clauses linked through hypotaxis and those linked through
parataxis can be justified through reference to Theme as a concept which functions "because of
selections from the range of lexico-grammatical options available for first position" (Fries and
Francis, 1992, p.47). That is, although dependent clauses have their own thematic structure, when
they are placed in the Thematic position they are assigned the role of Theme of the entire clause
complex, or t-unit, because their thematisation reflects a choice by the speaker. On the other hand,
the ordering of two paratactically linked clauses cannot be altered, as shown in Table 8 below.

Two paratactically linked clauses presented in reverse order



and Otto Van Bismarck

became the first chancellor of the new confederation

The German Empire

was founded in 1871

Table 8 - Lines 1b6 and 1b7 presented in reverse order

If instead a dependent clause is thematised at the start of a t-unit, it represents thematisation, as the
clause could also have been presented in the Rheme. Table 9 illustrates this by showing an extract
from the corpus of the present study in its original format, and then in an inverted format with the
dependent clause no longer part of the Theme.
Two hypotactically linked clauses presented in original and reversed order
Original format

Topical Theme

Whereas the large majority Africans

of immigrants to America,
e.g. Europeans and
Hispanics arrived by
choice, as settlers and
economic migrants,
Reversed Format

were forced to move to America for use
as slave labour.




were forced to move to America for use as slave labour, whereas the
large majority of immigrants there, e.g. Europeans and Hispanics
arrived by choice, as settlers and economic migrants,

Table 9 - Line 3g8 presented in original and reversed order


Note that in the reversed format I have swapped the positions of 'to America' and 'there' to maintain
syntactic integrity. The impact of the contrast between African and other settlers is more emphatic
in the original text in Table 9. By initiating the t-unit not with the situation of the Africans, but with
that of the majority of other immigrants, the injustice of the situation of African immigrants is
rhetorically underlined. Halliday states that:
Themes play a fundamental part in the way a discourse is organized... In this process,
the main contribution comes from the thematic structure of independent clauses
(Halliday and Matthiessen, 2014, p.126).
North also states that: "Analysing theme at the level of t-unit rather than individual clause makes it
easier to focus on patterns of thematic development in large amounts of text" (North, 2005, p.439).
The intimate thematic connections between independent and dependent clauses as well as the
practicality of considering them together when analysing long tracts of text is therefore the
justification for choosing the t-unit as the unit of analysis for the present study.
25 t-units were selected from each of the 26 EEs which make up the corpus of the present analysis.
They were selected from each EE from the start of the introduction. The starting point of the
introduction was chosen over including also the abstract, as the real presenting and building of the
argument was observed to begin there. The IB Extended Essay Guide states that the introduction
should "explain the significance and context of the topic, why it is worthy of investigation and,
where appropriate, how the research question relates to existing knowledge" (Extended Essay
Guide, 2013, p.97). In contrast, the abstract can consist of "the research question, the scope of the
essay... and the conclusion" (ibid, p.98). The abstracts of the selected EEs represent a descriptive
rather than argumentative style of writing, with students not required to detail all the logical
reasoning that brought them to make the conclusions they did. As such, thematic choice and
progression are less vital to be able to write the abstract successfully than they are in the structuring
of the introduction and body of the EEs. Some of the introductions contained less than 25 t-units, in
which case others were taken from the start of the body of the EE. No difference was observed in
writing style between these two sections.
3.2.2 Orienting Themes identified
This section contains a more detailed analysis of textual, interpersonal and experiential Themes, as
outlined in section '1.2 Halliday's operationalisation of Theme'. For this purpose, 3 tables have been
reproduced from Halliday and Matthiessen's (2014) latest edition of 'An Introduction to Functional

Grammar'. This approach has been taken in order to avoid both lengthy written descriptions and
also lengthy citations. Any concepts in functional grammar which mirror those of traditional
grammar are not presented in detail, the focus instead being of functional concepts which group
words together in functional grammar which would not be considered to belong to one group under
traditional grammar. Topical themes are not analysed because they require no further explanation
than that they are realised through a nominal group, which is usually the grammatical subject. Each
of the three orienting themes is looked at in order below, textual, interpersonal and then
With regard to textual Themes, continuatives (yes, well, oh etc.) are not outlined here as they are
very unlikely to occur in formal, academic writing. Of the other two categories, conjunctions can
be separated, as in traditional grammar, under the categories of parataxis and hypotaxis. The
category which is however exclusive to functional grammar is conjunctive adjuncts. Halliday and
Matthiessen explain their function, "they set up a contextualizing relationship obtaining between the
clause as a message and some other (typically preceding) portion of text" (Halliday and
Matthiessen, 2014, p.157). They are realised through adverbial groups or prepositional phrases,
which is how they would be classified under traditional grammar. However, there are two other
types of adjunct, modal and circumstantial (exploration of these will follow below) which are also
realised through adverbial groups or prepositional phrases, and as such the function 'adjunct' in
functional grammar requires some more detailed explanation.
Firstly, in relation to conjunctive adjuncts which belong to the textual group of Themes, Halliday
and Matthiessen say they form a "logical-semantic relationships of expansion" (ibid, p.158) and that
they do this through cohesion, "that is, without creating a structural link in the grammar between the
two parts " (ibid, p.158). Table 10 below shows examples for all the categories of this form.


Some examples of conjunctive adjuncts







'i.e., e.g.'

that is, in other words, for instance



or rather, at least, to be precise


'in any case'

in any case, anyway, leaving that aside


'in short'

briefly, to sum up, in conclusion



actually, in fact, as a matter of fact



also, moreover, in addition, besides



on the other hand, however, conversely



instead, alternatively


meanwhile, before that, later on, next, soon, finally



likewise, in the same way



therefore, for this reason, as a result, with this in mind


'(if...) then'

in that case, under the circumstances, otherwise



nevertheless, despite that

III temporal

'as to that'
in this respect, as far as that's concerned
Table 10 - Conjunctive adjuncts (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2014, p.108)
As regards interpersonal themes, vocatives (i.e. a name used to address someone) are not expected
to occur in the current investigation into academic writing. In regards to the other two categories,
finite verbal operators are "the small set of finite auxiliary verbs construing primary tense or
modality" (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2014, p.108). Modality refers to the cline between positive
and negative, realised through the positive or negative forms of auxiliary verbs (is, isn't; do, don't;
can, can't etc.). These are considered as interpersonal themes simply because "they are the
unmarked Theme of yes/no questions" (ibid, p.108), and questions are by nature interpersonal. In
fact, not only questions, but the functional grammar concept of Mood (i.e. affirmative, negative,
interrogative and exclamative clauses) is by definition interpersonal. Halliday and Matthiessen
give the following examples; "statements (giving information), questions (demanding information),
offers (giving goods-&-services), and commands (demanding goods-&-services)" (ibid, p.97). For
the reason of simplicity, due to the fact of including the topical Theme, the author has decided to
treat all auxiliary verbs or wh-forms as interpersonal when part of an interrogative clause. In
relation to modal adjuncts, Halliday and Matthiessen state that they "express the speaker/writers
judgment on or attitude to the content of the message" (ibid, p.108). Examples of modal adjuncts
are given in Table 11 below.

Some examples of modal adjuncts







how likely?

probably, possibly, certainly, perhaps, maybe


how often?

usually, sometimes, always, (n)ever, often, seldom


how typical?

occasionally, generally, regularly, for the most part


how obvious?

of course, surely, obviously, clearly


I think

in my opinion, personally, to my mind


I admit

frankly, to be honest, to tell you the truth


I assure you

honestly, really, believe me, seriously


I request you

please, kindly


I presume

evidently, apparently, no doubt, presumably


how desirable? (un)fortunately, to my delight/distress, regrettably, hopefully


how reliable?

at first, tentatively, provisionally, looking back on it


how valid?

broadly speaking, in general, on the whole, strictly

speaking, in principle


how sensible?

(un)wisely, understandably, mistakenly, foolishly

how expected? to my surprise, surprisingly, as expected, by chance
Table 11 - Modal adjuncts (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2014, p.109)
Finally, we come to circumstantial adjuncts, which Halliday and Matthiessen (2014) define as "a
process that has become parasitic on another process. Instead of standing on its own, it serves as an
expansion of something else" (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2014, p.312). To illustrate this, the
example given on the same page as the previous quote is laid out below.
(a) relational, p.circumstantial Jack was building a house ...
1. when? (it was during)
throughout the year
Extent, p.duration
2. where? (it was at)
near the river
3. how? (it was by)
out of brick
Manner, p.means
4. why? (it was for)
for his retirement
Cause, p.purpose
5. under what conditions?
despite his illness
Contingency, p.concession
(b) relational, p.possessive
Jack was building a house ...
6. who with? (he had)
with his daughters
Accompaniment, p.comitation
(c) relational, p.intensive
Jack was building a house ...
7. what as? (it was)
as a vacation home
Role, p.guise
Figure 3 - Circumstantial adjuncts (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2014, p.312)
The italicised words in the third column in Fig. 3 are examples of categories of circumstantial
adjuncts, a full list of which is given below in Table 12.


Examples of circumstantial adjuncts


1. Extent

2. Location

3. Manner

4. Cause


Examples of realization


how far?

for; throughout
'measured' nominal group


how long?

for; throughout
'measured' nominal group


how many

'measured' nominal group


at, in, on, by, near; to, towards, into, onto, (away) from,
[there, here] out of, off, behind, in front of, above, below, under,
adverbs of place, p.abroad, overseas,
home, upstairs, downstairs, inside, outside, out, up,
down, behind; left, right, straight...; there, here


when? [then, at, in, on, to, until, till, towards, into, from, since,
during, before, after
adverb of time,, yesterday, tomorrow; now, then


how? [thus]

by, through, with, by means of, out of [+ material], from


how? [thus]

in + a + quality (e.g. dignified) + manner/way, with +

abstraction (e.g. dignity); according to
adverbs in -ly, -wise; fast, well; together, jointly,
separately, respectively


how? what

like, unlike; in + the manner of...

adverbs of comparison differently


how much?

to + a high/low... degree/extent:
adverbs of degree much, greatly, considerably, deeply
[often collocationally linked to lexical verb, e.g. love +
deeply, understand + completely]



because of, as a result of, thanks to, due to, for want of,
for, of, out of, through


why? what

for, for the purpose of, for the sake of, in the hope of


who for?

for, for the sake of, in favour of, against ['not in favour
of'], on behalf of


in case of, in the event of

5. Contingency condition



6. Accompaniment

7. Role


in default of, in the absence of, short of, without ['if it

had not been for']


despite, in spite of



with; without



as well as, besides; instead of


what as?

as, by way of, in the role/shape/guise/form of


what into?


8. Matter
9. Angle

what about? about, concerning, on, of, with reference to


according to, in the words of


to, in the view/opinion of, from the standpoint of

Table 12 - Types of circumstantial element (Halliday and Matthiessen 2014, p.313-4)


To be able to distinguish the functions of the three types of adjuncts, conjunctive, modal and
circumstantial, it is necessary to consider them in context of the clause. Halliday and Matthiessen
explain that the way to distinguish conjunctive and modal adjuncts from circumstantial is to
understand in which clause position each has unmarked intonational prominence. They argue that
conjunctive and modal adjuncts are by their nature thematic (i.e. they are unmarked when in the
Theme position), but when they occur at the end of the clause "occur finally as Afterthought.."
(Halliday and Matthiessen, 2014, p.158). An example given in his book is reproduced in Figure 4
below for the purposes of clarity.

it rains more heavily on the hill

(modal, p.comment) it rains more heavily, on the whole


it rains more heavily on the other side


it rains more heavily, on the other hand

Figure 4 - Circumstantial, modal and conjunctive adjuncts (Halliday and

Matthiessen, 2014 p.158)
As Fig. 4 demonstrates, in written form both modal and conjunctive are separated from the clause
by a comma, indicating a tonal change in speech. The circumstantial adjuncts however are not
divided orthographically from the clause and maintain the same tonal group as the rest of the clause
indicating that in Fig. 2 they are located in their unmarked position. Although Halliday argues that
when thematised, circumstantial adjuncts exhaust the thematic potential, as has been argued in
section '1.3 An alternative operationalisation of Theme', the current study includes both the
circumstantial adjunct and also the first participant in the clause found after it as thematic.
3.2.3 Which types of TP counted
In addition to the two types of TP detailed in section '1.5 Thematic progression', namely SLP and
CP, two further types of TP identified by Dane (1974) is that of the derived Theme and the split
Rheme, shown in Tables 15 and 16 below.


Derived Theme





were fighting in the trenches from which they shot at one

another with machine guns, heavy artillery and chemical
died in brutal conditions,
had any advantages.

Millions of soldiers
none of the sides

Figure 5 - Derived Theme illustrated with lines 3e23-3e25 from the corpus of the present study
The three Themes used in Figure 5 show three different Thematised elements which have been
derived from an over-riding, implicit Theme, which in this case is 'War', or knowing the argument
of this text in detail, more precisely 'The First World War'. This type of TP is controversial as it
functions only if the reader is able to infer the derived Theme from the more specific Themes used
in the text, usually through hyponymy or hypernymy. Prince describes psychological process
underlying derived TP depends on "if the speaker assumes that the hearer could have inferred it, via
logical or, more commonly, plausiblereasoning, from entities already Evoked, or from other
Inferrables" (Prince, 1979, p.271). Referring to Figure 5, as mentioned the derived Theme in this
case is 'The First World War', however it could have just quite easily been 'Fighting conditions in
the history of warfare'. The three t-units could alternatively be analysed as constant progression
from the first to the second, and the second to the third. Analysing the TP using only the elements
explicitly present in the text, while not completely eliminating the need for inference of semantic
hyponymy or hypernymy, does reduce the problem. McCabe explains the problem of derived TP is
that "there could feasibly be readers of these texts who do not make these inferences, who may not
connect these notions in their cognitive schema of the political world. " (McCabe, 1999, p.172).
For this reason of heightened subjectivity, the concept of derived Theme will not be applied in the
present study. Instead, when the link between elements of just two t-units is thought to be inferable
by an expert subject examiner, it will be assigned SLP or CP status as appropriate. If the inferred
link is considered to be too obscure, the Theme of the following t-unit will be assigned status of
'new Theme'.


Split Rheme


This quote of John F.


describes perfectly the conflict between the two superpowers, the

United States of America and the USSR, the main participants in
the Cold War from 1945 until 1990.


was a free two parties democracy with a capitalistic system of

was a one-party communist state with an economy 100% ruled by
the government.


Figure 6 - Split Rheme illustrated with lines 2a2-2a4 from the corpus of the present study

In the case of the split Rheme in Figure 6, two elements from the Rheme of the first t-unit are
developed as the Themes of the second and third t-units. In the current study, this type of
progression was identified only twice. For this reason, the instances of split Rheme have been
categorised as SLP (counted twice for the 2 Themes which connect to the Rheme of the first t-unit)
as they function in essentially the same way and taking this approach simplifies the statistical
analysis. One final type of TP which could have been analysed in the present study was identified
by McCabe (1999, p.175), that of the split Theme. This occurs when two aspects of a multiple
Theme are developed as the Themes of the following t-units. However, this structure was occurred
only once in the corpus of the present study (shown in Figure 7 below), and to include it in the
statistical analysis was counted as two occurrences of CP.
An example of Split-Theme
Orienting Theme

Topical Theme


Today, as the one

hundredth anniversary of
Alfred Dreyfus acquittal

many of the same

sentiments and

which divided France so long ago seem to be


The Dreyfus Affair

Zolas words of
Anti-semitism in

is as important as ever
still maintain their value.


which has a long and bitter history, is on the


Figure 7 - An example of split-Theme

In Figure 7, the topical Theme of the second t-unit is connected to the orienting Theme of the first,
and the topical Theme of the last t-unit is connected to the topical Theme of the first, making the
first t-unit a split-Theme. This case does however depend on considering the topical Theme as

Thematic, which was not done in all past studies which have found this form (see McCabe, 1999,
p.175). In a study of more sophisticated writing than was used in the majority of lower graded
papers in the present study, the analysis of both split-Rheme and split-Theme might provide
interesting results.

All the examples of TP given so far look at connections between adjoining t-units. However, given
the complexity of the many historical arguments which make up the corpus of the current study, TP
that creates links over greater spans of text will also be included. Dubois (1987) argues that, "To
Dane' (1974) 'linear' and 'constant' types, which are 'simple' and 'contiguous', must be added
'multiple' and 'gapped' development'" (Dubois 1987, p.89). This is particularly useful for mapping
topic continuity through the use of the topical Theme, which often displays a gapped CP pattern.
The examples given by Dubois (1987) include links over as many as 12 clauses. Given that the
corpus of the present study consists of text extracts totalling 25 t-units, which in practice covers one
to two A4 pages of text, it was decided that TP links can cover the entire length of the extracts.
For a reader who is able to comprehend the intended meaning of the texts, this length of gap is not
considered overly burdensome for their short term memory to integrate into a single, coherent
argument. All TP links will be evidenced through a numbering system, placed next to a Theme
which identifies the preceding thematic or rhematic element that it relates to.

The papers have been assigned a numbering system based on the subject grades they received, with
1 being the lowest (equivalent to a 'E' grade in the EE grading system) and 5 the highest (equivalent
to a 'A' grade in the EE grading system). Each paper has then been assigned a letter, simply to
distinguish each one, and finally a line number. Thus line '2a1' refers to the first paper in the
category which received a grade 2, and is the first line in the text. These line references have been
used to illustrate the connections found between Themes and Rhemes, some of which, as previously
mentioned, stretch over several t-units.
Finally, given the high number of empty Themes in the present study, totalling 7% of all topical
Themes, their inclusion in the analysis was judged to add value. The reason for this is that the
omitted Theme was considered to be easily and objectively identifiable, meaning that despite the
omission of a word, they anyway contribute to cohesion. Two examples using two different types
of TP are given in Table 13 below.


Examples 1 & 2 of omitted topical Themes

Orienting Theme

Topical Theme


The lack of freedom

Che witnessed through his

youth travels in 1951 and in
1953 strongly started to build
his revolutionary character

Example 1


led him to realize he wanted to

stand by all those men and
women whose struggle he

Example 2


give them a chance to express

themselves, to finally dare to
claim what they deserved.

Table 13 - Omitted topical Themes, lines 3f14-3f16 taken from the corpus of the present study
The omitted topical Theme in the example 1 can be easily identified as related to the Theme of the
previous t-unit, 'The lack of freedom', thereby creating CP structuring. The omitted Theme of
example 2 instead relates back to part of the Rheme in the previous t-unit, creating SLP structuring.
This is the only example in the corpus of the present study where two consecutive omitted t-units
employ different kinds of TP. A much more common occurrence (78% of omitted topical Themes)
was for the omitted Theme to refer back to the Theme of the previous t-unit, through CP, as shown
in Table 14 below.

Examples 3 & 4 of omitted topical Themes

Orienting Theme

Topical Theme


A failed state

is defined to be in a situation of
total state collapse,


is not able to perform its basic

security, and development
has no effective control over its
territory and borders.


finally admitted homosexuality


Example 3


Example 4
Throughout the 1880's and

were trying to find an

explanation for it.

Table 14 - Omitted topical Themes, lines 2b13-2b15 and taken from the corpus of the present study
The omitted Theme in example 3 and 4 alike refer back to the Theme of the previous t-unit, thereby

creating cohesion through CP structuring. The omitted Theme in example 3 refers back to 'it' in the
previous t-unit, which itself refers back to 'a failed state', the Theme of the first t-unit. The omitted
Theme in example 4 simply refers back to 'scientists', the Theme of the previous t-unit.


3.2.4 Hypotheses
Each statistical analysis in the present study focuses on the presence or absence of a linear
progression between two variables. For this reason, the most suitable statistical test was found to be
Pearson correlation. The dependent variable is subject grades given by the IB external examiners.
The independent variables tested are:
1. Use of all orienting Themes (including textual, interpersonal and experiential).
2. Use of textual Themes
3. Use of interpersonal Themes
4. Use of experiential Themes
5. Use of simple linear progression (linking the Rheme of a t-unit to the Theme of another)
6. Use of constant progression (linking the Theme of a t-unit to the Theme of another)
7. Ratio of simple linear progression to constant progression
In regard to these variables, the following hypotheses are made:
1. There will be a positive correlation between use of orienting Themes and subject grades.
2. There will be a weak or no correlation between use of textual Themes and subject
3. There will be a weak or no correlation between use of interpersonal Themes and
subject grades.
4. There will be a positive correlation between use of experiential Themes and subject
5. There will be a positive correlation between use of SLP and subject grades.
6. There will be a weak or no correlation between use of CP and subject grades.
7. There will be a positive correlation between the ratio of SLP to CP and subject grades.
I predict a correlation between the total orienting Themes used and subject grades, while also
stating that use of textual or interpersonal Themes will not be found to correlate. The reasoning
behind this is that even when simply scanning through the texts, without performing a detailed
analysis, I observed an increase in the quantity and length of thematised elements in the papers
which received higher grades. However, all the students seemed to employ a reasonable number of
textual Themes. This could reflect two issues already covered in the current study; the almost
exclusive focus on this area in academic writing textbooks, and the practice of some students to
attempt to disguise the poor structure of a text with surface-level cohesive elements. Regarding

interpersonal Themes, it was stated in section '3.2.2 Orienting Themes identified' that these are not
expected to be found in large numbers, which reflects the attempt to present information as
objective, a very basic characteristic of academic writing which all students are expected to have
attempted to incorporate into their writing. Finally, I also expect to find a positive correlation
between the use of experiential Themes and grade scores. As explained in section '3.2.2 Orienting
Themes identified', the natural position for the circumstantial adjuncts, through which experiential
Themes are most often realised, is at the end of the clause, meaning they are marked when in the
Theme position. It is hypothesized that due to their Thematic markedness, they are considered to be
a more complex rhetorical device. I therefore predict that experiential Themes will be used more by
students whose writing is of a generally higher level and so who also achieved higher subject
As for TP, it is hypothesized that greater use of SLP will correlate positively with subject grades,
while use of CP will not correlate with subject grades, and the ratio of SLP to CP will correlate
positively with subject grades. The reason for including three correlation analyses in the present
study was in reaction to the lack of correlations between the ratio of SLP to CP and grade scores in
previous studies (Jalilifar 2010; Wang 2007; Watson-Todd et al 2007; Almaden 2006; Belmonte and
McCabe 1998). Furthermore, the inclusion of the topical Theme in the present study is predicted to
emphasize the relative use of CP in higher-graded texts, which are expected to employ SLP in the
orienting Themes, while maintaining topic continuity through the use of CP in the topical Theme
(see Davies, 1997; Fries, 1995; Macdonald, 1992, 1994; Gosden, 1992, 1993; Lowe, 1987). It is
hoped that by including all these three analyses a correlation between SLP and subject grades might
be found even if the ratio of SLP to CP with subject grades is not found to correlate. The
implications of such a result will be discussed later if appropriate, suffice to say here that some
previous conceptions of the use of TP and academic writing style may have to be revised according
to the results of analytical studies, linked to the contexts in which they were performed.


4. Findings and Discussion

4.1 Orienting Themes
4.1.1 Total orienting Themes
Although a statistically significant correlation between total use of orienting Themes and subject
grades was found, it was not very strong (r=0.423, p<0.030) as evidenced by the relatively shallow
trend line in chart 1 below. This conforms to the hypothesis, but in being so weak cannot be
considered as a generalisable result.

Use of orienting Themes

Number of orienting Themes used

1a 1b 2a 2b 2c 2d 2e 2f 2g 2h 2i 3a 3b 3c 3d 3e 3f 3g 3h 3i 4a 5a 5b 5c 5d 5e
Papers from lowest to highest grade

Chart 1 - Total use of orienting Themes by subject grade received

Looking more in detail, Chart 2 below gives the average number of orienting Themes used
according to subject grades attained. A distinct increase in the use of all orienting Themes can be
observed in the papers which received a grade 4 or 5, which is principally due to the combined use
of textual and experiential Themes. However, as shown in Chart 3 below, there was a large amount
of variation between individual papers in the study, especially related to the use of interpersonal
Themes. A detailed exploration of the use of the three types of orienting Themes follows in sections
4.1.2-4.1.4 below.


Median use of all orienting Themes


Use of orienting Themes




Papers grouped by subject grade

Chart 2 - Median use of all orienting Themes











Number of orienting Themes

Total orienting Themes used

Papers ordered from lowest to highest grade

Chart 3 - Use of orienting Themes by paper


4.1.2 Textual Themes

As hypothesized, there was no statistically significant correlation found between use of textual
Themes and subject grades (r=0.327, p<0.102). Chart 4 below shows the distribution of results with
a trend line, which although rising slightly according to grade score, remains within a narrow range
from 5-7.5.

Use of textual Themes

Number of textual Themes used

1a 1b 2a 2b 2c 2d 2e 2f 2g 2h 2i 3a 3b 3c 3d 3e 3f 3g 3h 3i 4a 5a 5b 5c 5d 5e

Chart 4 - Use of textual Themes

Due to the adopting of the t-unit as the unit of analysis, many common paratactic conjunctions,
particularly 'and' and 'but' were found as textual Themes. In fact, just these two conjunctions
account for 32% of all textual Themes found in the analysis of the present study. These were used
in the same proportions throughout all the texts, that is no positive or negative correlation was
found between the use of these basic conjunctions and grade scores (r=0.028, p<0.890). In relation
to studies which found over or underuse of certain linking adverbials (Bolton et al 2002; Milton et
al. 1993; Crewe 1992; Field et al 1992), the papers were collectively compared for the overuse of
conjunctions and connective adjuncts against the 2-million word, hand-checked 'British National
Corpus Sampler Education', accessed through the text coding tool 'WMatrix3' by Paul Rayson at


Lancaster University1. In all the texts, there was overuse of the basic conjunctions 'and, but, or'
temporal adverbs and conjunctions 'since, before, when, after, until, while', some contrastive
conjunctions like 'although, whereas, while' and finally the hypothesizing conjunctions 'if, even if,
even though, whether'. The overuse of some of these groups, for instance temporal adverbs and
conjunctions and the hypothesizing conjunctions, can be accounted for by the subject matter, that is
the papers were written about historical events. Other groups however, particularly the use of basic
conjunctions, reflects the fact that the students who wrote these papers were still in High School, the
EE being their very first attempt at adopting an academic style in their writing. The texts were also
grouped according to the subject grade they received, but no great variation in the use of textual
Themes between the collective papers of each subject grade was observed.
As observed in section '3.1 The corpus', no correlation was found between student's first languages
and their subject grades. However, the lack of differences in the use of textual Themes would
appear to contradict studies which showed variation in this according to a student's first language
(Christopher et al., 2000), as well as studies linking variety of textual Themes with overall text
cohesion (Wei, 2013a; Melios, 2011). The lack of change in the use of textual Themes might also
be accounted for by the fact that the students who produced the papers which make up the corpus of
the present study were all completing the final year of the IB Diploma Programme, a very vigorous
pre-university qualification in which they study the majority of subjects in English and for the most
part attend international schools were also the common social language with at least some of their
fellow students is English.
4.1.3 Interpersonal Themes
As hypothesized, there was no correlation between the use of interpersonal Themes and subject
grades (r=0.070, p<0.732). The majority of these interpersonal Themes were questions, with very
few comment adverbials used. Chart 5 below displays the irregular and highly individual use of
interpersonal Themes in the extracts from the 26 papers.

1 See

Use of interpersonal Themes

Number of interpersonal Themes used

1a 1b 2a 2b 2c 2d 2e 2f 2g 2h 2i 3a 3b 3c 3d 3e 3f 3g 3h 3i 4a 5a 5b 5c 5d 5e

Chart 5 - Use of interpersonal Themes

Very few interpersonal Themes were found in total, as hypothesized, and of those identified 95%
were question forms, with only 2 instances of comment adverbials occurring in the same text, 'sadly'
(5b9) and 'more importantly' (5b24). This corroborates the findings of other studies which found a
limited use interpersonal Themes in the humanities (Embrahimi and Khedri 2011; Idding 2008;
Whittaker 1995). In fact, apart from the two comment adverbs mentioned above, the only
phenomena observed was the overuse of rhetorical questions in some of the lower graded papers.
Table 15 below shows a grade 1 paper containing 11 consecutive rhetorical questions, 6 of which
were subject questions, and so have been classified under topical Theme.

Example of use of rhetorical questions

Orienting Theme

Topical Theme


Which Muslims

are most susceptible?

Who and what

rather than other religions?

converts them?

and where is

What information

is used
obtained from?



What pushes


solid ground for their

grievances against the West?
to the point where they are
prepared to die for their

Why especially


Who or what

is really to blame for the

terrorist actions?

What actions,

Para. 2



if any, should be taken to try

and curtail them?
be taken by the West, the
international community or the
islamic community?


any remedies
What justice

should preside, Democratic or

Table 15 - Overuse of rhetorical questions, lines 1a3-1a14 from the corpus of the present study
This is hypothesized to have been employed by some individual students as a rhetorical device used
to disguise the lack of clear structuring in their texts. The above is an extreme example, and as
demonstrated in section '4.1.3 Interpersonal Themes', the tendency to use interpersonal Themes
(95% of which are rhetorical questions) was distributed evenly across the range of subject grades.
4.1.4 Experiential Themes
Contrary to the hypothesis, there was no correlation found between experiential Themes and subject
grades (r=0.347, p<0.082). As can be seen in chart 6 below, there is a slight increase in the use of
experiential Themes according to grade score, but only between the narrow band of 3.5-6.

Use of experiential Themes

Frequency of experiential Themes








Chart 6 - Use of experiential Themes


Although no correlation was observed with subject grades, a positive, if only moderately strong,
correlation was found between length of experiential Theme and subject grade (r=0.448, p<0.021).
This supports similar findings related to history texts in other studies, North (2005), Lovejoy (1998)
and Taylor (1983). The definition of long experiential Themes used in the present study was those
which contained 10 words or more. Chart 7 below shows the distribution of these longer
experiential Themes across the texts ordered according to subject grade.

Number of experiential Themes of 10 words or more

Use of long experiential Themes

1a 1b 2a 2b 2c 2d 2e 2f 2g 2h 2i 3a 3b 3c 3d 3e 3f 3g 3h 3i 4a 5a 5b 5c 5d 5e

Chart 7 - Use of experiential Themes of 10 words or more

These longer experiential Themes consist of finite and non-finite dependent clauses, adverbial
clauses of time, prepositional phrases, and conjunctive adjunct phrases. Table 16 below gives 2
examples of the combined use of long experiential clauses with SLP structuring.

Example 1&2 - Long experiential Themes

Orienting Theme

Topical Theme


Example 1
In 1985,

the French military

refused to accept a statue of

Dreyfus for the Ecole Militaire
which had been commissioned
by the president Francois

When it was finally displayed in Dreyfus tomb

the corner of the Tuileries
gardens in 1988,5b7

was defaced with swastikas

and anti-Semitic graffiti.


Example 2
The author of this investigation will therefore argue that the
Rwandan genocide in 1994 to a
great extent was a result of the
colonial legacy.
In order to determine the
importance of the colonial
legacy as a cause of the

the investigation

will first examine the origins of

the Hutu and Tutsi identities.

Table 16 - Long experiential Themes, lines 5a3-5a4, 5a23-5a24 from the corpus of the present study
In example 1, the information contained in the Rheme of the first t-unit is picked up in the long
experiential Theme of the second t-unit, allowing the writer to then present a new Theme without
compromising cohesion. Example 2, on the other hand, uses the same SLP link between the Rheme
of the first t-unit and the long experiential Theme of the second, in order to allow the topical Theme
to link back to that of the first through CP structuring, which in this case allows the writer to
maintain topic continuity while not compromising local cohesion. This observation supports
similar findings in other studies (Davies,1997; Fries, 1995; MacDonald, 1994, 1992; Gosden, 1993,
1992; Lowe, 1987). The interplay of orienting and topical Themes with patterns of TP in these two
examples lends support to all the researchers who argue for the inclusion of both in thematic
analyses (Martin and Rose 2003; Forey 2002; Davies 1997; Fries 1995; Gosden 1992 1993;
MacDonald 1992 1994).
Table 17 below presents another 2 examples of the interplay of orienting Themes, specifically long
experiential Themes, and topical Themes.
Example 3 & 4 - Long experiential Themes
Orienting Theme

Topical Theme


Example 3
According to a modern
a group of six youngsters
newspaper account, on the 8th
of December 1876,

who had recently returned from

England, after being taken
there by Le Lecheur for
education, bringing with them
football equipment, "met to play
the first game on the northeastern side of La Sabana", the
main park in San Jos at the

Example 4
Already a large and diverse city Shanghai
with a substantial foreign

was the only city with no entry

visa requirements for Jewish

Table 17 - Long experiential Themes, lines 5d17, 5e4 from the corpus of the present study


Here, both the orienting and topical Themes are new Themes which do not contribute to local
cohesion. However, as observed by North (2005), example 3 grounds the information which is to
come in the t-unit as constructed knowledge. North contrasts the epistemological approaches of the
arts and science students in her study as:
embody[ing] divergent views of history, one seeing it as constructed through the
interpretation of historians, the other seeing it as dealing with an objective reality in
which the facts speak for themselves (North, 2005, p.441).
The t-unit in example 3 refers to a primary source rather than a historian, but nevertheless employs
the same approach of viewing knowledge as contested. Example 4 does not apply this approach,
but in a similar way to example 2 (with the difference that here it is a new Theme) the writer allows
for continuation of the main argument through the topical Theme by placing additional information
about it in the orienting Theme. Bestgen and Vonk (2000) also corroborate this in an experimental
setup where participants read texts in which one clause began with a simple Theme using CP, a new
Theme, and a temporal adverb orienting Theme before a new topical Theme. They found that
readers took more time to process a new Theme than a simple Theme using CP, but that this
difference was not present when the new Theme was preceded by what they term a 'segmentation
marker', that is a temporal adverb which helps the reader locate the subsequent information into the
general concerns of the text. Sarda, Carter-Thomas, Fagard and Charolles (2014) identify two types
of adverbials, 'Discourse Structure Markers' (DSMs) and 'Intersubjective Discourse Markers'
(IDMs). DSMs "establish links either with backwards (conjunct) of forwards (adjunct)", while
IDMs "do not link up with linguistic elements before or after their host sentence" (Sarda et al, 2014,
p.14). Both categories cover all three kinds of orienting Themes used in the present study with the
examples of long experiential Themes given in Table 16 which employ SLP fall into Sarda et. al's
(ibid) category of DSMs, and the examples given in Table 17 which promote intra-clause cohesion
falling into the category of IDMs. When these IDMs occur in the orienting Theme they contribute
to cohesion within the clause, while not limiting the possibility of the topical Theme in promoting
overall text cohesion. All the long experiential Themes given in Tables 21 and 22 depend on the
thematised status for their cohesive functions, as opposed to textual Themes which, due to their
grammaticalised status as cohesive devices, "can be used as such in other positions" (ibid, p.20).
Consequently, their thematisation reveals the intention of the writer to use them as cohesive devices,
which was a strategy used statistically more often in the papers which received higher subject


4.2 Thematic Progression

4.2.1 Simple linear progression
In line with the hypothesis, a strong correlation was found between use of SLP and subject grades
(r=0.645, p<0.0003). As can be seen from the trend line in chart 8 below, the median use of SLP
rose from 3.5 for the lowest graded papers to 8.5 for the highest. The way in which SLP was used
also changed according to the grade of a paper, as will be examined in the discussion section which

Use of simple linear progression


Frequency of SLP

1a 1b 2a 2b 2c 2d 2e 2f 2g 2h 2i 3a 3b 3c 3d 3e 3f 3g 3h 3i 4a 5a 5b 5c 5d 5e

Chart 8 - Use of simple linear progression

This strong correlation supports similar results identified by other empirical studies (Medve and
Taka 2013; Melios 2011; Jalilifar 2010). An observation from the current study focuses not only
on the total use of SLP, but how it is sometimes used in clusters. Table 18 below gives examples of
SLP used multiple times in consecutive sentences in single paragraphs. All Themes using SLP have
been placed in italics, with the words they refer to in the previous t-unit have been underlined.


4 examples of simple linear progression

Orienting Theme

Topical Theme


Example 1
After World War One and as of Lebanon

was under French Mandate,

during the French Mandate a lot
of religious missionaries mainly
from France and Europe, all
with Christian backgrounds
(Church of England, Catholics,
Orthodox Church), established
bases in Lebanon chiefly due to
its large Christian community.

The Christian and European


wanted to promote their

religion, language and ways of
life through means of education
and local welfare to the people.


was done by improving existing

facilities for the public in
medical areas, public facilities,
education and e.t.c.


lead to the expansion and deep

rooting of the French language
in the country from which
mainly the Christian
community benefited.

The main aim of this essay

is to show that, and explain

how, music has played a key
role throughout African
American history in the
development of their society.

Example 2

The development of black music has facilitated important

changes in the advancement and
specifically the integration of
African American culture.
Extending from the
emancipation right through to
the present day

this major role of music

is evident in the fluctuation of

African American society.

Example 3
Following the first slave ship of their numbers

These agricultural areas

grew at an incredibly fast rate to

support the massive growth of
cotton and other labour
intensive agriculture.
lay largely in the southern


It was

these southern states

that primarily formed the centre

of African American presence,
where they were numerically by
far the majority ethnic group.


have described the Japanese

openness to Jews taking refuge
in Shanghai as among the most
difficult historical problems to

In 1943,

a change in Japanese

suddenly forced Jewish

refugees to leave their homes



enter a small designated area

which was under strict curfew.

This area

became known as the

Hongkew Ghetto.

Conditions in the ghetto

were poor,

Example 4

Table 18 - 4 examples of SLP, lines 3c17-3c19, 33g1.3g3, g10-3g12, 5e12-5e15 f

The single pronoun 'this' or 'these' can be used to create SLP by referring back to the previous tunit(s), as can be seen in example 1 of Table 18 above. In fact, of all the SLP Themes identified in
the present study, 28% contained the word 'this/these' or 'this/these + noun', the noun helping to
identify the referenced words, for example 'this major role' in the last t-unit of example 2. Example
3 once again shows two SLP Themes, with the minor difference that the last t-unit contains a
predicated Theme. Example 4 contains 4 SLP Themes, one of which is an empty Theme, which
refers to 'Jewish refugees' from the Rheme of the previous t-unit. There were more examples of
isolated rather than grouped SLP Themes in the corpus as a whole, with 60% SLP structuring
occurring alone, while the other 40% occurred with an adjacent t-unit with SLP, that is in clusters.
The analysis presented some more complex combinations of TP used, which will be looked at in the
section '4.3 Combinations of Theme choice with TP' below.
With respect to the correlation mentioned in section '4.3.1 Orienting Themes' between the length of
an experiential Theme and subject grade, a similar, slightly stronger correlation was found between
the use of SLP in orienting Themes and subject grade (r=0.492, p<0.010). Chart 9 below shows the
distribution of the frequency of SLP in orienting Themes across the papers in the study.


Use of simple linear progression in orienting Themes


SLP in orienting Themes

1a 1b 2a 2b 2c 2d 2e 2f 2g 2h 2i 3a 3b 3c 3d 3e 3f 3g 3h 3i 4a 5a 5b 5c 5d 5e

Chart 9 - Use of SLP in orienting Themes

Although it can be seen that 11 papers did not use SLP structuring in their orienting Themes at all, a
gradual increase in those which did does seem to follow the trend line. However, this correlation is
not as strong as that for the overall use of SLP, reflecting the fact that some papers which used high
levels SLP in total (5b, 5c, 5e, see 'Chart 8 - Use of simple linear progression' above) employed
them mostly in the topical Theme position. An example of the use of SLP in orienting Themes is
given in Table 19 below, again SLP Themes are italicised while the Rhemes they relate to have been

An example of the use of simple linear progression in orienting Themes

Orienting Theme

Topical Theme


A fourth source, Fernando

Naranjo Madrigal,

brings both versions together,

p."From 1876 a few Costa
Rican and English sportsmen
were already playing on the
fields of 'La Sabana'... in 1897
Oscar Pinto Fernndez arrived
[in Costa Rica] from England,
where he had been carrying out
his studies... Pinto had the idea
of playing football [here
Naranho goes on to quote


Basically, what this would seem it

to show is that while the sport
was originally introduced in
Even then,

was not until 1897 that it caught

the public imagination.

struggled to impose itself

completely, as can be seen
from a fragment of newspaper
from 1901, p."We had already
thought [football] was in its
grave, turned into a corpse"

Table 19 - An example of SLP use in orienting Themes, taken from lines 5d21-5d23 from the corpus
of the present study
While the orienting Theme in the second t-unit is as a long experiential Theme, that of the third tunit is only 2 words long, indicating that SLP use in orienting Themes does not always coincide
with the use of a long experiential Theme. Also, the topical Theme in the second t-unit is the
temporal use of 'it', while the topical Theme in the third t-unit refers back to 'the sport' in the
orienting Theme of the second, using CP. This illustrates again the combining effects of orienting
and topical Themes in creating cohesion in a text.
4.2.2 Constant progression
As hypothesized, there was no correlation found between the use of CP and subject grades (r=0.242,
p<0.233). As can be seen in chart 10 below, a very shallow trend line indicates a slight increase
related to subject grades, but the band is very narrow, from 9-12.

Use of constant progression

Frequency of constant progression








Chart 10 - Use of constant progression


This contradicts other studies (Melios 2011; Wang 2010; Ma 2001) which found higher levels of CP
in texts written by students with a higher level of proficiency in English. Analysing the data more
closely, 4 distinct realisations of CP were observed:
- Repetition - using the exact phrase as in the Theme of a preceding t-unit
- Inference - using Themes which are semantically related but not the same as the Theme of
a preceding t-unit
- Anaphoric Pronoun - using a pronoun to replace a proper noun
- Omission - when the complement of one t-unit implies that the omitted Theme is an
implicit repetition of the Theme of a preceding t-unit
The difference between 'inference CP' (my own terminology) and derived Theme, which was not
included in the present study, is the length of t-units over which they can apply. Inference links
have been applied over the full length of 25 t-units of each text included in the present study.
Derived Theme on the other hand has only been applied to consecutive t-units (Dane 1974),
making it very applicable to certain genres of text such as legal or scientific reports, but not easily
applicable to others, such as the student writing in the corpus of the present study. Chart 11 below
shows the distribution of the four realisations of CP.

Use of Types of constant progression

Total types of CP used



1a 1b 2a 2b 2c 2d 2e 2f 2g 2h 2i 3a 3b 3c 3d 3e 3f 3g 3h 3i 4a 5a 5b 5c 5d 5e

Chart 11 - Different realisations of constant progression


Of these 4 categories, only 'inference CP' resulted in a strong positive correlation with subject
grades (r=0.599, p<0.001). Below are 4 text extracts containing examples of this type of CP taken
from the corpus of this study. In relation to possible accusations of a heightened level of
subjectivity in inference Themes, the examples illustrate that a reader without even subject-specific
knowledge could identify the Themes as being connected. Inference Themes have been italicised,
with the Themes they relate having been underlined in Table 20 below.
4 examples of inference constant progression
Orienting Theme

Topical Theme


The governing elite

were scared of the dark

thought that these dark masses
could be controlled by fear, as
the Empress Alexandra once
said, p.Russia should always
be controlled under the whip.

Example 1


The Ruling class

didn't want to educate the

peasants because they could
possibly threaten their own

Alfred Nobel

had a great respect for hard

sciences in that he knew
these disciplines obviously
exert enormous power over
world affairs and human life..
was amazing

Example 2

His foresight
and ever since

his death

these sciences have expanded


Later during the Bronze Age,

Minoan culture


Mycenaean civilisation

developed on the Island of

developed on the main land.

But during the Heroic age

1300-800 BC,


became the first advanced

civilisation in Europe.

many of the same sentiments

and prejudices

which divided France so long

ago seem to be resurfacing.

The Dreyfus Affair

is as important as ever

Zolas words of wisdom

Anti-semitism in France,

still maintain their value.

which has a long and bitter
history, is on the rise.

Example 3

Example 4
Today, as the one hundredth
anniversary of Alfred Dreyfus
acquittal passes,


Table 20 - 4 examples of inference constant progression, taken from lines 2h23-2h25, 3a13-3a15,
3b22-3b24, 5b3-5b6 form the corpus of the present study
Four different ways of creating inference were identified, using synonyms, possessive adjectives,
words of the same semantic category, and re-phrasing. In example 1 of Table 19 above, the second
t-unit uses the pronoun 'they', but the third uses the synonym 'The Ruling class' for the original
Theme 'The governing elite'. Example 2 uses two topical Themes with the possessive adjective
'his', to refer to attributes of 'Alfred Nobel'. Example 3 uses two topical Themes, 'Mycenaean
civilisation' and 'Greece', which belong to the same semantic category as the Theme of the first tunit, 'Minoan culture'. In this case it could be argued that subject-specific knowledge is necessary
to make these connections. However, the semantically related words 'culture' and 'civilisation',
together with the repetition of 'civilisation' in the Rheme of the third t-unit means that even though
the researcher of the present study didn't have specialized knowledge about this period of history,
links intended by the writer between the Themes of the t-units were evident. Although this example
which could fall under Dane (1974) category of derived Theme, the researcher found it more
productive to group it with other inference CPs which did not necessarily occur in consecutive tunits. For instance, example 4 uses summarising phrases in only the second and fourth t-units; the
topical theme of the second t-unit 'The Dreyfus Affair' re-phrases the words 'Alfred Dreyfus'
acquittal' in the orienting Theme of the first t-unit, the third t-unit presents a new Theme, before the
fourth t-unit topical Theme 'Anti-semitism in France' rephrases the topical Theme of the first t-unit
'many of the same sentiments and prejudices'. Using inference CP allows a writer to expand the
range of vocabulary they employ while maintaining links necessary for local cohesion at the same
time as allowing small shifts in the focus of the main argument, making for a richer text overall.
Inference CP does however require a level of semantic inference from the reader which certainly
depends on the knowledge of the reader, but more importantly on the ability of the writer to
communicate such links clearly. The involvement of semantic analysis however is very much in the
spirit of Functional Grammar itself, and so should not be rejected as an important tool in text
analysis because it does not conform to the approaches of traditional grammar. Ho-Dac, Fabre,
Pry-Woodley and Rebeyrolle (2010) refer to this type of CP links as 'Topical Chains'. As found in
all the examples in Table 20, they state that there is a "strong association between the sentence topic
and grammatical subject" (Ho-Dac et al., 2010, p.5). Contrary to the present study, Ho-Dac et al.
also include anaphoric pronouns in their categorisation of topical chains. These function similarly
to inference CP, but they were not found to correlate with subject grades. This indicates that they
are widely used in all the texts in this study, including those which lack inference CP and use of
SLP, particularly in long experiential Themes. Anaphoric pronouns work together with inference


CP in making the higher-graded texts cohesive, but without inference CP and SLP, they are not
sufficient on their own in making the lower-graded texts achieve the same level of cohesion.
Although there was no correlation between use of repetition in CP and subject grades, it was
identified by the researcher as potentially problematic in some texts. Table 21 below gives 3
examples of this phenomena, with the repetition CP in italics, and the Theme they relate to being

3 examples of repetition constant progression

Orienting Theme

Topical Theme


Pierre Elliot Trudeau

will be remembered by many

as one of the most famous and
prominent Canadian Prime
became the leader of the
Liberal Party of Canada in

Example 1




redefined and reshaped

Canada with a different type of
government throughout his time
in office (1968.1979 19801984).
was the longest serving head of
government with a deep rooted
sense of French and English

Example 2

will begin by illustrating what

the Anglophone African states
inherited from their colonial
master, the United Kingdom, as
regards democratic institutions.

will then define democracy and

how the definition may have
evolved over time.
will continue by explaining how
democracy spread around the




describe the incidents and

events that illustrate the anti
and pro democratic actions of
the thirteen states researched.
will evaluate whether the
populations of four of these
countries have benefited in
terms of economic and social
development, therefore
answering the question:


Example 3
Che Guevara (14th June 1928 9th October 1967).
A name
that represents a wide variety
of symbolic signif icance,
a name
a name

that echoes with the word

that stands for freedom linked
to communist ideas.
also reminds many of the
mythical Cuban rebellion, of the
war which occurred between an
unsatisfied population and its
dogmatic dictatorial

Table 21 - 3 examples of repetition CP, taken from lines 2e3-2e6, 3h4-3h8, 3i1-3i4 from the corpus
of the present study
Example 1 in Table 21 above uses a repetition in the second t-unit. 'Trudeau', followed by a pronoun
in the third t-unit 'he', which is then repeated in the fourth. There were multiple examples of
repeated pronouns such as this in the corpus, the first of which was always assigned as a pronoun
CP, as it was connected to a proper noun in the previous t-unit, with following examples of the same
pronoun assigned repetition status. A clear example of repetition of pronouns is given in example 2,
with three repetitions of 'I' and an empty Theme which was also assigned as repetition, as the
omitted Theme was identified as identical to that of the previous t-unit. Example 3 uses one
inference CP 'a name' referring to 'Che Guevara' in the first t-unit, but which is then repeated in the
third and fourth t-units before the topical Theme of the first t-unit is again repeated. Although it
could be argued that repetition in this case was used to heighten dramatic effect, repetition CP was
used 10 times in this text, compared to a median usage of 3.76 times in the other texts of the corpus.
Unfortunately, no previous literature detailing the different possibilities for the realisation of CP
were identified, so no comparison can be made to other studies.

4.2.3 Ratio of Simple linear progression to constant progression

Contrary to the hypothesis, there was no correlation found between the ratio of SLP to CP and
subject grades (r=0.306, p<0.128). As can be seen in chart 12 below, not only is the trend line
shallow, but there is also a lot of variance between individual papers at all grade score levels, except
the grade 5 texts.

Ratio of simple linear progression to constant progression


Ratio of SLP to CP

1a 1b 2a 2b 2c 2d 2e 2f 2g 2h 2i 3a 3b 3c 3d 3e 3f 3g 3h 3i 4a 5a 5b 5c 5d 5e

Chart 12 - Ratio of simple linear progression to constant progression

The present study contests the affirmation by Soleymanzadeh and Gholami's (2014) that better
written more cohesive essays also have high ratios of SLP to CP. Other studies have identified
overuse of CP in student writing (Jalilifar 2010; Wang 2007; Watson-Todd et al. 2007; Almaden
2006; Ma 2001;Belmonte & McCabe 1998) as a barrier to students improving cohesion. However,
some studies have presented a more complex picture (Melios 2011; Wang 2010), indicating that
students need to master a range of different types of TP to produce cohesive writing. The following
section gives an example of how different types of TP can be effectively combined.
4.3 Combinations of Theme choice with TP
To illustrate the effective combination of Theme choice and TP, a longer extract of 13 t-units has
been taken from a single text, 5a, from the corpus, shown in Table 22 below. The same colourcoding has been used as in the corpus itself. Reference numbering has been used to make explicit
the links between any Theme and the preceding content it refers to, which has been underlined.
Notes have been inserted immediately after the lines they refer to.


Theme Choice

Thematic progression



The interaction of Theme choice and thematic progression

Orienting Theme

Topical Theme


the biggest genocide

the world has seen
since World War II

took place in Rwanda.

Paragraph 1

In 1994


Located in the Great the earlier Belgian

Lakes Region of
Central Africa,

was in April 1994 populated by about

7,776,000 people.

Note 1 - 5a2 - the two SLP Themes link to and expand upon the Rheme 'Rwanda' in 5a1.

In the course of six


the Interahamwe

whose aim it was to clean Rwanda of

cockroaches, had reduced the population by
11%, killing 800,000 Tutsis and moderate

Note 2 - 5a3 - two new Themes are used to introduce the details of the massacre in an abrupt

In a massacre
where the daily
killing rate was at
least five times as
high as in the Nazi
death camps,5a3

the rule

was: either you kill or you get killed.

Note 3 - 5a4 - an SLP Theme is used in the orienting Themes, allowing for a new Theme to
be presented again with some rhetorical impact
Paragraph 2

The Rwanda

was genocide of one group of people, the

Tutsi, by another, the Hutu.


Two groups,5a5

who had been living together on the same hill

tops, spoken the same language
shared the same religion for centuries.




Note 4 - the topical Theme of 5a5 refers back to the orienting Theme of 5a4. 5a6 uses SLP in
the topical Theme to build the description step-by-step. A final omitted Theme is used in
5a7, which again contributes to the step-by-step construction of the paragraph.
Paragraph 3



The history of the

Rwandan genocide5a5

is one of extreme and seemingly absurd



is a historical process that can be analysed,



To investigate the
causes of the
genocide is
interesting and even



understanding the

studied and explained.

can create a better understanding of similar
conflicts in other decolonized countries.

can give useful guidance on how to avoid

conflict in the future.

Note 5 - Two different but connected Themes are developed. 5a8 and 5a9 refer back to the
Theme of the previous paragraph, 'The Rwanda genocide', while changing the focus slightly
by adding 'the history'. 5a10 and 5a11 then refer initially through SLP and then CP to the
Rheme of 5a9, that is the interest of the writer in exploring this history.
Paragraph 4

The incident that

unleashed the

was the death of President Habyarimana, as

his plane got shot down on 6th April 1994.


This assassination5a12

happened in the context of the civil war,

initiated by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)
invasion in October 1990.

Note 6 - 5a12 picks up again on the history of and need to understand the genocide by
connecting back to the topical Themes of the previous paragraph. 5a13 completes the
extract by expanding upon the factual affirmation which makes up the Rheme of 5a12.
Table 22 - The interaction of Theme choice and TP, taken from lines 5a1-5a13 from the corpus of
the present study
Reading through the notes made in Table 22, it is possible to appreciate the complexity of the links
made both between t-units and also between paragraphs in the text. CP structuring is used to carry
forward the main message and direction of the text, SLP is used to expand upon the immediately
preceding t-unit, and new Themes are used to add emphasis and rhetorical impact to the message of
a particular t-unit. Regarding Theme choice, as noted in section '4.1.4 Experiential Themes', there
is an overlapping of the use of long experiential Themes with SLP structuring. Interestingly, the use
of textual Themes is limited both in number as well as complexity. The structuring of this extract is
achieved through a combination of Thematic choices and TP and their semantic content. This is a
much more effective method of creating cohesion than trying to impose a wide range of textual
Themes, which by their nature are abstract, that is, they cannot be assigned any status under TP, that
is they cannot refer to the particular text where they occur. There are no clusters of SLP as was
shown in section 'Table 18 - 4 examples of simple linear progression', but this does not harm the
cohesive qualities of the text. Instead the interplay between the different types of TP and Theme
choice above create a logical, flowing text.


5. Conclusion
5.1 Conclusion
With respect to Theme choice, although a positive correlation was found between total use of
orienting Themes and subject grades, none of the categories of orienting Theme (textual,
interpersonal, experiential) correlated alone with subject grades. There was overuse of some
conjunctions related to the category of textual Themes, namely 'and, but, or', temporal adverbs and
conjunctions 'since, before, when, after, until, while', some contrastive conjunctions like 'although,
whereas, while' and finally the hypothesizing conjunctions 'if, even if, even though, whether'. The
first group was hypothesized to have been overused due to the participants' lack of experience in
academic writing, while the overuse of the other three groups could relate to the discipline in which
the students wrote: history. Interpersonal Themes were used sparingly in the majority of papers, but
were overused in the form of rhetorical questions in 3 individual papers. While no correlation was
found between the use of experiential Themes and subject grades, a positive correlation was found
between those equal to or over 10 words in length. It was observed that these longer experiential
Themes in the higher-graded papers had a double function. They often coincided with the use of
simple linear progression and therefore contributing to local cohesion while freeing the topical
Theme to present new information or to contribute to the topic continuity through constant
progression of Themes.
Regarding thematic progression, there was no correlation was found between the ratio of simple
linear progression to constant progression and subject grades as in previous studies (Wang 2007;
Watson-Todd et al. 2007; Almaden 2006; Ma 2001;Belmonte & McCabe 1998). However, other
interesting correlations were identified. Firstly, a strong correlation was found between the use of
simple linear progression and subject grades, which was in line with other recent studies (Medve
and Taka 2013; Melios 2011; Jalilifar 2010). Different configurations of these SLP Themes were
found, namely in clustered t-units, and in orienting Themes (most commonly experiential Themes
as mentioned above). No correlation between the use of constant progression and subject grades
was found, although when broken down into categories, those which were not simple repetitions,
pronouns or omitted Themes but which had inferable links to previous Themes were found to
correlate with subject grades. Examples were given to illustrate that the inferences involved did not
depend on subject-specific knowledge, and therefore were intentional links built in by the writer as
they could be expected to be recognised by most readers. Finally, an extract from one particular
text showed the combined use of new Themes, simple linear progression, constant progression and

textual, experiential Themes in both orienting and topical Theme positions. It was observed that in
utilizing long experiential Themes which also function as simple linear progression structuring
elements, the need to use a wide range of textual Themes, that is conjunctions or conjunctive
adjuncts, to create cohesion was eliminated. This was deemed beneficial to the overall cohesion of
the text as the cohesive elements also contained semantic information relevant to the argument of
the text. Also, the complex interactions between contrasting functions, such as SLP and new
Themes, was seen to enrich the structure of the text. This analysis highlighted the possibilities that
lie in going beyond the correlations of global categories like SLP to CP, and looking for both subcategories of these functions as well as analysing the complex interactions of all elements present in
highly-cohesive text. All of these observations support the teaching of Theme choice and thematic
progression to help students avoid what Crewe (1992) described as surface logic through the
artificial imposition of textual Themes.
5.2 Pedagogical implications
While many pedagogical studies have been carried out into the effectiveness of teaching Theme
choice and TP (Albufalasa 2013; Ebrahimi and Ebrahimi 2012a; Bohnacker 2010; Ren et al. 2009;
Cheng 2008; Watson-Todd et al 2007; Alonso and McCabe 2003; Xudong 2003), Wei Jing asserts
that "Very few studies have developed and studied teaching materials informed by Theme-Rheme"
(Wei Jing, 2014, p.75). Many of the aforementioned studies recommend the inclusion of Theme
analysis in teaching courses, but leave the task of designing pedagogical materials to the teachers
themselves. Given the lack of materials for academic writing which focus on Theme choice and TP
(as detailed in section '2.5 Instruction in the use of Theme and textual cohesion'), there is a great
need for well-designed teaching materials for particular audiences. As discussed in section '2.4
Disciplinary differences in the use of Themes', many studies have highlighted disciplinary
differences in Theme use (Embrahimi and Khedri 2011; Idding 2008; North 2005; Ghadessy 1999;
Lovejoy 1998; Whittaker 1995; Taylor 1983), so any materials to be used in academic English
courses must take this into account. The present study used history EE papers, written by IB
students. Whether the IB EE has a literary style of its own (it uses the same structure for all
subjects), or whether differences can be identified between disciplines even at this pre-university
level is a question for further study.


5.3 Improvements and further study

The extracts of text used to form the corpus of the present study were taken from the introduction
(and in some cases the main body) of 26 History EE papers. Having now completed the study, I
have reflected on this choice and come to the conclusion that the 'Results' or 'Conclusion' sections
might have been more adapted to the present study. A larger study in which all sections of the EEs
can be analysed for differences in cohesion would be necessary in order to produce the pedagogical
materials as detailed above in section '5.2 Pedagogical Implications'. Also, the corpus of this study,
consisting of just 12,000 and 26 text extracts is probably slightly too small for the results to be
considered generalisable. Taking all the sections of the EE texts together with including texts from
different disciplines could resolve both the problems identified here, that is the differences in
cohesion between the different sections of the EE and the differences in cohesion according to the
discipline that they are written in. Finally, Lamiroy and Charolles (Forthcoming, in Sarda et al,
2014) highlight the gradient of text integration of what they label 'Framing adverbials', which
covers the categorisation of textual, interpersonal and experiential Themes used in the present study.
This gradient (shown in Figure 8 below) would be a useful tool in a future study into the use of
more or less content integrated orienting Themes as correlated with either subject grades or a
holistic measure of text cohesion and coherence.

Figure 8 - Gradient of content integration of Framing Adverbials (Lamiroy and Charolles,



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