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Corony Edwards, Nick

Ann Hewings
Pamela Rogerson-Revell
Tilly Warren

Published by
The Department of English
Language and Applied
The University of
ISBN 1 901523 13 6

This course is part of the

Open Distance Learning Programmes run by the
Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics at The
University of Birmingham.

Information about these programmes is available from:

English Language and Applied Linguistics Department

Birmingham B15 2TT


Title page

Unit 1:

Distance Learning and Independent Study.

Unit 2:

Introduction to Study Strategies.


Unit 3:

Approaching Writing..


Unit 4:

Structuring Discourse.


Unit 5:

Assignment Writing


Unit 6:

Writing a Dissertation


Appendix.. .


References .




Who is the Guide for?
This Guide to Independent Study is written for students about to start an MA
(Open Distance Learning) with the Department of English Language and
Applied Linguistics (ELAL) at the University of Birmingham. It is for
students who would like help or guidance with some aspects of studying,
whether language-specific or related to broader issues such as organisation or
presentation. Consequently, this Guide is not aimed purely at non-native
speakers of English but at any students who feel they could develop their
study skills further.
Why We Wrote this Guide
Studying an MA through an open learning rather than residential programme
has the advantage of greater flexibility of study but it does also mean that you
are working more or less alone and do not have direct and constant access to a
tutor. Consequently, there is a risk of feeling an element of isolation or lack of
guidance, either concerning the actual writing process or with broader issues
relating to studying at MA level. While this Guide is not aimed at replacing
the important interactions you will have with your Birmingham tutors, it is
seen as further support, particularly at the initial stages of study, by providing
information and activities which should help you develop efficient study
strategies and skills.
How the Guide is Organised
The Guide is organised into six units which are followed by Appendix 1,
Guidelines for Referencing and a References section. The Units are
sequenced to follow the general progression of a student through the Open
Learning course. Unit 1 aims to help you get started with your studies, by
looking at ways of organising your time and resources. Unit 2 considers some
specific study strategies to help you become an efficient academic reader and
writer. Unit 3 encourages you to think about some of the broader issues
involved in academic writing projects, particularly questions of readership and
style of presentation. Unit 4 gets down to some of the more micro level

considerations of how to organise discourse so that the structure and

argumentation of your writing is clear. In Unit 5, we look specifically at




steps involved

from analysing assignment

questions to drafting and proof-reading your work. The final unit, Unit 6, takes
you through the often difficult process of writing a dissertation, aiming to help
you through the various stages of planning, researching and structuring your
Each Unit is self-contained and can be read independently of the rest of the
Guide. One way of finding out if a particular Unit is relevant to your needs is
to skim quickly the aims, objectives and summary sections first.
Within each Unit there are numerous Activities which encourage you to put
theory into practice. These Activities can either be done individually or in a
group, if you belong to a small study group. The answers to the Activities
are in the Commentary on Activities section at the end of the unit. In some
cases, a model answer is given if no single answer is correct.
Discussion/Reflection Tasks
There are also some Discussion/Reflection Tasks in each unit. These aim to
make you think about a particular issue or concept and to help you try to apply
that issue or concept to your own situation. If you belong to a study group
these Tasks are suitable for group discussion. There are no keys or
Commentaries for these Tasks.
There is only one set reading for this course: Clause Relations as Information
Structure: two basic text structures in English by Eugene Winter, reproduced
in Coulthard, M. (ed.) 1994 Advances in Written Text Analysis London:
Routledge, which you need in order to complete Activity 1 in Unit 2. A copy
of this should have been provided with this course (and the whole book is
available online through the elibrary). You will find a list of recommended

titles at the beginning of each unit which you may want to refer to if you want
to find out more about the topics covered by the unit in question.





This unit will discuss the issues involved in undertaking a distance course at
Masters level, in particular the Open Distance Learning MAs at ELAL at the
University of Birmingham.


By the end of the unit you should:


know what possible difficulties and drawbacks lie ahead of you

know how to make time and space for your studies

have made a timetable for studying the first cycle

know who else can help you in your work

know where to go for resources

The purpose of this Study Guide is to provide you with as much background
and support as possible for successful progression through the two years of the
Open Learning MAs run from Birmingham. Units 26 will deal with major
and minor issues of academic writing in a British postgraduate situation. This
Unit is intended to make you consider all the other factors that will lead to a
more comfortable, satisfying and ultimately successful experience on this
You will already have weighed the advantages and disadvantages of doing a
distance learning course before applying to Birmingham, and since you are
now starting the course it is assumed that the advantages outweigh the

Discussion/Reflection Task 1
Think about the arguments for and against doing this course for you in your
personal situation.
If you are working in a group (see Section 1.7.2) make individual notes and
then share your ideas with the others. Are your reasons similar to the others in
the group or do they vary considerably?

Studying for an MA by Open Distance Learning with Birmingham University



To what extent are the advantages the long-term and fairly abstract goals of
higher qualifications and subsequent promotion/status/higher pay? To what
extent are the disadvantages the short-term practical effects of increased
workload/difficulty in obtaining materials or advice/isolation? In the months
to come it will be these immediate problems and worries which seem more
real to you. At times you may wonder why you ever started the course. At
these moments try to remember your long-term goals and be assured that
many others have gone before you and been through the same problems
nearly all of them were eventually successful. You can be too!
This unit will focus on the main areas which require forethought and care in
order for the course to progress smoothly: space, time, support and resources.


When the course materials start to arrive you will need to have somewhere
quiet, comfortable and conducive to concentration in which to study.
Discussion/Reflection Task 2
Look around you now. Is this the place you expect to do most of your
studying? If it is not, picture that place in your mind now. What makes it a
good place to study? Is there anything that could be improved? Do the other
people in your life know that you intend to use this place to study?


Your own study area

This should be somewhere that you know is safe from interruptions, where
you can close the door and leave the outside world behind. If you have a
family and young children it must be a place where they know they should not
disturb you, which will mean gaining the support and understanding of your
Sometimes however, it is not the disturbance of others but your own
disinclination to get down to serious study which is your worst enemy. Your
place of study should be somewhere that you like to be, but stripped of the
easiest distractions (phone, magazines, television, food). Consider ways of
enhancing the space you use (adding a pot plant, making it tidier) so that
instead of thinking of any possible excuse to avoid going there, you are happy,
even eager to sit there and concentrate on the work you need to do. Another
way to make your own study area a good place to work is to fill it with all the
resources you need: reference books, pens and pencils, plenty of note paper, a
dictionary, the course books.
An important factor to consider for health and comfort is the chair that you sit
in. Try to choose a chair that does not put a strain on your back, especially
when using the keyboard of a computer for writing. A desk and chair where
you can write notes as you read is ideal. It is also essential to have enough
light so that you do not strain your eyes while reading. Finally, for comfort
and concentration your study area should be at the right temperature, not too

cold in winter, not too hot or stuffy in summer. Keep fresh air circulating to
give your brain the chance to be at its best.

Other places
There may be more than one place that you can use for study. If your home or
work situation is not always suitable look for other quiet places in your area.
Some of these may have the advantages of a more study-oriented
environment, not to mention heating or air-conditioning! Is there a local
library you can go to? Is there a college or university which would allow you
to use their facilities? Could a friend or relative let you have space in their
house to study? Could you take an occasional study retreat for a weekend or
longer at the house of friends, family or even at a hotel, where you will be
completely removed from the distractions of your home environment?
Past students have reported that if they kept their current study materials
always close at hand, opportunities to do 1015 minutes of reading or
reviewing could arise at any odd moment in the day: on trains and buses, in
the doctors waiting room, between classes. You can do this via the Canvas
app or of course you can print out sections of course material. These small
chunks of dead time all add up and are particularly useful for those with a
heavy schedule and a busy lifestyle. However the main bulk of study should
be somewhere fixed and familiar.


Reading takes time, even if you are a fast reader. Writing also takes time,
usually a lot more than anticipated. Thinking over new ideas and reflecting on
the Tasks set in your course materials will also take time.


Reading time
Activity 1
Look at the course contents in Canvas. Fill in the missing details in the grid
and make the necessary calculations. Remember that in each cycle you should
leave one month for the writing of the assessed assignment.

Year 1

Course names
1. .................................................
Number of Units


Additional reading number of

2) .................................................
Number of Units (d)............
Additional reading number of

Number of reading weeks (a) ........
Units per week for this cycle
(b + d) / a = ............
Articles/Chapters per week for this
(c + e) / a = ............

Articles/Chapters (e).........

Course names
1. .................................................
Number of Units


Additional reading number of

2) .................................................
Number of Units (d)............
Additional reading


Number of reading weeks (a) ........
Units per week for this cycle
(b + d) / a = ............
Articles/Chapters per week for this
(c + e) / a = ............

of Articles/Chapters (e).........

Course names
1. .................................................
Number of Units


Additional reading number of

2) .................................................
Number of Units (d)............
Additional reading number of

Number of reading weeks (a) ........
Units per week for this cycle
(b + d) / a = ............
Articles/Chapters per week for this
(c + e) / a = ............

Articles/Chapters (e).........

Compare your results with those in the Commentary. There may be some
slight differences according to recent updates of course materials, and also
depending on when you start the course, but the overall result should be
similar. Is this the amount of work you expected for this course? Did you

expect more? If you expected less and feel daunted by the prospect of all this
reading, remember that you are not alone; all distance students are in the same
boat. This Study Guide is to help you find strategies to cope. Additionally
there is always sympathy and advice at hand from your local tutor and
Birmingham staff.
Now that you have an idea of how much reading will be involved, the next
questions are:

how much time do I have?

how much time do I need?

The answers to these questions are unique to you only you know your own
timetable and daily commitments (the answer to the first question), and only
you know your own ability when it comes to reading (the second question).
Discussion/Reflection Task 3
To help you answer the second question, work through these questions.
1. Basic
Decide how much time in hours you think you will need to read a unit (these
are about 14 pages, similar to the length of this unit for example). ...........
hours (a)
Each unit has Tasks and Activities for you to carry out so multiply (a) by 1.5
(a) x 1.5 = ..........hours (b)
2. Required reading
Each unit comes with suggestions for reading, sometimes as parts of the set
books for the module, sometimes as separate articles. If an average unit
requires you to read 2 journal articles of 15 pages each how long will you
need? .......... hours (c)
Add (b) and (c) together for an approximate time per unit ...........hours (d)

3. General
You should also aim at keeping up with the reading of the set books for each
module. How much time will it take you to read 3 chapters of 20 pages
Add (d) and (e) together for an estimated time requirement per week ...........
Is your total around 1012 hours? This is how much past students say they
spend per week on the course materials. It is also the recommended time
allocation for the course. If your total is significantly less or more you may
need to look at your estimates again and decide where you could speed up, or
slow down. Parkinsons Law states that Work expands to fit the time
available for it and this is especially true of reading. If you know you only
have a limited time you will be forced to become a more efficient reader. See
Unit 2 for tips on how to improve your reading.

Time Allocation
Think about your normal weekly schedule. When can you set aside time for

early morning
during the working day (free periods)
at night
specially set-aside days

It is important to remember that studying for a long time without a break is not
necessarily the most productive method.

Your concentration may be

maintained for longer periods if each session is broken down into smaller
stretches of time. Short breaks to relax, have a coffee, go to the toilet etc., will
help you to stay on the task more effectively and longer overall.
Here are some comments by past students on how they managed time for the

My first period is always free at school so I used that to study.

Since I am married with children it was unrealistic to study at home after

work so I took one day off work a week (Mondays or Fridays are best). I
refused all commitments on that day (very important) so that I could
concentrate and worked in my office. I reckon you need blocks of about 3
hours studying and short breaks between. When it was time to write an
assignment I must have spent 2530 hours a week working, as well as
weekends. I even gave up a weekend camping trip with my family and

I immersed myself in study which meant giving up company classes etc. I

then had all my evenings free to work and I only allowed myself to go out
at the weekend.

I worked on Saturdays and Sundays I just closed the door and no one
was allowed to disturb me. My wife knew how important it was and kept
people away for me.

I found it helped a lot if I chose an assignment topic before I started

reading the course materials. It was much easier and quicker to read the
materials with that focus in mind.

My schedule made it hard to combine work and study so I took some

holiday and worked full on for a week. I was luckily in a job where I was
able to do that.

Although I was always being asked to teach extra conversation classes

which would have brought in some handy extra money, I refused them all
and tried to make time to study.

I teach 6 days a week which entails 30 hours of teaching and 3 hours a

day travelling. I found I work best at night so I tended to study from 1 a.m.
to 5 a.m. I did a study diploma before this course so I already had my
routine worked out. A sympathetic wife helps a lot!

Which of these sounds closest to your situation? The message from these
students is that planning and commitment are necessary in order to meet the
deadlines for reading and writing.
It is important to remember to keep a certain balance of work and leisure two
and a half years is a long time if you decide to cut out all fun from your life! As
long as you plan well in advance and keep on top of your schedule and
deadlines there is no reason not to enjoy yourself with your friends and family
whenever you can.

Discussion/Reflection Task 4
Think about an average week. Fill in times (in hours) in which you can study.
Does it add up to equal to or more than the time you decided that you needed
for reading? If not, think of ways in which you can rearrange your life. Do you
have any non-essential activities (leisure classes, social commitments) that
you could cut out?

Grand Total



Activity 2
If you have received the materials for the first module, look at the Course
Reading in the Introduction to the course. (If not, do this Activity when they

Make a general timetable from now to the first assessment deadline for
the reading and then writing that you plan to do. Start with major goals
and deadlines and then break down the work in between into manageable


Make a detailed statement of objectives for your first two study


Writing time
It is recommended that you allow at least a month to write each cycles
assignment. Although there may still be odd pieces of reading and revision
you can do, you should plan to have already covered all the necessary readings
for both modules, and all the course materials too.
Writing is possibly the hardest activity on any academic course and you will
find yourself making a million and one excuses for not getting down to work.
Discussion/Reflection Task 5
Any activity which is thought up as reason for not doing a more important job
is known as a displacement activity. Here is a list of popular displacement
activities for students faced with the task of writing can you add to the list?
Telephoning friends

Email/the internet

Watching television

Tidying the house

Taking the dog for a walk

Coffee/tea making

DIY/house repairs


Mending the car


Playing with children


Helping others/giving advice


Skills you must exercise in order to preserve your precious study time are:

Delegation of jobs
Avoid tasks that someone else could be asked to do for example, if you
are married negotiate with your partner how you will re-arrange
household chores for the duration of your course.


The arts of diplomatic refusal and assertiveness

Do not be afraid to say no to people or events which will take up your
time a tip for those who find this particularly difficult is to make an
appointment with yourself to study at a particular time and write this in
your diary. If someone asks to see you at that time you can open your
diary and truthfully say Im sorry, I already have an appointment then.


Ability to prioritise
Decide which tasks are important and make sure there is time allocated to


You have spent a lot of money to gain a prestigious qualification you
owe it to yourself not to let others sidetrack you or hijack your time.


Be aware of time passing by having a clock visible where you work, do
not waste others time and do not let your time slip away in social chitchat
or trivia. A tip for those who are prone to daydream and also those who
drive themselves too hard and need to limit the hours they work is to get
a stopwatch. Start it when you start reading or writing and stop it each

time you pause to make coffee/go to the toilet/gaze out of the window.
This will be a useful reminder of how much time can be wasted while we
are pretending to work, and it is also very satisfying when we reach our
goal of, say, 3 hours per day. We can then stop with a clear conscience
and watch television or go out for a drink.

Advance planning
Make a list of objectives and deadlines each week or for each study period
and try to stick to them. Once you have chosen an assignment topic you
will need to plan your writing. Try to break the whole task down into
smaller ones and give yourself mini-deadlines so that you can feel that
you are making some progress towards your goal. See Units 3 and 4 for
more advice on how to tackle writing in general, and see Unit 5 for more
on assignment writing.

Here are some past students comments and retrospective advice:

Start reading and writing as soon as possible. When you have a first plan
and/or draft of an assignment send it to your local tutor for comments.
Theyre there to help so use them for advice.

An Australian friend helped me on the course and checked my assignments

for me.

I was about to give up but I emailed other students on the course and
asked how they studied. The advice I got helped me a lot they said
Choose an assessment topic and then read. That helped both my reading
(I was faster and more focussed) and writing (I knew in advance what I
would write on so I had a long time to prepare).

Native-speaker colleagues have been very helpful checking assignments

and giving me advice.

My tutor asked for drafts of my work although I was nervous about

sending them, it was better to get advice in time to change the writing than
send the original (poor) writing to Birmingham for assessment.

As soon as you have been assigned a tutor they will contact you. It is a good
idea to get to know him or her as soon as possible, especially if you know you
will need help initially with assignment writing.


People Support
Past students on this course agreed that the most important factors which make
this course possible as well as enjoyable are a sense of support and access to


Other students
As a distance learning student you do not have the benefit of regular contact
with students on the same course with the same problems as you in the way
that students on a full-time course at Birmingham do. This does not mean,
however, that you have to study for two years in total isolation. You will get
the chance to meet other students on this course if you attend the summer
seminar. This is a good time to network and exchange opinions and addresses.
However many would prefer to meet and discuss problems earlier in the
course. It is always useful to discuss your difficulties and problems with others
as a way of relieving frustration. If you feel that contacting other students will
be beneficial, then the onus is on you to initiate something. A good way to do
this is via the Canvas discussions or through the elalma mailing list. There is
no harm in contacting those in your area to introduce yourself and share
problems or solutions to common difficulties such as access to good book
shops or libraries, using the internet, computer problems, etc. If the
relationship seems to gel then it may be possible to suggest meeting up, either
as a one-off to see your fellow students face-to-face, or on a regular basis, as a
study group.
Unfortunately there are no guarantees that the students in your area will feel
willing to work co-operatively as one student commented:

I tried to get a study group going so I sent out a message to those in my

area but only a few responded.

Perhaps this student gave up too quickly? If you are not planning actual
meetings, then try your luck further afield. This way you can send a query or
problem out to all those on the programme and everyone can benefit from the
discussion and learn from the different solutions that are proposed.


Study groups
If you find it possible to meet (or correspond with) one or more students
regularly to form a study group you will find that the course materials are
easier to follow. If you find something hard to understand you will either have
someone there to explain it, or you will know that you are not the only one
who feels that way. Most units have tasks that can form a basis for discussion
since they are written with the possibility of group work in mind. All the
'Discussion/Reflection Tasks' are much more useful if done with others as you
then have the benefit of hearing views other than your own. (This is very
much how the in-campus MA courses at Birmingham are conducted. It is
likely in any lecture that students will listen as much to their fellow students as
to the tutor for the course.) Since all students on this course have a wealth of
experience and expertise, sharing it in this way is beneficial all round. If you
cant meet up with other students, but have internet access (see 1.8.5), you can
discuss the tasks online through Canvas.


You have two sets of tutors on this course, personal tutors and the course
tutors based in Birmingham. You may contact either if you have any worries
or queries.
Although the relationship with tutors is semi-formal, the usual British
convention in academic circles is to address a tutor or supervisor that you have
met personally by their first name (Sarah, Terry etc.). You in turn will be
addressed by your first name. However, if you are in doubt you can either
check with your tutor the first time you contact them how they would like to
be addressed, or use the form in which they sign messages to you (if the
closing phrase is Best wishes, Caroline then you may address the tutor Dear
Caroline). You can find out more about who the Birmingham tutors are, how
to contact them and how to work with them from the Student Handbook.


Assignment markers
After your first assignment you will also receive support in the form of
feedback. The comments made by your markers are designed to help you

improve your approach and are often in the form of advice or questions. These
are for you to reflect on and answer for yourself (you will not usually send
answers back to markers). Read the comments and notes very carefully as they
will explain what you did well and where you could have done better. If there
is anything that you do not understand or disagree with, contact your personal
tutor and discuss it with him or her.
It is sometimes a surprise to students that marks are generally in the 60%70%
range and not higher. This is the convention of marking for Masters degrees at
the University of Birmingham a pass at this level is over 60%, 65% and
above is a good mark and over 70% (which is rare) counts as a distinction
level mark. A mark below 50% requires resubmission of the assignment,
generally with clearly defined guidelines. Your Student Handbook has more
detailed information on the marking system. See also 5.9 in this Study Guide.

Probably the greatest debt you will feel when you have finished the course is
to those nearest and dearest to you who have smoothed the way for you to
complete every task. Partners who have put up with your absence (or
presence!) for long periods, cooked and cleaned for you, shielded you from
distractions, listened to your frustrations, and friends who have helped with an
encouraging word, computer expertise, loan of books, error correction, timely
advice or encouragement when you needed it. It is just as well then, to be
absolutely clear from the start, with those whom it will affect directly, about
what your course entails. You may need to tell them that for the next two
years you will not be able to give people or activities the time and attention
that you usually do. As long as it is seen as a temporary measure most people
will be supportive and understanding. One past student felt so grateful to such
a large number of people when he finally graduated that he held a big party as
a thank you, and then took his family on holiday as a thank you to them.


Of all the problems and worries that students experience during the course, the
ones which seem to be felt most acutely are difficulties with material
resources: lack of books, computer crashes, library access and so on.


The Birmingham administration centre can give you advice on how to order
books, or you can order them online. However it is wise to allow plenty of
time for books to arrive after you order them in other words order early. The
introductory reading list in the ELAL Distance MA Induction Canvas pages is
a good place to start. Check the Course Materials to see what readings are
required for each module. Wherever possible we set readings which are
available through the elibrary. It is not a good idea to order Year Two books in
the first year as the courses are updated every year and the set books may be
changed as old ones go out of print and new ones are published.


If there is a good library or a university with a library near you it is a good
idea to investigate the possibility of enrolling. A past student commented:

If possible use the local college library and learn how to access the
university network for inter-library loans. It should be possible from every
college so keep trying until you find someone who knows what to do.

As mentioned earlier, libraries are also quiet, studious places to work if

working at home is difficult. Of course as a student of the University of
Birmingham you have full rights to use the library in Birmingham, UK if you
are ever in England. Please let your tutors in Birmingham know in good time
if you are planning to come so that they can help you to plan your visit.
1.7.3 Computers
As you will know from the Student Handbook all assignments must be wordprocessed and submitted as pdfs In terms of formatting of assignments, it is
advisable to combine smartness with simplicity do not use too many fonts,
sizes or colours (if you have them). The Student Handbook and Unit 3 of this
Guide have further details on how to format and present assignments.

Murphys Law states If anything can go wrong, it will. This seems

particularly true for computer users working to a deadline. For this reason it is
always a good idea to:


give yourself plenty of time

save regularly
back up your important documents
know who you can call in a crisis

Email and other communication tools

Email is indispensable for quick, efficient contact with your tutor, with staff at
Birmingham and with other students. You will have received a University of
Birmingham email address; youre not obliged to use this, but do check it
every so often as centrally-distributed University communications will come
to that address.
Many students also communicate with their tutors and supervisors via Skype.
This is something you can discuss with your tutor if youre keen.
Canvas has an internal message function which you can use to contact other
users and Birmingham staff. Theres also a somewhat rudimentary Chat


The Bank of English

You are entitled to free use of the access the Bank of English, Cobuilds 400
million word corpus. If you want to be use the Bank of English contact
Michelle Devereux (


We hope that this unit has raised your awareness of the need for planning and
dedication for the course that lies ahead of you. We hope it has also reassured
you that help is available and given you the confidence to ask for that help
whenever you need it.


Commentary on Activities
Commentary on Activity 1

1 Course names
1. Language Teaching Methodology

Year 1


Number of units

Oct starters (April starters should

adjust accordingly)
Oct 1Jan 31
Additional Reading Number of Articles/Chapters Number of reading weeks 13
Units per week for this cycle 1.3

2. Classroom Research and Research Methods.

Number of units

Articles/Chapters per week

for this cycle

Additional Reading Number of Articles/Chapters


Course names
1. Second Language Acquisition
Number of units

Feb 1May 31
Number of reading weeks 12.6
Units per week for this cycle 1.5

Additional reading number of Articles/Chapters Articles/Chapters per week

for this cycle
2. Pedagogic Grammar
Number of units
Additional reading number of Articles/Chapters

Course names



June1Sept 30

Number of units
Additional reading number of Articles/Chapters

2) Syllabus and Materials

Number of units
Additional Reading Number of Articles/Chapters 3

Number of reading weeks 12

Units per week for this cycle 0.75
Articles/Chapters per week
for this cycle

Of course this is just a rough guide reading and studying are not exact
sciences. However it is important to notice that in order to cover enough
ground you should aim at reading more than one unit and several chapters of a
prescribed book per week. This will entail a substantial allocation of time. If
you know you are a slow reader then you will need to adjust your timetable
accordingly. (See 2.3 and 2.4 for suggestions of ways to speed up your
Commentary on Activity 2
This is an example of a students schedule for the first cycle, starting in
October based on a weekly study regime of two sessions, one afternoon and
evening (5 hours) and one whole day (7 hours).
Oct 3 Language Teaching Methodology and Classroom Research and
Research Methods arrive skim through to get an idea of lengths of unit,
additional reading etc. Provisionally choose an assignment. Make a plan of
action for the next session.
Read Nunan1 Chapter 12 and R&R2 Chapter 1. Contact other students in my
Oct 6 and 10

LTM Units 1 and 2

Oct 13 and 17

Unit 3 (lots of reading)

Oct 20 and 24

Unit 4 (ditto)

Oct 27 and 31

Units 5 and 6

Nov 3 and 7

Units 7 and 8

Nov 10 and 14

Units 9 and 10

Nov 17 and 21

Unit 11 and review

Nov 24 and 28

CRRM Unit 1

Dec 1 and 5

Unit 2

Dec 8 and 12

Unit 3

Dec 15 and 19

Unit 4

Dec 22 and 29

Units 5 and 6

Jan 5 and 9 Decide on assignment, plan, reread selected notes etc., start draft
Jan 12 and 16 Continue writing, send draft off to tutor
Jan 19 and 23 Revise and rewrite according to tutors advice
Jan 26 Print up final version, photocopy and post (Deadline is 31st Jan at local

Nunan, D. (1991) Language Teaching Methodology, Prentice Hall

Richards, J. and Rodgers, T. (1986) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching,
Cambridge University Press



This unit will cover the key strategies needed to study successfully for a
Masters degree at the Centre for English Language Studies at the University of
Birmingham. It will introduce methods designed to help you to be more
effective and efficient readers, note-takers and record-keepers and to be more
aware of the significance of the writing process to your learning.


By the end of this unit you will be familiar with:

a variety of approaches to reading academic texts

different systems of note-taking and their applications
the importance of keeping accurate records of your source material
the pedagogical importance of writing
the processes of generating ideas and plans for writing
the importance of drafting and refining written work for assessment


Suggested Reading
Optional readings on the general area of study skills are:

Northedge, A. (1990) The Good Study Guide. Milton Keynes: Open

University. Chapters 2, 5, 6.

Roberts, D. (1997) The Students Guide to Writing Essays. London:

Kogan Page.
Reference is made to the following:

Cambridge International Dictionary of English. (1995) Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.

Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary. (1995) London:


Collins Cobuild English Usage. (1992) London: HarperCollins.

Coulthard, M. (ed.) (1994) Advances in Written Text Analysis. London:

Crystal, D. (1985) Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics. (2nd edn.)

Oxford: Basil Blackwell in association with Andr Deutsch.

Fries, P. H. (1994) On theme, rheme and discourse goals. In Coulthard,

M. (ed.) Advances in Written Text Analysis. London: Routledge.

Richards, J. & R. Schmidt (2010) Longman Dictionary of Language

Teaching and Applied Linguistics. (4th edn.) Harlow: Longman.

Turton, N. (1995) ABC of Common Grammatical Errors. London:



Reading Strategies
To read most effectively and efficiently it helps to specify why you are
reading. What do you hope to learn from the text in front of you? Do you need
to read it in detail, or just to get the gist of it? Is now the best time to read it or
would you be better reading it after a simpler text on the same topic? These
questions help you to assess which reading strategies are best applied in each

Before starting to read anything connected with your MA course, stop, think
and decide on the most effective and efficient use of your time. When you buy
a new textbook or receive course material or articles from Birmingham do not
be tempted to read them as you would a novel. You are likely to be under
pressure of time to read, understand and complete assignments as well as carry
on with your normal life. Therefore, take a few minutes to assess the
appropriate reading strategy for the task in front of you.

What to do before beginning to read

Before beginning to read any academic text, the most fundamental question to
ask yourself is Why am I reading this? The answer Because it is on the
course reading list, or Because is has been sent from Birmingham, is not
enough. Try turning your answer into a goal Because I want to learn about
functions of language, or Because I need to write an assignment on text
types, for example. If you can specify a goal for reading, you are reading with
a purpose. It then becomes easier to select how detailed your reading needs to
Depending on your goal, you may read a text in one of a variety of ways. For
example, a book may be required reading for a course, in which case you will
need to make yourself familiar with the whole contents on a very general
level. Particular chapters may be specified as being more important. These you
will need to read more thoroughly. If later you find yourself using or adapting
a methodology proposed in a chapter, you will have to read and re-read it until
you are very familiar with it. Whatever the final reason for reading is, there
are a number of techniques which can be applied to all academic texts to make
the reading process more effective and efficient.


Staging the reading process

Getting an overview
Getting an overview of a text is the first stage of the reading process. It may
only take a minute for a short and simple text, but whatever the texts length
or complexity this stage should never be missed out as it starts the process of

intellectual engagement. The text exists, but until you start to seek meaning
and understanding no communication can take place.
If we accept that reading is an interactive process, that is, that the writer wants
to communicate something and the reader to find out something, then an
overview can be found in the devices which the writer uses to help the reader.
The most obvious clues to content are given in titles, sub-titles, contents list,
chapter headings and sub-headings. Make use of these by skim reading them
and asking questions such as:

Title: What does it mean? What sort of things do I expect to find in this

List of contents: How much do I know about any of the things listed?
Chapter/Unit: What do the headings and sub-headings tell me? Are any
words in italics or bold and do I know what they mean?

Discussion/Reflection Task 1
Let us apply this questioning approach to a textbook frequently referred to in
your course on Written Discourse, Coulthards 1994 Advances in Written Text








concentrating on the chapter titles. Can you guess what they are about?
Underline the key words in each title that indicate what is going to be
About the authors

On analysing and evaluating written text
Malcolm Coulthard
Trust the text
John McH. Sinclair
Signalling in discourse: a functional analysis of a common discourse


pattern in written and spoken English

Michael Hoey

Clause relations as information structure: two basic text structures in English

Eugene Winter

Predictive categories in expository text

Angela Tadros

Labelling discourse: an aspect of nominal-group lexical cohesion

Gill Francis

The text and its message

Tim Johns

The analysis of fixed expressions in text

Rosamund Moon

The construction of knowledge and value in the grammar of scientific

with reference to Charles Darwins the Origin of Species
M. A. K. Halliday


Frames of reference: contextual monitoring and the interpretation of

narrative discourse
Catherine Emmot
Inferences in discourse comprehension
Martha Shiro
Narratives of science and nature in popularising molecular genetics
Greg Myers
Evaluation and organization in a sample of written academic discourse
Susan Hunston
Genre analysis: an approach to text analysis for ESP
Tony Dudley-Evans
On Theme, Rheme and discourse goals
Peter H. Fries
Negatives in written text
Adriana Pagano
It, this and that
Michael McCarthy
The structure of newspaper editorials
Adriana Bolvar
On reporting reporting: the representation of speech in factual and factional
Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard












You may have found that in underlining key words in each chapter title you
had to underline almost everything. This is not unexpected. Article and
chapter titles of this kind are usually concise with almost every word referring
to the topic to be discussed.
Activity 1
Look at Chapter 4 of Coulthards 1994 Advances in Written Text Analysis, a
copy of which which is supplied as set reading with this Self-Study Guide.

The title gives enough information to make a prediction about the

content of the chapter. Which of the statements below do you think
most accurately describes what the chapter is about?


Two ways of looking at texts in English based on relationships

different clause types or on information units.


Different types of clauses found in two information texts in


The relationships between clauses, the importance of these in

structuring information and how they are used to
identify two typical
patterns within texts in English.

In order to get a clearer picture of what this text is about:

Write a list of the headings and sub-headings used in this chapter. This
should help show the points being made by Winter.
Look also at the words printed in italics or bold. These should give
information about the topic of a sub-section.

Which sections of the chapter should you look at to find out what
relations or text structures are?

Finding the main argument

Having obtained a picture or overview of what a text is about you are now
ready to continue to the next stage. Chapters in books and articles in academic

journals are generally trying to persuade you that a particular point of view or
methodology is good or useful. So, one of the most important things to find
out from a text is What is the main argument? To find the answer to this, you
can scan the text quickly to find the parts of the text which are most relevant
to this question. Let us go back to Chapter 4, Winters chapter on clause
relations, to exemplify how you might approach this stage.
You have already skimmed the text, looking at the headings, sub-headings and
words in bold or italic print. On the basis of this information, you should be
able to summarise what Winter is looking at and make predictions about his
conclusions. To see if your predictions are accurate and to confirm what the
main argument of the text is, you may need to do some more detailed reading.
First you need to decide where to look. Your list of headings will show you
that in this chapter there is a Summary and Conclusions section at the end.
This could be a good place to start. In other texts, you may find the argument
most clearly explained in the Introduction.
Activity 2
Scan Winters chapter on clause relations, paying particular attention to the
introduction and the summary and conclusions. Write a brief summary of his
main arguments.
You may find it is not easy to read and understand, but Winter has included
signalling words and devices to help. He uses italics to highlight his central
message; letters and numbers (e.g. (a)... (1)...) and paragraphs to divide the
text into information units. Without necessarily understanding all of Winters
ideas, you should be able to say what the point of the chapter is. What is
Winter trying to persuade you about? To put it another way, What is he

Reading for gist vs. reading in depth

Before reading a text in any more detail, you should ask yourself the

Is it necessary to find out anything more from this text?

Do I really need to read this in detail?

In most cases your answer should be no. At Masters level you need to read a
lot and get an understanding of many different things. It is more efficient to do
this by concentrating most attention on a few texts and reading other texts less
intensively. If you wish, for example, to apply Winters theories about clause
relations to your own data as part of your dissertation, you will probably need
to continue reading. If you decided that you do need to read in more depth,
then apply the same questioning techniques. Scan or search for the parts of the
text that are most relevant to what you want to know and read those first. You
may never need to start at the beginning and read to the end. Keep asking
yourself why you are reading a particular section. Is it relevant to what you
need to know at this stage? If it is not, and you find reading it hard work, leave
it for now and return to it later when you have learned more about the subject.

Reading course materials

Reading your course material requires slightly different techniques. The prereading activities outlined above, that is, looking at contents pages, headings,
sub-headings and words in bold or italic, can be extended. Each course book
usually has an introductory section outlining the course aims and each unit has
a summary of aims and objectives. Read these before trying to read any of the
units in detail. They will help you to make predictions about what is going to
be covered. They will also give instructions about additional reading. In some
units you are told to read the unit first and then look at the additional reading.
In others, you are advised to do additional reading before reading the unit
itself. In cases where you are asked to do additional reading first, it is probably
best to read only for an overview, not in detail. When you have then read the
unit, you can go back to the other texts and read in more detail, if necessary.
Discussion/Reflection Task 2
Look at two units from different courses and compare them.

Do they both have sub-headings, or words in bold or italics? Do they ask you
to do supplementary reading first or later?


Strategies for coping with difficult texts

If you are not a fluent reader of English, then the reading task is more difficult.
Understanding the language as well as the ideas presents problems. The
techniques given above should all still apply and in addition those below may
help with purely linguistic difficulties.
Guessing from context
At the word level you may find items that you do not know or understand.
Before reaching for a dictionary, try and guess at a meaning from the context.
If you have no idea, read on; you might find that it is not an important word
and that you can understand the text without understanding that particular
word. In reading on, you might also find that an explanation is provided by the
writer. Authors often try to help readers by defining or explaining lexis they
think might cause problems. In the following extract the author introduces and
explains his use of the term independent conjoinable clause complexes.
Following Hallidays suggestion, I have found it useful to treat Thematic structures
in independent conjoinable clause complexes. This structure consists of an
independent clause together with all (...) related clauses which are dependent on it.
The independent conjoinable clause complex is very similar to the T-unit of
American educational literature.
(Fries, 1994: 227)

He gives an explanation and relates it to a similar term with which the reader
may already be familiar.
Using a dictionary
If you feel it is important for you to know exactly what a particular word
means, then use a dictionary. Sometimes bi-lingual dictionaries can be helpful.
However, it is often the case that the word or phrase needed may have a
number of meanings. To decide on the correct meaning for your context, it is
often more useful to use a good mono-lingual dictionary. If the word has a
special linguistic meaning or is a linguistic term, you may not find it in a nonspecialist dictionary. You could look it up in a dictionary of linguistics (e.g.
Crystal, 1985; Richards & Schmidt, 2010) or, it might be defined in one of

your textbooks or course books. Use the index to help you find where it has
first been used. This is the place where you are most likely to find an
explanation of what it means.
Vocabulary records
Having gone to such a lot of trouble to find out what a word or phrase means,
keep a record of it. It may be useful to create your own mini-dictionary of
important linguistic and other vocabulary. This can be done in a notebook or
on index cards. Cards have the advantage of being easily ordered
Activity 3
Using Friess definition above,

write an explanation or definition of

independent conjoinable clause complexes.

Other strategies
If books and dictionaries have failed to provide you with the information you
want, ask your fellow students, or your tutor. They may also be able to help if
you find yourself having problems at clause level. Before asking others, if you
are having difficulty making sense of a sentence or clause, look at the way
conjunctions and connectors relate to the text around them. If you still have
difficulty, either ignore that clause or seek other help. However, the most
important principle to keep in mind when reading is that you do not always
need to understand everything to understand the text as a whole this applies
equally to difficulties with individual words and to clause and sentence level

In this section we have looked at ways of approaching academic reading. You
have been advised to break the reading process up into stages:

give your reading a purpose. Ask the question What do I want to learn
from this text?
read the title, headings, sub-headings and highlighted words
guess what the text is about
read important sections such as introduction, conclusion or summary


try to summarise the argument of the text

read those sections that look most important for your purpose
only read the rest if necessary

Taking Notes
Taking notes is like reading in that, depending on your purpose, you take
different types and amounts of notes. You may have developed your own
ways of note-taking and if they work for you that is fine. However, in this
section, we will look at a variety of note-taking techniques and relate them to
different purposes.


Reasons for taking notes

Discussion/Reflection Task 3
Why do we take notes? Briefly write down as many reasons as you can think
There are many answers to this question, but we will concentrate here on three
main reasons. We take notes

to help us record and remember what we have read

to provide a summary
to make us think about a text as we are reading.

This last point is arguably the most important. Making notes forces us to order
our thinking about a text, to relate it to our other knowledge and produce new
ways of considering a topic. These reasons are not distinct. For example, rereading a summary you have written helps you to recall the whole text.
Similarly, writing the summary helps us to remember more of a text than if we
just read it and put it away. Writing notes means that we have to read actively
and make decisions about what is important in a text.

Different note-taking techniques

To the pre-reading strategies discussed above we could add deciding on the
types of notes to make.

Highlighting and margin notes

One of the most common forms of note-taking, used alone or in combination
with other strategies, is highlighting and margin notes. When using your own
books, this can be a very useful and efficient way of marking the main points.
Some people underline words or phrases which they think are important,
others use highlighter pens. Notes in the margin can indicate thoughts about
what is being read or simply summarise the main points.
Separate notes
Instead of, or in addition to, writing on the text itself, you may find it useful to
write separate notes. One suggestion is to write notes on Post-It sticky papers
and put them into the book at the relevant pages. This avoids the need to write
on the book if it does not belong to you. This is particularly useful if you are
trying to summarise the arguments from a long piece of writing or a whole
book since you can collate the notes and write a summary. Writing notes helps
to organise your thinking. You have to decide what is relevant and how to put
it down in a form most useful to you. Sometimes you may use highlighting or
margin notes as a first stage in note-taking and then write your own notes to
bring together all the important points.
Headings, sub-headings and definitions
If you are writing notes from a longer chapter, it is sometimes useful to use the
headings and sub-headings provided by the author. These may give you an
overview of the text and allow you to see how the author has developed
his/her arguments from the introduction to the conclusion. You can then fill in
additional detail in the sections that are most important. You can also include
definitions of important terms.
Activity 4
Below is an extract of notes made on Winters article (see 2.4.2). They are not
detailed notes. Their purpose is to help in understanding the text and in
remembering what it is about. Can you fill in the gaps?

Notes for Winter, E. (1994) Clause relations as information structure: two

basic text structures in English. In Coulthard, M. (ed.) Advances in Written
Text Analysis. London: Routledge. pp. 4668.
3 _________________ about the clause:
1st not possible to ______________________________ select what is
most important and encode it within _________________ to convey a
unique message (p. 47)
2nd every clause matters to _________________
3rd clauses influence and are influenced by _________________,
i.e. there is a relationship
Clause relations
1. The _________________ relation
2. The logical _________________ relation
3. The _________________ clause relation
Abbreviations and symbols
The above summary of Winters introduction makes a lot of use of numbers to
divide up the points being made. The points are not written in full sentences.
Abbreviations such as, i.e. meaning that is, p. meaning page and symbols,
such as meaning therefore are used. Arrows can also be useful. For
example, can be used to indicate an increase in something and can show
a logical connection, such as results from or leads to. You can, of course,
use your own abbreviations and symbols. Note also, that where the phrase
unique message is quoted, a page number is given. It is very important that if
you copy anything straight from your reading into your notes, you enclose it in
quotation marks and make a note of the page number. This will be essential
information if you later decide to use the quotation in an assignment or in your
dissertation (see Appendix 1 or Student Handbook).
Tree diagrams and tables
Sometimes it is useful for notes to take the form of a tree diagram or a table. If
it is important to know, for example, what the three basic assumptions on
which clause relations is based are, this can be illustrated graphically by a tree

clause relations

cannot say
everything at

every clause is
important to the

every clause is
related to the
clauses around it

Figure 2.1: Example of tree diagram notes

Alternatively, if it is the differences between the three types of clause relations
which are important, you could consider making your notes in a table.
Matching relations

Logical Sequence

Multiple Clause

Tables are also useful as a way of comparing information or views from

different sources or evaluating arguments for or against something.

Revising and condensing notes

Whatever form your initial notes are in, it is sometimes useful or necessary to
revise them. This is often true at the end of a particular part of your course
when you are getting ready to write an assignment. When you have made a
number of notes on a topic, you can condense the main ideas down further.
Some people find that using index cards is very useful for this purpose. The
bibliographic details can be written at the top and then a number of points or a
sentence or two used to summarise the text. The example below shows an

index card summary of the main points made by the Fries text referred to
Fries, P. H. (1994) On theme, rheme and discourse goals. In Coulthard, M.
(ed.) Advances in Written Text Analysis London: Routledge. 22949.

elaborates on Hallidays notion of Theme

The Theme of a T-unit provides a framework within which the Rheme of

that T- unit can be interpreted (p. 230)

invents term N-Rheme for new information found in last part of clause

argues that N-Rhemes are important as positions of emphasis and to the

general goals of the text (p. 240)

compares discourse functions of Themes and N-Rhemes

Figure 2.2: Example of an index card and text summary


Diagrams as notes and summaries

In preparation for an assignment you may then find it useful to bring together
either your complete notes or your brief condensed notes as an aid to writing a
plan. One method of doing this is by reading through your notes and then
brainstorming, that is, writing down all the ideas that seem relevant to the
topic you are considering. These can be jotted all over a piece of paper and
then lines and arrows can be used to show connection between ideas. The
diagram thus produced is a summary of all you have discovered; making
connections between the different points helps promote a synthesis. This
synthesis of all you have read and studied is the ultimate aim of all education.
In more practical terms, it is also one of the surest ways to make sure that your
assignments are not just summaries but demonstrate the learning that has also
taken place.

Discussion/Reflection Task 4
Below are points to consider in writing about note-taking. Using what you
have just read in this unit, expand on the notes below and make connections
between points where appropriate. If possible, compare your notes with those
of other students.

margin notes
index cards



Author's viewpoint



In this section we have looked at reasons for note-taking and different ways of
doing it. Three main reasons were highlighted:
1. as an aid to memory
2. to provide a summary for later use
3. to promote active reading and encourage synthesis
Types of note-taking techniques discussed were:
7. highlighting
8. margin notes
9. summaries
10. making use of original headings and sub-headings
11. creating tables

12. creating tree diagrams

13. condensed notes on index cards
14. synthesising diagrams

Record keeping
In discussing note-taking we have already touched on the importance of
differentiating between quotations and summaries. In this section, we shall
look briefly at record-keeping and particularly at good bibliographic practices.


What information to keep

Whenever you take notes on paper, that is when you are not just highlighting
or writing in the margin on a text, you must write down certain bibliographic
reference data: the full name of the author or authors, date, title, place of
publication, publisher and, for articles, page numbers. You will need this
information if you make use of any of the material in your notes when you are
writing an assignment or your dissertation. The information needed is detailed
in Appendix 1 at the back of this Self-Study Guide and in your Student
Activity 5
Look back at the example of condensed notes, written on an index card in
Figure 2.2. You will see that all the bibliographic details of the Fries chapter
are written at the top of the card. In addition, where a phrase has been quoted,
a specific page reference has been given. Consider why it is good practice to
include all this bibliographic data. Write down the reasons you think of.

Note that acknowledgement of sources should be made not only for direct
quotes, but also for summaries or paraphrases of the ideas of someone else
(see also unit 5). Anything which is not acknowledged is assumed to be the
writers own ideas. To avoid this, make sure that you have all the information
you need to provide on all your notes. Many people find it useful to start a
card index system for bibliographical information or to use bibliographic
software packages. Both allow you to keep an alphabetical listing of sources

which can easily be consulted when compiling a reference list at the end of an
assignment. In the example of an index card below, no further information is
included. However, you could write details of where you found this book, if it
is not yours. For example, if you borrowed it from someone, make a note of
their name. If you found it in a library, write down the name of the library and
the reference numbers and or letters. It is surprisingly easy to lose track of
where you got a particular book or article from.
Eggins, S. (1994)
An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics. London: Pinter.
(borrowed from A. Friend)


In this section we will look first at reasons for writing in an academic context
and then at the important part that writing plays in learning itself. We will then
look at the process of producing a piece of writing, usually an assignment, and
ways of improving what is produced. (Improving your written assignments
will be discussed in more detail in Unit 5.)


Why write?
Discussion/Reflection Task 5
Before you read any further, write a list of reasons why you think writing is
considered important in universities. Why are you asked to write assignments
and dissertations?
Typical answers to questions such as this include:
- to increase understanding of a topic
- to practice writing in English
- to explore topics in depth
- to test whether the course work has been done
- to provide motivation to study
- to enable lecturers to give feedback on progress
- to allow research to be reported

We will look at some of these under the headings Assessment, Feedback and
Intellectual Development below.
In order for the University of Birmingham to be able to award you a Masters
degree, lecturers need to be sure that you have learned subject content and that
you have demonstrated the necessary level of intellectual ability. This is done
by assessment of your work against a standard set by the University and the
English Department. To make sure that this standard is high enough an
external examiner from another university also evaluates students work and
the marks awarded. Thus, one of the primary purposes of writing is to allow
this assessment to be made.
In a programme such as this one, where face-to-face contact with lecturers is
limited, regular assignment writing is an important way in which both the staff
and the individual students get feedback on the course. The comments you
receive from staff should indicate whether you have understood the work and
even more importantly, how you can improve (see 1.7.4). If written work was
only set to enable lecturers to give you a mark, you would not receive the
detailed feedback that is essential if you are to progress in your studies.
Studying at Masters level is not just learning new facts about something, it
consists of both increasing your knowledge of the subject and your ability to
think and argue analytically. Commenting on your written work allows staff to
advise you on whether you have used an appropriate structure for your topic,
whether your work is coherent and well argued, and whether the level of
evaluative and analytical comment is sufficient. This is in addition to
commenting on aspects of style, presentation and language (see Unit 3). In
most cases, you are not going to re-write your assignment in the light of these
comments. Their purpose is to help you improve as a student in terms of
knowledge and ability to think and write analytically.
We have found in the past that most people put a great deal of time and effort
into assignment writing, and can therefore feel disappointed or even angry if
they do not get the mark they were hoping for, or if they markers has criticised

an aspect of their work in a way that they do not like. Please remember that all
marking is anonymous, and that markers have no perverse desire to fail you or
mark you down; in fact it is in our interest that everyone on the course should
do well! Nor do markers deliberately say things in a way intended to offend.
We hope that you wont have such problems, but if when you read your
feedback you feel upset in any way about the content or tone, we suggest you
wait for a couple of days at least before firing off an angry email to your tutor.
Then, if you still feel you have been treated unjustly, discuss the matter with
your tutor.
Intellectual development
Intellectual development is the goal of academic study, and learning to think
critically and analytically is fostered by the discipline of writing. Reading
alone is often insufficient as a means of promoting understanding in depth.
Writing encourages you to compare, contrast, analyse and evaluate the
different theories or perspectives you have read about. In this way, you
develop your own thoughts on a subject. As you try to make sense of what you
have read in order to write about it, your thinking processes are stimulated.
This is reflected in the product of your thinking processes, your writing.
The processes involved in generating ideas and beginning to write as well as
the finished product of your writing your assignment or dissertation are
considered in detail below. Before moving on, however, let us review the
reasons for writing. Writing is important as an assessment tool, to make sure
that learning has taken place. Writing is also pedagogically important, in that
it allows lecturers to indicate ways in which you can improve your intellectual
and communication skills. Finally, the processes that lead up to writing are a
vital component in intellectual development.

Writing as a process
Activity 6
What do you think 'Writing as a process' means? Write down the processes
involved in writing an assignment.

Writing can be viewed as a process at two levels. On the first level, it is a

process because it requires a number of procedures to be carried out in order
to create the finished written product. Second, it is a learning process. The
learning takes place at the same time as the procedures are gone through.
The processes listed in the Commentary on Activity 6 involve both manual
and intellectual activity. We have dealt with the importance of active
engagement with texts when reading and note-taking. This engagement means
that as well as finding out about the work of others, you are synthesising
information to produce your own way of ordering or looking at it. This is your
own unique viewpoint on a topic. It is this viewpoint which you will want to
convey in your assignment. Some people synthesise and come to their
viewpoint before starting on the physical process of writing. For others, the act
of writing itself helps them to create order in their thinking. For many, it is a
combination of the two; preparation for an assignment begins the process of
intellectual engagement, but it is during the creation of a logical, well-argued
text that ideas and points of view are refined and clarified.
The intellectual content of your writing is judged against answers to question
such as:

Has the question been answered?

Is the level of detail appropriate?
Has the literature been read and understood and is this reflected in how it
is discussed?
Is the evaluation sound?
Is the assignment well-structured?
Is there a logical argument running through the assignment?

In the following two sections, we will look at how you present your work
appropriately and how you try to achieve positive answers to all of these
questions. (Further advice on presentation and style is given in Unit 3.)

Writing as a product
In 2.7.2 we dealt with what happens intellectually as you write. The product of
this intellectual journey is the finished assignment. To be a successful
assignment it must show that you have successfully completed the journey and

can communicate your ideas or findings in an academic style, appropriately

Your writing should show your mastery of the English language and a formal
academic style. You cannot expect to gain a higher degree from a British
university if you do not know how to write appropriate (and correct) English
(at least most of the time). Your work will be judged on the basis of content
and overall presentation. Presentation features of importance to writing are:

grammar, spelling and punctuation

consistent and logical paragraphing
the use of academic conventions such as acknowledging other authors and
sources of information and correctly referencing their work

Tidy, smart-looking work which follows the layout requested is also desirable.
Attention to all these features creates the impression of someone who cares
about the standard of their work.

Assignment writing
The discussion of assignment writing below is arranged as if each process
follows sequentially one after the other. This is for ease of presentation.
Remember that every writer has his or her own individual way of learning and
writing. In addition, every task is different and requires you to respond and
organise your writing in different but appropriate ways (see also Unit 5).
Choice of assignments
You are always given a choice of assignments. This is in order to allow you to
do more detailed reading and thinking in an area that you are interested in. So
your first task is to look at the assignments and choose the one that interests
you the most.
Assignment title
Next, look at exactly what the assignment is asking you to do.
Discussion/Reflection Task 6
Consider the assignment option given below taken from the TEFL Module
course on Classroom and Spoken Discourse by David Brazil. Underline the
words that you think are most important in telling you what to do.

Record part of a conversation. It can be collected in any of the situations

mentioned in the second paragraph on page 123. Transcribe part of it, for
preference choosing a part in which there are fairly frequent alternations of
speaker. Make an analysis using the categories proposed by Francis and
Hunston. Make notes of any places where they do not seem to you to fit and
try to explain just what the problem is. (Work like this can be very timeconsuming! Attempt only as much data as you can transcribe and analyse in
one or two hours.)

This assignment option uses a number of imperatives to instruct you in what is

wanted Record, Transcribe, Make an analysis, Make notes...and try to
explain. This makes knowing what is wanted much easier. The advice in
brackets also aims to help you avoid the biggest problem with this type of
assignment spending too much time on the transcription and analysis and not
enough time on trying to explain what the problem is. The twin aims of this
assignment are to establish that you understand how to apply a model to your
own data and equally importantly that you can try to explain its shortcomings.
In other words, in the light of your analysis you are being asked to evaluate
critically Francis and Hunstons categories. (For a fuller discussion of
assignment titles see 5.5.)
Other factors which will affect how you write your assignment are the course
regulations for assignments. Check these carefully in the Student Handbook.
You need to know, for example, how many words are required, what kinds of
presentation are acceptable and so on.
After you have decided on your task, you need to proceed in one of two ways.
If the task requires you to provide your own data, as in the recordings needed
for the Classroom and Spoken Discourse assignment, this should be sorted out
as quickly as possible. Collecting data might involve recording speech or
finding particular texts. Alternatively, the assignment may be based on

information or data given in the course units. In this case, these should be
studied carefully.
Then, for both types of assignment, reading around the topic area is vital. At
this stage, your reading should be extensive, that is, read a lot but not in great
detail. After reading and/or analysis, you are in a position to decide what
approach to take to the assignment title. Having decided on the approach, it
will probably be necessary to read on some areas of the topic in more detail.
The planning stage follows, in which you need first to outline the structure of
your assignment and then gradually add more detail so that the logic behind
your arguments can be clearly seen. Some people write very detailed plans,
others find it easier to just start writing. If you are one of the people who likes
to just start writing, then it is especially important that after writing you go
back and check that your arguments are clear, logical and expressed
The drafting stage is when you develop your plan or ideas into paragraphs and
eventually a complete text. At this stage, do not worry about grammar,
spelling and punctuation. It is more important to get down your ideas on
paper. Continue to work on this until you are happy that everything you want
to say is included. You have now produced a first draft and the main
intellectual activity has been completed.
Activity 7
Using the information given above, write a list of the stages of writing a first
draft of an assignment.
A first draft is not a suitable product to send in to be marked (although we
advise you to send it to your tutor at this stage for their feedback). It may
contain the relevant information, analysis and discussion, but not necessarily

in a form that will impress your audience. Before you start redrafting think
again about the assignment title have you answered it? Think also about
your reader. Are your paragraphs logically connected? Are any paragraphs too
long or too short? Have you used an appropriate academic style including
appropriate citations and a reference list? Is the level of detail appropriate?
You can assume that your reader is familiar with the subject and does not need
a summary of the material from your course units. Use citations for this.
For example,
Much of the recent work on metaphor has been influenced by Lakoff and Johnsons
(1980) theory of metaphorical systems. In the discussion below, a number of the
metaphorical systems used in contemporary journalis m will be analysed

In this fragment of an assignment it has been assumed that the marker will be
familiar with Lakoff and Johnsons work and that it does not therefore need to
be summarised. An exception to this would be if you were extending or
criticising someone elses work or theories. In such a case you would need to
highlight in greater detail the areas of their work that you were concerned
with. (Readership is discussed further in Unit 3 and Commenting on the
work of others in Unit 5.)
After redrafting, careful proof-reading is necessary to deal with grammar,
spelling, punctuation and presentation.

Below is a brief guide to proof-reading. It is dealt with more fully in 5.8.3.
Use the spellchecker on your computer, but remember that this is only an aid
to correcting your text. It is not a substitute for careful reading. If there are
alternative spellings for a word (e.g. familiarize/familiarise), choose one and
use it consistently. If there are two words with similar spellings (e.g.
affect/effect) or pronunciations (there/their) and you are unsure which one is
correct, use a dictionary.

Grammar checkers on word processing programs are of limited value. Most of
the changes suggested by my grammar checker on this unit were wrong, so
beware! Look out for things such as: agreement between verbs and nouns;
irregular verbs; using prepositions correctly; choosing the right conjunction to
suit the connection you are signalling; and whether a noun is only used
uncountably (e.g. luck) or in the plural (e.g. scissors). The larger learners
dictionaries (e.g. Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary or Cambridge
International Dictionary of English) give grammar information and examples
to help with these sorts of problems. The larger dictionaries also give advice
on whether a word or expression has a restricted use, for example that it is
used mostly in speech or conversation or only in formal contexts. There are
also numerous books dealing with correct usage or typical errors (e.g. Turton
(1995) or Collins Cobuild English Usage (1992)). Try to become aware of
your own common errors. Remember, when you are unsure, look it up and
make a note of the correct form. Perhaps write yourself out a list of common
spelling and grammatical errors and pin it up where you do your writing.
Check that all your paragraphs are of a generally consistent length, that is,
roughly a third to half a page long. This usually means three to seven
sentences each. There should be no paragraphs of a single sentence or
paragraphs of more than a page.
If you find a very short paragraph try to join it to the previous or following
paragraph. You may find that you need to change the wording of one or two of
the sentences when you do this to ensure that the argument flows logically.
The same applies if you find that you have written a very long paragraph.
Break it down into smaller units and check that there are links between the
new paragraphs so that the reader can follow the logic of your argument
Make sure that your references are listed in a consistent style (see the Student
Handbook for information on this) and that you have included everything cited

in the assignment or dissertation. Finally, make sure that your headings, subheadings and numbering system are all consistent. This is particularly
important as these are used in referring to specific parts of your work on
feedback reports.

In this section on writing we have looked at why writing is necessary for
assessment and feedback, and its role in intellectual development. We have
discussed the processes involved in writing and how these develop into the
final product. Finally, we looked at the stages of writing an assignment:


choosing an assignment that interests you

examining the title so that you know exactly what you are being asked to
gathering data, if necessary
reading around the topic
planning the structure of the assignment
writing the first draft

Unit Summary
In this unit, we have looked at:

approaches to reading academic texts

taking notes from books and articles
keeping accurate records of your source material
the purpose of writing
the process of writing and redrafting


Commentary on Activities
Commentary on Activity 1

the answer is (c). We can predict or guess that it will tell us about the
relationship between clauses in English, that these relationships have
an influence on how information is structured and that there are two
basic structures.


There is no commentary for this part of the activity


Information about what clause relations are can be found on page 50 of

the section on Clause relations. Text structures are summarised
briefly on pages 467, part (c) of the Introduction to Clause
Relations. More information is given on pages 556 Introduction to
Basic Text Structure.

Commentary on Activity 2
Below is one possible summary of the main arguments made by Winter.
Winter argues for the centrality of the clause in studies of grammar and in discours e
analysis. Clauses are interpreted in the context of adjoining clauses and the discourse
as a whole. Within a text, a clause acts as a device of co -relevance (p. 66), that is,
the second clause in a sequence must be relevant to the preceding one. Only in this
way can texts make sense.

Commentary on Activity 3
Independent conjoinable clause complexes
An independent conjoinable clause complex is an independent clause together with
all related dependent clauses, similar to the T-unit. Defined by Fries (1994: 227) in a
discussion of Theme.

Note that the definition given above is not identical with the wording in Fries,
so it is not enclosed in inverted commas. However, it is based on Fries, so a
reference to him is included. The reference is not written out in full, because it
is assumed that you would have a full referencing system elsewhere, which
would provide all the details about Fries (1994).
Commentary on Activity 4
These are the full notes. The missing words appear in italic.
Winter, E. (1994) Clause relations as information structure: two basic text structures in
English. In M. Coulthard (ed.) Advances in Written Text Analysis. London: Routledge. pp.
3 assumptions about the clause
1st not possible to say everything about something all at once. select what is
important and encode it within the clause to convey a unique message (p. 47)
2nd every clause matters to the message
3rd clauses influence and are influenced by adjoining clauses, i.e. there is a

Clause relations
1. The matching relation
2. The logical sequence relation
3. The multiple clause relation

Commentary on Activity 5
Reasons for including bibliographic details include:

demonstrates the type of background work that has been done

shows how the present work fits in to the wider research context

allows the writer to give credit to those people who have thought and
written about the subject and whose ideas have been influential

allows other people to find the same sources of information or ideas, if

they want to check something or do additional work in a similar area

helps to prevent people stealing someone elses ideas and pretending

they are original

Commentary on Activity 6
In order to write an assignment you may have listed some or all of these
reading around the topic
reading in depth
taking notes
collecting and analysing data
evaluating information collected
deciding on a point of view
designing a writing plan
writing a first draft
reading and revising
producing a final document
Commentary on Activity 7
Stages in preparing a first draft of an assignment

choose a topic that interests you


analyse the title so that you know exactly what you are being asked to


collect data, if necessary


read around the topic area


decide on your approach to the topic


read certain key texts in more detail


analyse data, if necessary


plan your writing


expand your plan into a first draft



This is the first of two units which look at general issues in approaching
academic writing. This unit looks at the macro-level of organisation, relating
to readership and style of writing. The following unit will look at micro-level
organisation of discourse.


By the end of this unit you will be able to:

analyse readership and choose an appropriate position in relation to your



select and organise content appropriate to the readership

adopt an effective visual and written style of presentation

Any writing is done in a particular context and the writer needs to ask specific
questions about that context in order to produce an effective document. He or
she needs to consider who will read it and why it will be read and the answers
to these two questions will lead to two further questions: what does the reader
need to know and how should the information be presented? Finding
appropriate answers to these questions can provide a useful framework for
approaching any writing task.


will read it?


will they read it?


do they need to know?







Who is Your Audience?

Before starting to write anything it is important to consider your audience or
readers i.e. who will read your work, and your status or relationship with


Specialist or non-specialist
One important consideration concerning your relationship with your reader is
whether you or your reader has specialist knowledge about the subject. For
instance, a linguist writing for a linguistics journal or textbook, in other words
a specialist writing to other specialists, could write as follows:
Anger. The frequency domain seems to be particularly important for the encoding of
anger, although intensity also has been found to play a vital role. Other anger effects
include increases in high frequency energy and downward directed FO contours. The
rate of articulation usually goes up. (Pittam, (1994) Voice in Social Interaction )

However, if a linguist is writing for a public newspaper or magazine aimed at

a general, non-specialist audience, the same message might be conveyed as
The pitch and volume of ones voice has been found to play a very important role in
the communication of anger. Particular indicators of anger include high pit ched,
rapid speech and low, commanding voice tones.

Discussion/Reflection Task 1
As a graduate student writing academic texts, how do you consider your
relationship with your reader(s)? Draw an arrow to show the direction of
communication between yourself and your reader(s):




non-specialist specialist

For graduate students it is usually your supervisor or other internal or external

markers who will read your work, all of whom are likely to know a
considerable amount about the subject you are writing on. As such, your
readers can generally be considered as specialists or, at least, semi-specialists.
This does not mean, however, that you do not need to write clearly or explain
your terms where there may be confusion. You must demonstrate that you
understand the jargon of the genre in which you are writing, as well as the
content and concepts of the course. Conversely, your readers are not fellow
students or teachers, so it is equally unwise to take an approach that sounds
familiar or hortatory. It is important when writing academic assignments to
keep the expectations and knowledge of your readers in mind.
Discussion/Reflection Task 2
Consider the following statements. Who are they written for? How are they

Culture is mental programming; it is the software of the mind.


Culture is understood as a learned system of shared beliefs and practices which guides the
perceptions and behaviour of a group and which gives the members of the group a sense
of identity and cohesion.

Statement (1) is taken from Culture and Organisations by Geert Hofstede

(1991) which is a book on international business management written for a

non-specialist audience. Statement (2) is taken from a Ph.D. thesis in applied

linguistics and is intended for a specialist audience. The differences in overall
length, linguistic complexity and precision between the two statements reflect
the two writers views of their audiences expectations.
Activity 1
Now write a one-sentence definition of grammar for two different audiences:
one for graduate students from another, unrelated discipline and the other for a
tutor from your field of study.


As well as considering how specialised your reader is, it is important to think
about another aspect of your relationship with that reader, i.e. are you
communicating with someone you consider to be of equal or different status to
you? The tone of a message largely depends on this inter-relationship between
the writer and the reader. Communication flow can generally be categorised in
one of two directions: horizontal or vertical depending on the status of the
If, for example, a lecturer writes an article in a refereed journal whose
readership includes other professionals of similar expertise and standing, the
communication would normally be seen as horizontal; the writer sees his or
her audience as professional equals and his or her relationship with them as

Horizontal communication

However, the communication would normally be categorised as vertical when

the relationship between the participants is one of unequal or asymmetrical
status, whether because of seniority, specialist knowledge or other reasons:
Vertical communication


Basically, the greater the perceived difference in status between the writer and




asymmetrical the



will have

consequences for how you write and present your work, particularly in terms
of style.

Why are you writing?

People rarely write anything purely to convey information, there is usually
also an underlying purpose of bringing about some action.
Discussion/Reflection Task 3
Writing for academic purposes has particular reasons. Which of the following
do you think are reasons for writing academic assignments?
1. to recommend or suggest possible courses of action
2. to convey information
3. to tell someone how to do something
4. to persuade someone to accept your views
5. to display knowledge and expertise
6. to display originality of thought
7. to show you have put in a lot of effort

One of the unusual things about writing academic assignments is that the
reader already knows a lot about the content. Consequently, the main purpose
of writing is not simply to convey information (2), or to teach or tell someone
how to do something, in an instructional sense (3). However, there may well
be points in an assignment where the writer wants to make recommendations
(1), perhaps based on the findings of a study, or to persuade the reader to
accept his or her arguments or criticisms (4), for instance of some research
Perhaps the main reasons, however, for writing such documents, although one
which is often implicit rather than explicit, is (5), to display familiarity,

expertise and intelligence (Swales, 1994: 8). As has already been stressed in
Unit 2,

this is the fundamental purpose of setting assignments and

dissertations for assessment. In the British academic tradition it is expected

that you have put in a lot of effort into your work so this should show in your
writing (7). Originality of thought (6) is respected and will earn you high
marks (see 5.9) but should not be misinterpreted as all your own ideas. See
3.8.3 for more on this topic.

If you answer the questions who am I writing for? and why am I writing?
you should be able to position or establish yourself as a junior member of your
academic field. From this point you can then go on to make further
considerations about what and how you write to your intended audience.


What does your audience need to know?


Selecting information
It is important when writing to consider carefully what to include and what to
exclude from your work: too little information will not convince your reader
and too much may obscure your main points.
For example, this extract from the contents section of an MA students draft
dissertation is extremely long and over-detailed.

Chapter five: THE JULY STUDY 2014


First objective


Second objective


Third objective


Fourth objective


Methods section


The layout of the journal

All the reader needs is a general outline showing how the contents are


Objectives: 14
Journal design

Activity 2
Read through the next part of this dissertation contents list. Cross out anything
you would omit and decide why you would omit it. Rewrite the chapter

Chapter six: RESULTS achievement of the third objective


A description of the system of collecting general information from the

trainees about their teaching in operation at the time of the
introduction of the journal


Thoughts about the above system


The effect (if any) that the introduction of the journal had on this system


Did the journal enable the trainers to gain a better picture of the trainees?


Could the first part of the journal have been integrated more into the course?


The idea of allocating time to percolate


The daily teaching practice reflection sheets


The trainers global feelings

(ii) Did the trainers ascertain whether the trainees had understood the weaker
stronger points of their lessons after reading the daily teaching
practice sheets?
(iii) Were the trainers surprised at anything they read?
(iv) Trainers comments


Suggestions for improvements to the daily teaching practice sheets

The question of assessment

Organising information
Logical structure
If your work is carefully organised, the overall structure should be transparent,
i.e. the organisation of contents should be clear and logical to someone who
skims it for a few seconds. This is achieved by planning your ideas in advance
to make a coherent argument. Each paragraph should focus on one central idea
and the connection of this idea to previous points you have made, and your
following text should be made as clear as possible. Often the central idea or
topic is contained in a phrase in the first sentence of each paragraph. This also
helps readers to understand the progression of the argument at a glance.
However, a clear piece of writing that flows from start to finish (see 4.6) is a
very skilful product that may take many drafts to achieve, especially if there
are many differing arguments and complex details to include in your writing.

Activity 3
Read the following, badly-organised, text. The four sections are in the wrong

Put the identifying letters in the correct order in the boxes at the

bottom of the page.


What other faults are there in this text? Write out an improved version.


All definitions focus on the learner as an individual, with individual learning needs,
styles and strategies. However, how such individualised learning is organised can
vary considerably and is not necessarily synonymous with autonomy and selfdirection of learning. For instance, individualisation could take place in a highly
authoritarian framework where the teacher considers a students individual problems
and decides how to treat that student and what work he or she should do. At the other
extreme, a learner may have complete autonomy concerning what, how and when he
or she chooses to learn. Obviously, most cases of individualised learning come
somewhere between these two extremes and involve learners in assuming some level
of responsibility for their own learning. Indeed, this belief that learning cannot be
done to or for learners but must be done by them is a basic assumption behind most
definitions of individualisation.


(Individualisation does not necessarily mean that students have to work on their own
either, in some cases individualisation can take place in small groups or pairs with
students working on a similar task. In this sense, individualisation may best be seen
not as a method but a way of re-organising the resources and management of the
classroom environment (McDonough and Shaw, 1995: 245). Obviously, such a view
of learning can have considerable consequences on how the roles of teacher and
learner are viewed.


Individualisation in language teaching itself has many permutations but all of them in
some way break the traditional lock-step or whole class approach to teaching and


The concept of individualised learning or individualisation has developed over the

last twenty years with the increasing focus on learner-centred education, not just in
language teaching but also in industry, for instance, open learning facilities and
continuous or permanent education programmes.

Selection and organisation of your content will also be simpler if paragraphs

have suitable headings. These headings summarise the central idea or topic.
You would not normally be expected to give headings to the paragraphs you
write in the final drafts of your academic writing, but it may help you to
redraft your own work if you note down the topic of each paragraph
(especially in complex pieces of writing) to examine whether your argument is
as clear and logical as it could be.
Activity 4
Look at the extracts from paragraphs below from Garant, M. (1992)







Japanese Junior High Schools. The Language Teacher 16 (11) November

1. Decide which of the headings given after the text should go with each
2. Are these paragraphs in a logical order? Why? Why not?
(a) Team teaching takes many forms throughout the world. Dudley Evans (1982) and
Escorcia (1983) define team teaching in terms of subject teachers cooperating with L2
teachers. In Japan the term refers to something quite different. Minoru Wada, formerly
foreign language curriculum specialist of the Ministry of Education (Mombusho), defines
it as follows:
Team teaching is a concerted endeavour made jointly by the Japanese teacher of
(JTE) and the assistant English teacher (AET) in an English language classroom in
the students, the JTE and the AET are engaged in communicative activities.
(Brumby and
Wada, 1991)
The JET Programme began in 1987. By 1992, 2874 AETs were employed on the
including a small number of French and German assistant language teachers (CLARE,

Many AETs also work outside of the classroom assisting with sister city schemes, and
similar activities.
(b) The broad scale introduction of team teaching must b e one of the largest international
education projects attempted by any government. However, at the time of writing no
official methodology has been formulated by the Education ministry to guide AETs who
are assigned to schools and told to team teach with JTEs (Nozawa, 1992). The purpose of
this paper is first to suggest that since the establishment of the programme in 1987 team
teaching methodology has emerged in Japan at the local level; and second, to provide a
terminology and framework for the understanding of this methodology, differentiating
between methods which will be classified as traditional, semi-traditional, and nontraditional.
(c) Team teaching methods which produce lessons that deviate little from the traditional
teacher-centred grammar-translation lesson shall be classified as traditional team teaching
methods. The Assistant English Teacher assumes the role of the tape recorder. This
Human Tape Recorder Effect (Yokose, 1989) is not uncommon. Students in the classes
observed had difficulty answering the simplest questions and usually responded with only
memorised patterns.


Emergence of methodology


The traditional team teaching


Team teaching in the

Japanese context

Numbering system
It is also easy to follow the structure of a text if the information is well
classified using a clear and consistent numbering or outlining system. Limit
your subsections to no more than two levels as in the following example
(taken from the Contents section of a dissertation).
Chapter 3


Review of the Literature

Definitions of In-service Education and Training of Teachers

The Importance of INSET

Teaching Theories
The Craft Model


The Applied Science Model
The Reflective Model
The Process of Teacher Training





Activity 5
The following text is taken from an annual report of the International English
Club (IEC) and is the sixth section, reporting on Club Activities. Read through
it and then reorganise it, by adding a numbering system and headings, so that
it is easier to read.
A number of sports events were held at the club during this period, as well as regu lar team
practices. In football, IEC reached the final of the Universities Cup, and defeated the Overseas
Students team. In swimming, IEC also reached the final of the Cup but lost the match against
the Asian Students team. A similar standard was not, however, reached in volleyball and the
team was knocked out in the first round of the Cup. It is planned to bring in a coach for the
team during 1998, in order to improve their play. During this period, the club invited 5
lecturers to give lectures on different subjects. There was a high attendance rate. The club
showed weekly films. These were extremely popular and frequent requests were received for a
second showing. In 1997 the club organised a number of excursions to towns and regions in
the UK as well as a trip to Paris and a ski trip to the Italian Alps. During the summer the club
opened the sports facilities from 9.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. for members children. In addition, the
facilities were opened for members from 2.00 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. Moreover, the club opened a
good self-service restaurant providing meals for members at a nominal price.


In the last section we looked at what you write in terms of the selection and
organisation of content. You need to select information carefully to suit the
needs of your reader(s) and structure it in a way that makes the content easily
accessible. The third and final section of this unit deals with the visual and
written presentation of your writing.


How Should the Information be Presented?

How you write and how you present your ideas is your style of presentation,
both in terms of visual presentation and written presentation. These can have a
major impact on your reader(s). Even if your arguments and ideas are sound, if
your style of presentation creates the wrong impression it can have a negative
impact on your reader (and negative consequences for your assessment!).


Creating a good visual impression

It is important to obtain a balance between under- and over-presenting your
work. Your audience will expect and/or give credit for work which is carefully
edited and presented in a way which facilitates reading. On the other hand,
your work is supposed to be a piece of serious academic writing and overuse
of decorative or unnecessary visuals are unlikely to impress your reader(s).
Discussion/Reflection Task 4
Which of the following factors are helpful (H) or unhelpful (U) for good
visual presentation?
1. large font size
2. plenty of white space (margins, space between paragraphs etc.
3. spelling and grammatical accuracy
4. consistent numbering system
5. use of headings and subheadings
6. use of many different fonts
7. page numbering
8. hard cover bindings
9. colour graphics
10. coloured cover sheets
11. roughly equal paragraphs

Apart from (1) (if excessive) and (6) all of these factors are helpful in creating
a good visual impression, although (9) is still a luxury extra for many people
and (8) may not always be welcome (although your dissertation must be
presented in a hard cover, your assignments should not be (see Student
Handbook for more details)).
It is important to make sure there is enough white space and to avoid
overcrowded, text-filled pages which are difficult to read. Similarly, the use of
short and simple headings and sub-headings, together with a consistent
numbering system and page numbers, can act as a visual guide for your

readers. These outlining signals can be extremely helpful to you as a writer

when you are planning your assignments or dissertation. They also provide a
useful reference guide for markers. Accurate spelling and grammar help create
a good, professional impression and avoid distracting the readers attention
from the content of the text (see Section 2.7.5).
Returning to factors (1) and (6), use of font size and type, these should be
chosen with a view to ease of reading. A font size of 12 points is usual and it
is best to use as few different font types as possible. As a general guide, use as
models for the layout, numbering and formatting of your writing the Student
Handbook and the course materials (like this Study Guide).
Activity 6
Look at the following two extracts from different page layouts and decide
which one makes a better visual impact and give your reasons why:


In summary, the Speakership Table (Table 1) gives general

information about the participants concerning, gender, ethnic
origin and native/non-native speaker status for each of the
four meetings. The speakers are ranked regarding volume of
talk, but only in terms of total number of turns. Other
information is, however, given concerning the number of long
turns. Information is also given about turn initiation, under
the headings invited turns and initiated turns and about turn
completion, under the headings interrupts and interrupted.
A final point regarding speakership is the fact that several speakers
participate in more than one of the four meetings. The ranking of
these participants, in terms of number of turns, is shown in Table 2

Albert (UK)

Roland (UK)

Ken (HKC)


Meeting A

1 (chair)

Meeting B

1 (chair)

Meeting C

1 (chair)

Meeting D

Paul HKC)

Ken (AUS)



Topic control refers to a speakers ability to

control the flow of topics in a discussion or
conversation by either initiating, developing
or closing a topic. Topic control is part of
the normal flow of conversational activity but
gives general information about the
participants concerning, gender, ethnic
origin and native/non-native speaker status.
The speakers are ranked regarding volume of
talk, but only in terms of total number of
turns: other information is, however, given
concerning number of long turns. Information
is also given about turn initiation, under
the headings invited turns and initiated
turns and about turn completion, under the
headings interrupts and interrupted.
A final point regarding speakership is the
fact that several speakers participate in more
than one of the four meetings. The ranking of
these participants, in terms of number of
turns, is shown in Table 1 below:



Ken (HKC)


Table 2: Ranking of speakers who participate in more than

one meeting, in terms of number of turns.

John (AUS)


Barry (UK)

John (Aus)

Ken (AUS)


Barry (UK)

Paul (HKC)


Written presentation
It is not only important to present your documents in a form which creates a
good visual impression, it is also important to create a good impression by
choosing an appropriate style of writing. The style of writing you choose
reflects your stance or the degree of formality vis--vis your reader (see also
Section 3.4.2)
There are some fairly widely accepted conventions within the British
academic writing community which it is advisable to follow if you wish to be
accepted as a member of that discourse community. It is also wise to
remember that even if in personal correspondence with you, your supervisor
adopts a fairly informal approach to your relationship, when it comes to
writing assignments, a more distant or formal stance is expected. There may
well be other readers of your work (for example, external examiners or
markers) who do not know you and therefore you should adopt the
conventional style of academic writing.
Some of these conventions are based on underlying cultural or social ideals
which are not universally valued, such as individualism, empiricism and
rationalism. We will see how such general social values relate to some of the
central characteristics of academic writing style.

3. 8

Characteristics of Academic Writing Style


Returning to what was said earlier about considering the stance or position
you need to take when writing in an academic context, generally, the greater
the distance in terms of social relationship and status between the writer and
the reader, the more formal the style of writing. There are many ways to make
a message more or less formal.
The more directly you address your reader the more personal and informal the
style becomes. There are several ways of achieving the required level of








indirectness, by, for instance, avoiding the use of personal pronouns you and

we and contracted forms, choosing latinate (= based on Latin) rather than

phrasal verbs, avoiding vague words and expressions and choosing noun
phrases rather than verb phrases. Some of the most common features are
illustrated below.
Avoiding personal pronoun you
If you do not want to sound too personal or informal, avoid addressing the
reader directly, as you.
One obvious way of avoiding the use of you in writing is by choosing passive
verb forms. Passives can be used for a variety of reasons but they are
frequently used for stylistic purposes, to change the focus of the message, that
is to move it away from the doer, the agent.
You can see the results in Table 1
The results can be seen in Table 1

Another way of avoiding the use of personal subjects like you is by using
empty it or there constructions.
You might like to know at this point why I decided to use this particular
It might be helpful to explain here why this particular methodology was chosen.

Another way of avoiding a focus on a personal subject or agent is by changing
verb phrases into noun phrases.
A study of parents who correct children when they make grammatical errors
A study of parental correction of childrens grammatical errors

This strategy of writing about an event or a process as a thing (with a noun)

is common in academic writing. However, a lot of nominalisation can make
text seem stilted and unclear, so use it judiciously.

Activity 7
Change the following sentences by adding noun phrases to make them more

If we analyse the results we can show that x correlates significantly

with y.

The Government is responsible for planning the policy on language.


We rely too heavily on dictionaries and do not use contextual cues


If the Government rejects the proposal it may delay the introduction of

a single policy on language in Europe.

There are several other ways of avoiding informality which involve choosing
the formal alternative when selecting a verb, noun or other part of speech.
Contracted forms
Although contracted forms are quite acceptable in speech and informal writing
they are not used in formal academic writing.
The results werent what we expected
The results were not what we expected.
It isnt possible to draw generalisations
It is not possible to draw generalisations.

There are also alternative negative forms which will maintain a formal writing
not ... any
not ... much little
not ... many few


Activity 8
Change the negatives in the following sentences to make the style more
1. It hasnt received much attention in recent years.
2. The problem doesnt have many obvious solutions.

3. The analysis didnt give any new results.

4. Not much research has been done as yet in this area.

Phrasal verbs
Another way of making a style shift from informal to formal is through the
choice of verb. A very common stylistic device is the choice of latinate verbs
rather than an equivalent phrasal or prepositional verb:
A programme was set up to look into the problem
A programme was established to investigate the problem

Activity 9
Replace the verbs in italics in these sentences with more formal equivalents:
1. Many researchers have been looking into this question.
2. The results need to be firmed up.
3. It is difficult to get rid of all sources of error.
4. The issue was brought up at the last BAAL conference.
5. The study has been helped out by funds from the SSRC.
6. What seems to crop up quite often are one or two themes that might be worth looking at.


You need to be precise and concise about information you give by avoiding
vague or redundant words or phrases. There are several ways of doing this.
Idiomatic language
Everyday, spoken English contains many idiomatic expressions which are
rather vague or imprecise, for example, What sort of thing did you have in
mind? whereas most professional writing, including business or academic
writing, tends to be more explicit. In order to make your writing more precise
you need to make sure that every word means exactly what you intend it to
mean. This is particularly important if you want to avoid negative criticisms
regarding your claims or comments at what may seem a rather trivial level.
For instance, approximations of quantity (e.g. quite a large part, practically all,
very few) may be interpreted differently by different readers: they weaken
statements, especially those describing empirical observations.

Activity 10
Reformulate these sentences to make them more precise:

In a word, for Chomsky, the main idea of linguistic theory was to find out how
speakers can produce all sorts of sentences correctly.


Manufacturers are planning to get together on the research front to try and come up
with designs which are a bit safer.


The results were pretty negative really.


The training course hasnt actually had much of an impact on teaching styles.


The number of returned questionnaires was a bit on the thin side.

Run-on expressions
Another way of reducing imprecision is by avoiding the use of run-on
expressions or phrases, such as etc., and so on:
Many other socio-cultural factors need to be taken into account, such as age, religion
and so on
Many other socio-cultural factors need to be taken into account, including factors
such as age and religion.
Other important criteria are exposure to the target language, attitude etc. Various
other criteria such as exposure to the target language and attitude are also important.
Many cultures place a high value on symbolic behaviour such as religious
ceremonies, rituals and that sort of thing.
Religious ceremonies and rituals are examples of the type of symbolic behaviour
which is highly-valued in many cultures.

The way you refer to different parts of your text can confuse readers. For
instance, the use of common pronouns such as this, that, those on their
own can leave the reader searching for the noun which is being referred to. It
can be clearer to write, for example, this test, that trial, those reports.
Similarly, inappropriately attributing action in the name of objectivity can be
misleading. For instance, if the researcher is you, the writer, it can be
ambiguous or misleading to say the researcher instructed the subjects
when you mean I instructed the subjects . In this case using I is

Another way to make sure that your writing does not become vague and
unfocused is to avoid redundant words or phrases that add nothing to the
meaning you want to convey.
From the above mentioned results it can obviously be seen clearly that there is a
tendency towards a preference for a task-based methodology.
These results show a slight preference for a task-based methodology.

Activity 11
Rewrite the following, avoiding unnecessary repetition and redundancy:

I will now make an attempt to try to summarise briefly the results.


The proposal that is recommended for adoption would accomplish the removal of
errors with the desired degree of efficiency.


In our view, the suggested course of action would be to maintain continued use of the
language laboratory.


At this point in time we are engaged in re-evaluating the data.


In order for computer assisted language learning to become of practical use in

language teaching in Britain, the Government of Britain must have a direct hand in
encouraging the implementation of research and development into computer assisted
language learning. Making it attractive to companies to produce computer assisted
language learning programmes is also of grave importance.

Another way to make writing more concise and precise is by shortening

prepositional phrases:
during the course of = during
in view of the fact that = because

in order to = to
with a view to = for

with regard to = concerning


Another deeply-rooted value in British academic writing is objectivity, that is,
the avoidance of presenting ideas as personal subjective views in favour of
objective, empirical argument.
Activity 12
Match the following extracts with the characteristics listed on the right:

1. I think we should go ahead and invest in this project.





If we dont, well be missing a golden opportunity
2. Investment in this project is imperative.
Failure to invest would lead to a 30% reduction in output
3. We should consider investing in this project;

impersonal, fact, sure

if we dont it could lead to reduced output

4. This project should be given careful consideration



as it may prevent a reduction in output

Here are some of the commonest ways of achieving objectivity.

Personal pronouns I and we
The use of we should be used with caution in academic writing. First, it can
introduce a personal, subjective element and therefore reduce objectivity. It
can also be ambiguous in terms of who the we actually refers to. Is the author
referring to him/herself plus another co-writer? Or is the author referring to
him/herself in the plural to denote membership to the larger academic
discourse community? If this is the case there is a risk of assuming equal
stance with other members of that community (including your readers).
Lets now turn to the question of bilingualism.
Turning to the question of bilingualism.
Perhaps we should align ourselves with the view of Felder and Henriquew (1995).
The view of Felder and Henriquew (1995) may offer a better explanation.
Only after having done this can we then draw a list of criteria.
Only after having done this can a list of criteria be drawn
We can safely assume that our evaluation is of the more formal kind.
It can safely be assumed that our evaluation is of the more formal kind.

The use of I is also rather complicated in terms of how it reflects your stance.
Brookes and Grundy (1990) point out that not all non-native users of English
have the same view of the use of the first person pronoun in formal writing as

native writers seem to have (1990: 99). They claim that non-native writers
tend to use I to signal that something is important:
First, I feel it is important to define what the phrase action zone means.
Here, I think that the Ministry showed that it was aiming at incremental change.

whereas in the formal writing of native speakers there is a close link between
the use of I and tentative expressions such as I tend to think or I am inclined
to doubt.
There are however, other contexts where it is perfectly possible to use I,
particularly for directional purposes, for instance when outlining the structure
of your writing:
I will begin by outlining the rationale behind the questionnaire before detailing the
questions themselves.

or when reporting on actions, as is common in classroom or action research

For one lesson, I supplied each learner with a recorder, which was left on through out
the ninety minute class.
I will refer to contextual factors where they appear specifically relevant.

Consequently, it is quite possible that a writers style, in terms of how much

personal reference there is, may vary according to context. For instance, in a
graduate dissertation based on classroom research, the writer may well show
quite a strong personal involvement, including the use of I, in the Introduction
and Methods sections when explaining the direction he or she took. However,
chapters such as the Literature Review are likely to be much more impersonal
and consequently have a more formal tone with a more formal style.
Fact versus opinion
With a view to maintaining objectivity, it is important in academic writing to
distinguish what is fact and what is the writers opinion.
Activity 13

Read the following passage and complete the table below it:
The present suggestion scheme in the school has been a failure. This is evidenced by both
the low number of suggestions made in Term 1 and the low number of suggestions taken up
by management (5). Above all, it would seem that this failure is due to the low state of staff
morale at present. There are also a number of other reasons. Firstly, there are no guidelines for
making suggestions. Secondly, the reward for successful suggestions has not increased for
five years. Finally, the suggestions scheme committee is not suitable and does not have the
confidence of the staff.




1. suggestion scheme is a failure

2. failure due to low staff morale
3. lack of guidelines
4. low rewards for successful suggestions
5. unsuitable committee
Qualifying claims
You also need to recognise the limits of any claims you make in order to avoid
making over-generalisations or exaggerated statements. As Skelton states (in
Swales, 1994:86), it is important for students to learn to be confidently
uncertain. The reason for this is not to show that you are not very sure what
you are talking about but rather to express your views or claims with a degree
of modesty or deference for your reader (which brings us back again to the
question of the writers stance or position regarding the reader).
There are various ways of qualifying your opinions or claims, that is, how
certain or tentative you are, in order to avoid making over-generalisations. By
using the empty it construction, together with different qualifying verbs, such
as appear or seem, you can express an opinion with varying degrees of

Direct (100%)

it is clear that ...

it seems/appears clear that ...
it would seem/appear that ...
it would seem/appear clear that ...
it is likely that ...

it is possible that ...

it seems/appears probable that ...
Tentative (50%)

it would seem/appear possible that

Similarly, the careful use of adverbs, such as those shown in the table below,
can qualify the strength of a claim.
Direct (100%)


Tentative (50%)


One further way of reducing the strength of a claim is by choosing a verb with
weak rather than strong meaning:
Heavy fog caused the accident (strong meaning)
Heavy fog contributed to the accident (weaker meaning)

As mentioned above, it is also important, in terms of presenting information as

objectively as possible, to avoid making over-generalisations. One common
way of doing this is by using the verb tend:
Talkative parents have talkative children.
Talkative parents tend to have talkative children.

Another possibility is to add phrases of generalisation, such as on the whole, in

general, overall, in the main, to a ... extent
On the whole, people who start learning other languages early tend to learn them

Often, of course, several of these strategies for qualification are used together
to produce a defensible or objective argument:
Extroverts are less concerned about accuracy than fluency. It appears that
extroverts may be less concerned about accuracy than fluency.


Research shows that girls learn to read faster than boys. Research suggests that,
in general, girls tend to learn to read faster than boys.

The two sentences above are examples of the writer being confidently
uncertain, however, you also have to be aware of the danger of using
excessive qualification and ending up saying nothing (as many politicians are
so good at doing!).
Activity 14
Interference from the L1 ______________ the mistakes made by L2 learners.
Put the following phrases which could fill the gap in the above sentence, in
order, from 1 (strongest claim) to 6 (weakest claim).
a) contributes to
b) might be a small factor in
c) may contribute to
d) is probably one of the causes of
e) causes
f) is one of the causes of

Activity 15
Now, using some of the qualifying strategies illustrated above, try to
reformulate the following sentences to make them more objective and
1. People with high IQs are good language learners.
2. Aptitude is an important factor in language learning.
3. Teach yourself language learning packs are ineffective.
4. Increasing anxiety lowers language uptake.

Originality is another highly esteemed value in (British) academic writing,
resting on the underlying socio-cultural belief in individualism and the

centrality of original, critical thought. There are two areas of academic writing
which are directly influenced by this value.
Because of the importance given to individual creativity and originality in
many western societies, plagiarism the direct, unacknowledged use of
another writers words is generally disapproved of and often discredited or
formally condemned. Part of the reason why plagiarism is taken so seriously is
that the written word is often seen as belonging to the writer, particularly with
published material and that re-using it without acknowledgement is seen as a
sort of intellectual theft. This view can seem very strange and surprising to
students from countries which do not share such cultural values and where, for
instance, copying the words of an authority on a subject is perfectly
acceptable or even desirable.
Discussion/Reflection Task 5
List what you think are the main ways of avoiding plagiarism.
The most obvious way of avoiding plagiarism is by acknowledging clearly the
source of any information or ideas which are not your own by citing the
source correctly. There are various ways of doing this, together with
techniques such as summarising and paraphrasing, which are described in
detail in Unit 5.
Activity 16
The following excerpts of students writing (1. and 2.) are unacceptable
because of plagiarism. How can they be made acceptable?

Excerpt from published source:

(Low, G. (1989) Appropriate Design: the internal organisation of course units. In R. K.

Johnson, The Second Language Curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
It is hardly controversial to note that teaching materials are one of the major determinants of
what gets taught in language teaching programmes. Indeed, it has been ..

The assessment of language teaching materials, even when supplemented, as it should be, by
empirical studies, remains, like the evaluation of hi-fi equipment, something of a black art.
Designing appropriate materials is not a science; it is a strange mixture of imagination, insight
and analytic reasoning, and this fact must be recognised when the materials are assessed. The

Excerpt from a students essay:

It is hardly controversial to note that teaching materials are one of the major determinants of
what gets taught in language teaching programmes. Designing appropriate ma terials is not a
science; it is a strange mixture of imagination, insight and analytic reasoning, and this fact
must be recognised when the materials are assessed. The development of ESP syllabuses
during the 1970s made the material designers attention focus on what communicative
materials actually consist of.


Excerpt from published source:

(Hutchinson, T. and Waters, A. (1987) English for Specific Purposes: a learning-centered

approach. Page 98. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)

On what bases will you judge
Which criteria will be more



realisations of
the criteria do
you want in
your course?

How does the material being

evaluated realise the criteria?

How far does the material match
your needs?

Excerpt from a students essay:

There are several stages of the process of evaluating materials. First must be to define the
criteria for the evaluation, or deciding what are the most important points to evaluate the
material for our students. After criteria have been defined, next is needed some analysis.
There are two types of analysis, the subjective analysis and the objective analysis. Finally, we
must match the materials with the criteria which were defined before.

Critical thought
We have already seen that a graduate writer needs to employ a degree of
tentativeness when making claims, partly to show some modesty when
communicating upwardly to a specialist in the field and partly to maintain
Nevertheless, a high value is placed on originality of thought and an ability to
review others work critically. Credit is usually given to those who can
successfully challenge

an accepted

authority, in however marginal or

deferential a way. Indeed, the fact that challenges are valued and expected is
one characteristic of British academic writing which differentiates it from
some other academic communities. A common way of doing this in British
academic writing is to make an indirect challenge by quoting contrasting
opinions from different writers:
The use of such (reading) tests has been criticised as inadequate as a measure of
overall comprehension (see Aslanian, 1985, Nunan, 1992: 47)

However, when a direct challenge is made by the writer it is often worded as

impersonally as possible and with some tentativeness or qualification.
Ideally, the researchers should have constructed a test to operationalise the construct
listening comprehension... (Nunan, 1992: 46)
With hindsight, it might have been wise to construct a pilot study (Nunan, 1992: 47)


Non-biased language
The importance of showing consideration for your reader, in terms of who
they are and what they need to know, has been stressed throughout this unit.
Another factor relating to awareness of your reader is avoiding sources of
irritation such as linguistic terms which imply gender, ethnic or other bias.

Conventions are changing quite rapidly in terms of what is considered

acceptable regarding biased language.
Obviously, it is not possible to provide a complete guideline for non-biased
language but a few of the most common features will be mentioned here.
Example of common usage


The client is usually the best judge

Either: change his to his/her or: Reformulate the sentence

of his needs.

to avoid using the personal pronoun e.g. The best judge of

needs is usually the client.

Mans search for knowledge has led

Either: avoid the pronoun e.g. Mans search for knowledge

him to many interesting discoveries.

has led to many interesting discoveries or: Replace man

with people and use the pronoun them.

Research scientists often neglect

Replace wives with spouses.

their wives and children.

The chairman opened the meeting


Replace with chairperson or chair.

In this unit we have looked at how to organise academic writing at the macro
level, that is, how you relate to your reader(s) and how that relationship is
reflected in the visual and written presentation of your work. Presentation is
therefore an important consideration in writing and is one of the criteria which
can affect how your assignments and dissertation are evaluated, either
positively or negatively.


Commentary on Activities
Commentary on Activity 1
1. For non-specialist graduate students:
Grammar describes the systematic conventions of language use.
2. For a specialist tutor:
Grammar is an organising device which describes how a written or spoken
language is conventionally realised in terms of the syntactic, lexical,
semantic and pragmatic choices available.

1 adapted from the Publication Manual of the APA (1987)

If you have a copy of a dictionary of Applied Linguistics (for example,

Richards & Schmidt 2010) you might like to look up their definition of
grammar. How specialist an audience is this book aimed at?
Commentary on Activity 2

RESULTS Objective 3


Data collection procedure


Reflection on journal use


Reflection on daily teaching practice



Commentary on Activity 3
1) The order of the sections is:





2) The text is very uneven in terms of the lengths of each section. Paragraphs
should be at least three sentences long and no more than a page in length
(see Section 2.7.5). In general we should aim for paragraphs of roughly
equal length. This text would be greatly improved if the single sentences
were joined to make coherent paragraphs, each one focusing on a central
point, as in the following example.
Another improvement would be the avoidance of the word obviously which
begins two sentences.
Reorganising Paragraphs: Version 1
The concept of individualised learning or individualisation has developed over the last twenty
years with the increasing focus on learner-centred education, not just in language teaching but
also in industry, for instance, where there are open learning facilities and continuous or
permanent education programmes. Individualisation does not necessarily mean that students
have to work on their own either, in some cases individualisation can take place in small
groups or pairs with students working on a similar task. In this sense, individualisation may
best be seen not as a method but as a way of re-organising the resources and management of
the classroom environment (McDonough and Shaw 1995: 245).
Obviously, such a view of learning can have considerable consequences on how the roles of
teacher and learner are viewed. Individualisation in language teaching itself has many
permutations but all of them in some way break the traditional lock-step or whole class

approach to teaching and learning. All definitions focus on the learner as an individual, with
individual learning needs, styles and strategies. However, how such individualised learning
is organised can vary considerably and is not necessarily synonymous with autonomy and
self-direction of learning.
For instance, individualisation could take place in a highly authoritarian framework where the
teacher considers a students individual problems and decides how to treat that student and
what work he or she should do. At the other extreme, a learner may have complete autonomy
concerning what, how and when he or she chooses to learn. It is clear that most cases of
individualised learning come somewhere between these two extremes and involve learners in
assuming some level of responsibility for their own learning. Indeed, this belief that learning
cannot be done to or for learners but must be done by them is a basic assumption behind most
definitions of individualisation.

The first paragraph discusses the general concept of individualised learning,

the second narrows this down to individualisation in language learning with a
linking sentence (Obviously such a view of learning ...) which could either be
the last sentence of the previous paragraph or the beginning of a new
paragraph. The final paragraph develops the ideas in the paragraph before it,
giving examples at the two extremes of individualisation of learners.
Another possibility would be to leave the Obviously such a view .... sentence
as the last sentence of the first paragraph and to keep the examples (For
instance, individualisation could take place ...) within the paragraph on
individualisation in language learning. This would make a much longer
second paragraph. If a quotation or references can be found to support the
final assertion (... is a basic assumption behind most definitions of
individualisation), then it would be better to develop that idea into a new
paragraph starting at the last sentence.
Version 2
The concept of individualised learning or individualisation has developed over the last twenty
years with the increasing focus on learner-centred education, not just in language teaching but
also in industry, for instance, where there are open learning facilities and continuous or
permanent education programmes. Individualisation does not necessarily mean that students
have to work on their own either, in some cas es individualisation can take place in small
groups or pairs with students working on a similar task. In this sense, individualisation may
best be seen not as a method but as a way of re-organising the resources and management of

the classroom environment (McDonough and Shaw 1995: 245). Such a view of learning can
have considerable consequences on how the roles of teacher and learner are viewed.
Individualisation in language teaching itself has many permutations but all of them in some
way break the traditional lock-step or whole class approach to teaching and learning. All
definitions focus on the learner as an individual, with individual learning needs, styles and
strategies. However, the way that such individualised learning is organised varies
considerably and is not necessarily synonymous with autonomy and self-direction of
learning. For instance, individualisation could take place in a highly authoritarian framework
where the teacher considers a students individual problems and decides how to treat that
student and what work he or she should do. At the other extreme, a learner may have complete
autonomy concerning what, how and when he or she chooses to learn. It is clear that most
cases of individualised learning come somewhere between these two extremes and involve
learners in assuming some level of responsibility for their own learning.
Indeed, this belief that learning cannot be done to or for learners but must be done by them is
a basic assumption behind most definitions of individualisation. This is very much the stance
of ..................... who asserts that .......................

Commentary on Activity 4

(a) (iii) Team teaching in the Japanese context.

(b) (i) Emergence of methodology
(c) (ii) The traditional team teaching method

Yes, the paragraphs are in a logical order since they start with a
general background (the country context), and follow with a discussion
of team teaching methodology in general, previewing the methods

will be






traditional). The next paragraph discusses the first of these, traditional

team teaching, and from the structure so far we can predict that the
following paragraphs will discuss semi-traditional and non-traditional
team teaching, each idea being the topic of a new paragraph.
Commentary on Activity 5
6. International English Club (IEC) Activities
6.1 Sport
A number of sports events were held at the club during this period, as well as regular team
6.1.1 Football
In football, IEC reached the final of the Universities Cup, and defeated the Overseas Students
6.1.2 Swimming

In swimming, IEC also reached the final of the Cup but lost the match against the Asian
Students team.
6.1.3 Volleyball
A similar standard was not, however, reached in volleyball and the team was knocked out in
the first round of the Cup. It is planned to bring in a coach for the team during 1998, in order
to improve their play.
6.2 Cultural
6.2.1 Invited speakers
During this period, the club invited 5 lecturers to give lectures on different subjects. There
was a high attendance rate.
6.2.2 Films
The club showed weekly films. These were extremely popular and frequent requests were
received for a second showing.
6.3 Travel
6.3.1 In the UK
In 1997 the club organised a number of excursions to towns and regions in the UK
6.3.2 In Europe
The club provided one trip to Paris and one ski trip to the Italian Alps.
6.4 General Services
6.4.1 Opening hours
During the summer the club opened the sports facilities from 9.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. for the
members children. In addition, the facilities were opened for members from 2.00 p.m. to 9.00
6.4.2 Catering
The club opened a good self-service restaurant providing meals for members at a nominal

Commentary on Activity 6
The page layout on the left creates a better visual impact than the one on the
right for several reasons:

There is more white space line spacing is 1.5 rather than 1

and there is space between paragraphs.
Sub-heading and numbering is used.
Font size (12) and type (Arial) is clearer, and the use of bold
formatting highlights headings.
The table (a) has a heading and (b) uses shading to make
columns more visible.
The text has been right and left justified (so the edges line up
on both sides).

Commentary on Activity 7
1.An analysis of the results shows a significant correlation between x
and y.
2.Language planning policy is a government responsibility.
3.There is an over-reliance on dictionaries and an under-use of
contextual cues.
4.Government rejection of the proposal may delay the introduction of a
single European language policy.
Commentary on Activity 8
1. It has received little attention in recent years.
2. The problem has few obvious solutions.
3. The analysis gave no new results.
4. Little research has been done as yet in this area.
Commentary on Activity 9
1. Many researchers have been investigating this question.
2. The results need to be consolidated.
3. It is difficult to remove/eradicate all sources of error.
4. The issue was raised at the last BAAL conference.
5. The study has been aided by funds from the SSRC.
6. What seems to appear quite often are one or two themes that
might be worth considering.
Commentary on Activity 10
1. In summary, Chomsky saw the main aim of linguistic theory as the
investigation of how speakers can produce an infinite range of
correctly formed sentences.
2. Manufacturers are planning some collaborative research in order to
produce safer designs.
3. The results are not very positive.
4. The training course has had little impact on teaching styles.
5. The number of returned questionnaires was unexpectedly low.

Commentary on Activity 11
1. I will now try to summarise the results.
2. The recommended proposal would remove errors efficiently.
3. We would suggest maintaining the language laboratory.
4. We are currently re-evaluating the data.
5. To make computer assisted language learning (CALL) of practical use
in language teaching in Britain, it is important for the Government to
encourage research and development into CALL and also to encourage
companies to produce CALL programmes.
Commentary on Activity 12
1. personal, opinion, sure
2. impersonal, fact, sure
3. personal, opinion, unsure
4. impersonal, opinion, unsure
Commentary on Activity 13


1. suggestion scheme is a failure

2. failure due to low staff morale
3. lack of guidelines
4. low rewards for successful suggestions
5. unsuitable committee


Commentary on Activity 14
1. e

2. f

3. a

4. d

5. c

6. b

Commentary on Activity 15
1. People with high IQs tend to be good language learners.
2. Aptitude may be a significant factor in language learning.
3. It appears that Teach yourself language learning packs are not
very effective.
4. Increasing anxiety may contribute to lower language uptake.

Commentary on Activity 16
Excerpt 1 is lifted directly from another source and so is unacceptable. It
should either be paraphrased or summarised and have an accurate reference to
the original source
Excerpt 2 is already a paraphrase of the original text and so would be
acceptable if there was a reference to the original idea.
See Unit 5 for more advice on referencing and paraphrasing.



This is the second of two units looking at general issues in approaching
academic writing, concentrating on the organisation of discourse at the
structural or micro level.
The main aim of this unit is to help you develop clarity of argumentation and
structure in discourse.


By the end of this unit you should be able to:


identify and use some of the most common patterns of text development
manipulate sentence structure for clarity and emphasis
link ideas clearly in sentences and paragraphs

Suggested Reading
There is no required reading for this unit. However, you may want to
consolidate your knowledge of grammatical structures in English at this point
by using a good grammar reference book, such as Collins Cobuild English
Grammar (2011) London: Collins


In Unit 3 we looked at some of the most important characteristics of academic
writing at the macro level, that is, style and presentation. In this unit we will
look at some of the micro level issues that are important considerations for
successful communication, particularly regarding the flow and organisation
of text. Not only do you have to make sure that your information links
together linguistically, by making effective use, for instance, of connecting
and referring words and phrases, but in addition your information should be
logically and clearly organised.


A clear, predictable pattern of organisation in a text helps your reader follow
the structure and reasoning of your arguments. Even short pieces of writing
have a predictable, structured format.

Patterns of development
In academic writing there are several frequently-used patterns of development.
In this section we will look at three of them: generalspecific, problem
response and claimcounter-claim.

This is one of the most common patterns in academic writing and is often used
in introductions to longer pieces of writing. A generalspecific text usually
begins with either a general statement or a definition, then narrows down to
give more specific detail. The text then often broadens out again in the final
sentence, giving an overall shape as in Figure 1 below:

General statement
More specific detail
Specific detail

Broader statement
(from Swales and Feak, 1994: 33)
Figure1 Shape of GeneralSpecific Texts

To give an example, the following short generalspecific text can be

segmented to show the shape of the generalspecific pattern:
The way we speak is governed by linguistic rules. These rules govern
the syntactic, semantic and phonological choices which are necessarily
made in speech. For instance, syntactic rules are concerned with the
selection of verb tense and subjectverb agreement. However, other
(non-linguistic) factors also influence speech, particularly regarding
the socio-cultural context in which we speak.
General statement

The way we speak is governed by linguistic rules.

More specific detail

These rules govern the syntactic, semantic and phonological

choices which are necessarily made in speech.
Specific detail

For instance, syntactic rules are concerned with the selection of

verb tense, subject-verb agreement and word stress.
Broader statement

However, other non-linguistic factors also influence speech,

regarding the socio-cultural context in which we speak.
As seen above the middle section, which gives more detail, often contains an
example as an illustration of the initial, general concept.
Activity 1
Read the following section of the introduction to a paper on Individualism
and Binarism: a critique of American intercultural communication analysis.
by Scollon and Scollon (1992). Then write the appropriate sentence(s) under
the general headings outlining the organisation (shape) of the text.
Communication in America is not only a subject of academic study, it is a common topic of
conversation. Guests on television talk shows talk about communication, American political
figures make public comments about their diplomatic communication, and academic
researchers continue to put forward definitions of communication in both interpersonal and
intercultural domains. At the centre of both academic and common discourses on
communication stands the idea of individualism. (1992: 6)

General statement

More details

Broader statement

Not all generalspecific texts follow this pattern precisely and in longer
passages there may well be several sentences for each phase of the
Activity 2
Look back to the sample text given in Section 4.5.1 about linguistic rules and
decide where you would put these three additional sentences:

Three of the most important factors are environment, speakers and


This, however, is not directly evident given the spontaneous and

apparently unstructured nature of conversational speech.


Similarly, phonological rules govern the choice, for example, of word

stress and emphasis placement.

Generalisation vs. definition

We said earlier that generalspecific texts usually start either with a general
statement or a definition. In fact, both of the sample texts given so far have
started with a general statement, i.e.:
The way we speak is governed by linguistic rules.
Communication in America is not only a subject of academic study, it
is a common topic of conversation.
However, it is possible to start with a definition. Taking, for instance, the topic
of the English Language, we could start:
English is a language belonging to the West Germanic subgroup of the
IndoEuropean language family. Its origin as a distinct tongue can be
traced back to England around 500 AD.
When definitions are used as a starting point they often take the form of a
direct quote from an acknowledged source, for example:

It has been suggested (Harris, 1980: 13) that anyone who asks What
is a language?
must expect to be treated with the same suspicion
as the traveller who inquires of the
other passengers waiting on platform 1 whether
they can tell him the way to the railway
station. The language user already has the only
concept of language worth having.
(Graddol, Cheshire and
Swann, 1995: 1)

Definitions often come after an initial, general statement for example:

Linguists have long demonstrated an ambiguous position with regard
to the study of written and spoken language. Halliday (1987: 556) has
One learnt in the first year of a linguistics course
that speech was logically and
historically prior to writing
(Graddol, Cheshire and Swan, 1994: 133)

Alternatively, the definition may be embedded within a general statement, for

Discourse analysis, as a study of language use beyond the sentence
boundaries, has become an established discipline. (Bhatia, 1993: 3)
Nevertheless, it is more usual for the academic writing of linguistics to start
with a generalisation, for example:
English is a relative newcomer in comparison with many of the
worlds better-known languages.
Types of definitions
While it is possible to use simple single-sentence definitions at the beginning
of a generalspecific text, such as:
Phonetics is the name given to the scientific study of the sounds of
it is quite common to expand a definition over several sentences, often
beginning with a general, one-sentence definition and then adding more
specific details, for example:
Gesture is perhaps the most obvious and familiar way in which people

convey meanings through body movements rather than through words.

Morris et al. (1979) made an intensive study of 20 ritual gestures
which are used in various parts of Europe, often with different
meanings. For example, the V-sign (made with the palm of the hand
facing inwards towards the signer) forms an obscene gesture in Britain,
but is taken elsewhere to be a sign of victory. Such gestures are made
intentionally and apparently with specific meaning. Like words in
verbal language, their meanings are essentially arbitrary and symbolic.
Another pattern is to follow a generalisation with a definition, for example:
It has often been observed that when people interact they will fall into
postures which are the same or mirror images of each other. If one
person in a group leans back, then it is likely that some other member
will, without realising it, move to adopt the same posture. Scheflen
(1964: 241) termed this postural congruence.
Activity 3
Here are some sentences in a generalspecific passage on phonetic
redundancy. Put them back into the correct order.

So, for instance, the puff of air in RP gives us an additional clue that the
sound was voiceless.

By overlapping sounds and inserting additional systematic variation, we

the information required to identify sounds.

We know from experimental evidence that such clues are of great

importance to

Even if we fail to hear a segment of sounds perhaps because it was

masked by
noise it may be possible to reconstruct the missing sound by listening to

the clues
in adjacent sounds.

Phonetic redundancy aids communicative efficiency, which may be one

reason it
appears everywhere in natural language.

It is also useful in a generalspecific text to describe or define a concept by

comparing or contrasting it with another. This is typical of introductory
sections of assignments:
While phonetics is concerned with the physical properties of speech
sounds, phonology is concerned rather with the way these sounds are
functionally organised and distributed in a particular dialect or
language. For instance, while phonetics can describe the articulation of
any actual sound in any language, phonology can account for the
occurrence or co-occurrence of a particular sound in a particular sound
system. Consequently phonology is an abstract, rather than concrete,
level of description.
The passage above is an example of an extended, comparative definition
organised in a generalspecific pattern. It starts with a general, comparative
definition of phonetics and phonology. Then it gives more specific detail in
the form of examples and finally broadens out again to give a summarising,
comparative statement about the two disciplines.
Activity 4
Now, using the table below, write a similar extended definition of vowels
compared with consonants, organising your text in a generalspecific pattern.
Then compare your version with the model in the Commentary.
Start your text like this: While both vowels and consonants are produced by
the speech organs in the vocal tract ...



Produced by speech organs in the vocal tract

Produced by speech organs in the vocal


Produced by unobstructed flow of air

Produced by obstructing the flow of air

through the oral or nasal cavity

through the oral or nasal cavity

No points of articulation

Many points of articulation e.g. tongue

and teeth, lips

Lip rounding is a distinguishing feature

Lip rounding is not a distinguishing



Voiced or voiceless

So far, we have looked at the use of the generalspecific pattern at the level of
the paragraph (especially the introductory paragraph) but it is also worth
taking a broader view of the application of generalspecific texts to a
dissertation or research project report as a whole.
According to Swales and Feak (1994: 157), the overall shape of a dissertation
or research paper follows a generalspecificgeneral or outinout pattern,
as shown in Figure 2. In terms of organisational structure, the introduction
section can be seen as moving from a general discussion of the topic to the
specific thesis being investigated. Similarly, the literature review starts from
a broad description of the field to more specific focus on related studies. Then
the Methods section describes the methodology and procedure in detail this
is the narrowest part of the paper, focusing entirely on your own work. This is
followed by a description and, possibly, commentary on findings and this
section is then followed by the discussion, which gives an increasingly
generalised account of the implications of the study (see Unit 6 for more
information on writing about research).




Figure 2

Overall shape of a research paper

The generalspecific pattern tends to be descriptive and expository and
therefore is useful when writing a variety of descriptive texts which give
background, contextual or introductory information, such as introductions to
dissertation chapters, data commentaries or methods sections. However, a
second pattern of development, that is, the problemsolution text is
commonly used in sections of assignments or dissertations which require a
more argumentative and evaluative stance, such as discussions or literature
A problemsolution text usually has the following pattern:
Figure 3Pattern of a problemsolution text

This pattern is very common in texts and while the sequence may be varied,
we normally expect to find all of the four elements. Consider the following
Recognition of the need to make research academically rigorous and at
the same time practically useful to the business community is apparent

in several sociolinguistic studies (Bargiela and Harris, 1997;

Mulholland, 1997; Koester, 2010; Lampi, 1995; Tannen, 1995) which
have taken a more interdisciplinary approach to investigations of
professional interaction.
However, the interface between interaction analysis and materials
production is still weak: the number of rigorous research studies that
have had direct applications to language and communication textbooks
is quite small.
A more data-driven approach to materials production and training
would move towards a truly interaction-oriented approach, ensuring
that what is taught is what is actually said in real workplace
interactions, also, using examples of authentic professional interactions
would enable trainees to analyse their own and others interactive
behaviour and to adjust their interactive strategies accordingly.
It is hoped that the suggested framework for training would help
students of Business English become aware of stylistic variations and
the underlying interactive strategies used in meetings, particularly in
inter-cultural contexts, preferably with a view to developing
competence in more than one interactive style in order to participate
with strategic effect.

Activity 5
Now reorder and then segment the following text into the four elements:
situation, problem, response, evaluation.
1. Indeed, until relatively recently, the majority of linguistic studies of professional discourse
have looked at the public domain, including legal, academic and medical settings (Drew

and Heritage, 1992; Hinkley, Craig and Anderson, 1992; Todd, 1989; Sinclair and
Coulthard, 1975).
2. Currently, some thicker descriptions of professional interaction reflect a more general
move towards broader linguistic analyses and, particularly, a greater focus on business and
organisational communication.
3. It appears then that this sort of linguistic research is beginning to take account of broader
issues relating to how organisations and the people in them work and consequently is
likely to be of greater benefit, not only to linguistics but also to the business organisations
4. However, in the last few years there seems to be a growing interest in business and
corporate communication and an increasing number of studies from a range of language related backgrounds (Bargiela and Harris, 1997; Firth, 1995; Boden, 1994; Couture, 1992;
Marriott, 1991).


ClaimCounte r-Claim
(See also 3.8.3 (3).)
Another pattern of development which is particularly common in evaluative or
critical sections of academic writing, such as a literature review, is claim
counter claim.
For instance, in the following text:
At the level of discourse coherence, Rader (1982) claims that in
written literature, especially in poetry, crucial information is omitted
that must be supplied by the reader to make sense of the text, that is,
contextualisation is a basic characteristic of the literary process.
It appears, however, that contextualisation features, such as ellipsis,
figures of speech, imagery and detail are not restricted to literary texts
but are also central to conversation. For instance, figures of speech,
such as metaphor, although less artfully developed than in literature,
are often commonplace in everyday talk (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980;
Friedrich, 1979; Sacks, 1971).

Activity 6
Identify the claim and counter-claim in the following text:
Since the 1960s there has been an increasingly popular perception that there are generational
differences between Americans born before and after the end of the Second World War and
that these generational envelopes constitute significant subcultures. While there is certainly
reason to take this generational analysis of Americans seriously, such a generation gap
analysis should not be allowed to obscure the common thread of ontological, polemical
individualism which runs through American self-definition from the nineteenth century to the
youngest contemporary Americans. (Scollon and Scollon, 1992: 18)

Activity 7
Now use the notes below to write a passage using the claimcounter-claim
Traditional view speech is an inferior version of writing i.e. less correct, full of errors
and hesitations in speech, grammar is very much simpler than in writing with looselyorganised syntax.
More recently linguists challenge view primacy of speech i.e. speech preceded writing
two different systems with different functions. e.g. Halliday (1989) grammatical intricacy
of spoken language and lexical density of written language i.e. speech is not
ungrammatical but uses a different grammatical system.


Sentence organisation
As well as ensuring that information is clearly organised at the level of
individual or groups of paragraphs, it is also important to make sure that
individual sentences are well-organised not only for the sake of clarity but also
to give your writing impact.
The basic word order of simple sentences in English is that the subject (S)
usually appears before the verb (V) which in turn is followed by the object
(O), This is occasionally altered, however, in longer, more complex sentences,

for a variety of reasons, but particularly for emphasising or adding bits of

Adding information
Including additional information both in subordinate clauses or adverbial or
adjectival phrases, can affect the structure of sentences. The position of these
modifiers can vary depending on the preferred focus of the sentence. Notice
how the focus and meaning change when adverbs are put in different places in
a sentence.
The conference generally takes place in Seattle in May.
The conference in May takes place in Seattle generally.
The conference in Seattle generally takes place in May.

It is hardly surprising that teaching materials determine what gets

taught in language courses.
It is surprising that teaching materials largely determine what gets
taught in language courses.
It can be seen in the examples above, that it is sometimes possible to place an
adverb in a variety of positions. In informal English, adverbs often occur as
clauses at the beginning or end of sentences, however, in formal, academic
writing, adverbs are often placed in midposition rather than in the initial or
final position. For example:
Then the results can be disclosed.
The results can then be disclosed.
Today, a clear majority of the worlds social science research papers
are published in English.
A clear majority of the worlds social science research papers are today
published in English.
Emphasising information
We will look at two of the most common ways of adding emphasis:

1. reversing adverbial phrases

2. focusing on an action rather than an actor
(1) Reversing adverbial phrases
In order to add emphasis to a statement, certain adverbial expressions may be
moved to the beginning of the sentence. This reversal tends to occur with
adverbial phrases with (a) a negative meaning, such as never, seldom,
only or (b) with adversative connectors such as however or nevertheless.
Example of (a)
So much electronics technology has never been used before in this
Never before has so much electronics technology been used in this
Example of (b)
This system, however, has its problems.
However, this system has its problems.
Sometimes, changing the word order in this way, means making changes to
the verb, that is, putting the verb in the interrogative form, as in the next
The analysis can only begin after all the results have been compiled.
Only after all the results have been compiled, can the analysis begin.
(2) Focusing on an action rather than an actor
The examples above show that sentences may contain the same information,
but that information can also be given in a different order. We can change the
sentence structure if we want to change the sentence topic to focus the readers
attention on the action rather than the actor. For example:
Not all teachers agree on the necessity of consultation and negotiation
between teachers and learners

The necessity of consultation and negotiation between teachers and
learners is not something that all teachers agree on.
If we want to focus the readers attention on the goal rather than the actor or
action, we can use passive constructions:
We can modify objectives in the light of feedback from learners.
Objectives can be modified in the light of feedback from learners.
Another way to shift the focus of a sentence away from the actor, is by adding
it or there constructions. For example:
I must stress that in a learner-centred system, needs analysis is not
something that only happens once at the beginning of a programme.
It is important to stress that in a learner-centred system, needs analysis
is not something that only happens once at the beginning of a
People are taking a renewed interest in cognitive and affective
variables in adult language learning.
There has been a renewed interest in cognitive and affective variables
in adult language learning.

Activity 8
Change the structure of the following sentences to put the focus on the action
rather than the actor.
1. Teachers can use methods such as surveys, group discussions and learner contracts to
assess needs as they arise.
2. At the time, people thought subjective needs were unpredictable and therefore, indefinable.
3. As more evaluative data becomes available, we should be able to gauge better the impact
of administrative and curriculum changes.

4. In some cases, clients feel that external agents will maintain a greater level of detachment
from a project than internal agents.


As well as making sure paragraphs and sentences are well-organised, another
important characteristic of effective writing is that the text flows well, that
is, it is easy for the reader to move from one point to the next and to see clear
connections between ideas. Some of the commonest ways of showing
connections are 1. referring to connected ideas in another part of the text, 2.
using linking words and phrases to signal connections between sentences or
parts of sentences and 3. using parallel structures to show ideas that are
equally important.
Activity 9
In first sentence in the previous paragraph (starting As well as ...), underline
any words or phrases that show that references are being made to ideas
mentioned earlier.


One way to maintain flow is to use referring words e.g.: such, this, these
to refer to related ideas. For instance, in this extract:
The puff of air in RP gives us an additional clue that the preceding
sound was voiceless. We know from experimental evidence that such
clues are of great importance to listeners.
such clues refers to the previous example of a clue, that is, a puff of air.
Similarly, in the following text:
Recent innovations in tertiary education policy mean that, in future,
many students will have to pay tuition fees for higher education. This
change may seriously affect the number of applicants for university
places in the coming years.
This change refers to the change in government policy.

Activity 10
Use the referring signals in these sentences to rearrange them into an
appropriate order to make a coherent paragraph on genre analysis.
1. Within this framework, a text is categorised in terms of genres and, although each genre has
its own generic structure, this structure has some flexibility, depen ding on the
communicative purpose of the event.
2. There will be some compulsory, predictable components which identify it as a genre, but
there may also be optional and recursive elements.
3. However, there are still some difficulties in defining and delimiting genres.
4. The genre analysis framework has a functional, situational rather than structural emphasis,
claiming the centrality of the outcome or motive of an interaction rather than its discourse
structure (Miller, 1984).
5. Such recursive elements may be optional or compulsory and may or may not recur in an
6. This pragmatic, functional analysis with its focus on rhetorical conventions rather than rules
seems intuitively attractive to the analysis of goal-oriented professional interactions.

Referring words or phrases often contain a summary noun or word that refers
back to the idea in the previous sentence. These phrases are a useful way of
summarising what has already been said.
Activity 11
Complete the following with a suitable referring word from the list below.






1. Recent years have seen a steady growth in the demand for distance learning
programmes. This ............... must be at least partly due to technological
developments in information transfer.
2. Nowadays, word-processing programmes are faster, more powerful and






sophisticated presentation of many student assignments.




3. One of the distinctive features of linguistics is its focus on verbal

communication. It traditionally conceptualises language as a mechanism for
conveying meaning which operates independently of other means of human
communication. However, in recent years, many scholars working in
applied fields have started to take a broader view of how language works.
This .............. is likely to develop and enrich our understanding of
4. In corpus linguistics, an early restriction of computerised texts was their
restricted range of sources mainly obtained from printed texts rather than
spoken data. However, this .............. is now being overcome with the
systematic creation of spoken language corpora.

Linking words and phrases

Certain basic relationships exist between ideas. If you learn to recognise and
use these relationships and to signal them to your audience, by using linking
words and phrases, you will improve the flow of your writing.
Linking words and phrases can be used to indicate a range of relationships
between ideas, such as cause and effect, contrast or illustration.
Activity 12
Choose appropriate connectors to complete the passage below:
Early studies in register analysis, such as Barber (1962), Crystal and Davy
(1969) and Gustaffsson (1975), further refined the categories used to identify
registers. (Although/However/But), such studies have been criticised as



surface-level features,

particularly lexical and

syntactic ones, (yet/but/and) ignoring the question of why a particular variety

takes the form it does, or what value a certain feature realises in a specific


studies of the linguistic properties of

different varieties of institutional discourse are interesting and useful in the

sense that they provide empirical evidence of the occurrence of certain
features in various types of language. (For instance/Even so/Finally), in the

case of Crystal and Davys research (1969), their analysis provides a multilevel description of the linguistic features that make each speech type
stylistically distinctive and goes some way to explaining the function such
features perform in those contexts. (However/In addition/While) the study is
valuable and also unusual in that it provides a detailed comparative analysis of
spoken and written professional text types and, (indeed/nevertheless/in
conclusion), at the phonological level, provides a range and depth of linguistic
information that has rarely been repeated.
Many of these connectors are generally followed by a comma, for example,
Finally, ...... These connectors are used with main clauses while those not
written with a comma, for example, although are used to introduce
supporting ideas in subordinate clauses.
Although a sentence may have the same grammatical form and
semantic function, there is not necessarily a one-to-one correlation.
A sentence may have the same grammatical form and semantic
function. However, there is not necessarily a one-to-one correlation.
As seen above, some connectors which express the same relationship, such as
although and however signalling contrast, require different clause or
sentence structures. If you exchange one such connector for another it may be
necessary to adjust the structure of the sentence too.

Another important aspect of linking ideas clearly is remembering that ideas
that are equally important should be expressed in parallel form. In practical
terms within a sentence, this often means that if, for instance, you express one
idea with a noun, then a second idea should also be expressed with a noun or,
if the first is an adjectival phrase, the second should also be adjectival.
1. Linking co-ordinated ideas
Co-ordinated ideas are often expressed with connectors such as and, or or
but, using parallel grammatical items, for instance:
Reading magazines and watching TV can be a useful supplement to

formal studying, when learning a new language.

2. Linking compared or contrasted ideas
Compared or contrasted ideas can be made clearer with parallel structure. For
15. The research found that many academics like to do research more than
they like to teach.
(b) It appears that many employees value a good working relationship

job satisfaction more than financial

In example (a) above, parallelism is achieved by repeating the infinitive verb
pattern while in (b) this is done by using a pattern of noun phrases.
It is quite common for more than one parallel structure to occur in one
sentence. For example:
Computers have become sufficiently powerful and data storage
sufficiently cheap to allow huge collections of utterances and texts
from a wide variety of sources to be collected and scrutinised
In the above example, sufficiently powerful and sufficiently cheap are
parallel adjectival phrases (with a parallel verb form have become which is
understood in the second structure). Also, huge collections of utterances and
texts from a wide variety of sources are parallel noun phrases and collected
and scrutinised are parallel verb forms.

This unit has looked at some of the main factors involved in organising and
linking discourse, both in and between sentences and paragraphs, particularly
regarding patterns of development and flow. Being able to structure
information and argumentation clearly is a skill which makes your writing
appear both more competent and easier to read.


Commentary on Activities
Commentary on Activity 1
General statement
Communication in America is not only a subject of academic study, it is a common
topic of conversation.
More details
Guests on television talk shows talk about communication, American political figures
make public comments about their diplomatic communication and academic
researchers continue to put forward definitions of communication in both
interpersonal and intercultural domains.
Broader statement
At the centre of both academic and common discourses on communication stands the
idea of individualism.

Commentary on Activity 2
The way we speak is governed by linguistic rules. This, however, is not
directly evident given the spontaneous and apparently unstructured nature of
conversational speech. These rules govern the syntactic, semantic and
phonological choices which are necessarily made in speech. For instance,
syntactic rules are concerned with the selection of verb tense and subjectverb
agreement. Similarly, phonological rules govern the choice, for example, of
word stress and emphasis placement. However, other non-linguistic factors
also influence speech, particularly regarding the socio-cultural context in
which we speak. Three of the most important factors are environment,
speakers and goals.
Commentary on Activity 3
5, 2, 4, 1, 3
Commentary on Activity 4
Suggested text:
While both vowels and consonants are produced by the speech organs in the vocal
tract, there are many differences in their articulation. For instance, consonants are

produced by obstructing the flow of air through the oral or nasal cavity at various
points of articulation, such as the tongue and the teeth or the lips, whereas, for
vowels, the air flow is unobstructed. Furthermore, all vowels are produced by
vibration of the vocal chords, that is, they are voiced. Voicing, however, is a feature
which distinguishes some consonants from others, just as lip rounding is a
distinguishing feature of vowels. Such differences in articulation justify the
classification of vowels and consonants as two distinctive types of speech sound.

Commentary on Activity 5
Situation = 2
Problem = 1
Response = 4
Evaluation = 3
Commentary on Activity 6
Since the 1960s there has been an increasingly popular perception that there are generational
differences between Americans born before and after the end of the Second World War and
that these generational envelopes constitute significant subcultures.

While there is certainly reas on to take this generational analysis of Americans seriously, such
a generation gap analysis should not be allowed to obscure the common thread of ontological,
polemical individualism which runs through American self-definition from the nineteenth
century to the youngest contemporary Americans (Scollon and Scollon, 1992: 18).

Commentary on Activity 7
Model text:
Traditionally, speech has been viewed as an inferior version of writing, that is, as
somehow less correct grammatically and containing many errors and hesitations.
Furthermore, it has been claimed that the syntax in speech is much simpler and more
loosely organised than in writing. However, more recently, linguists have challenged
this view and re-asserted the primacy of speech arguing that speech clearly preceded
writing, and that the two channels of communication fulfil different functions using
different systems. Halliday (1989) for instance, claims that while written language is
more lexically dense than speech, speech is more grammatically intricate, and that
rather than being ungrammatical it uses a different grammatical system.

Commentary on Activity 8
In each case, two possible examples have been given.


Methods such as surveys, group discussions and learner

contracts can be used to assess needs as they arise.


Needs can be assessed as they arise using methods such

surveys, group discussions and learner contracts.



At the time, it was thought that subjective needs were

unpredictable and therefore, indefinable.


At the time, subjective needs were thought to be

and therefore, indefinable.


It should be possible, as more evaluative data becomes



administrative and




As more evaluative data becomes available, it should be

administrative and


curriculum changes.









curriculum changes.
In some cases, it is felt that external agents will

maintain a

greater level of detachment from a

project than internal agents.


In some cases, there is a feeling that external agents will

maintain a greater level of detachment from a

project than

internal agents.

Commentary on Activity 9
The referring phrases are:
As well as and another
Commentary on Activity 10
4, 1, 2, 5, 6, 3
Commentary on Activity 11
1. increase/trend

2. improvements/changes

3. Trend


Commentary on Activity 12
However, and, Nevertheless, For instance, In addition, indeed.



This unit will describe some strategies for successful assignment writing. The
genre of the essay/assignment will provide the background to an analysis of
some of the planning and language strategies necessary in academic writing.
The activities are taken from the area of Language Teaching but are applicable
to any writer.


By the end of this unit you should:

be familiar with the format of the essay or assignment genre

be able to analyse assignment titles

be able to plan and organise your reading and writing

be able to use source material appropriately and know how to refer to it

without plagiarism

be able to re-draft and proof-read your assignments effectively

understand the grading system used on the MA and the expectations that
markers will have of your work


Suggested Reading
For further information on referring to the literature, a useful book is
Thompson, G. (1994) Collins Cobuild English Guides 5: Reporting. London:
HarperCollins, especially pp. 17887.


Assignments for the Masters degree at the Centre for English Language
Studies, Birmingham are broadly of three types. The first type tests your
ability to analyse language or teaching methods using particular analytical
tools. We shall refer to these as analysis assignments. The second type
requires you to read, evaluate and reflect on aspects of your course. We will
refer to these as essay assignments. Lastly, the third type involves collection,
analysis and commentary on materials produced or data collected. We shall
refer to these as mini research projects.

Activity 1
Read the assignment titles below and decide which of the types of assignment
it is:
- analysis
- essay
- mini research project

Describe any educational change that you have been involved in and try to assess the
relative importance of the factors leading to successful change that we have covered
in the unit.


Find five examples each of tone units having p tone, r tone, r+ tone and o tone in the
classroom recording. Transcribe them and use them to provide a simple explanation
of the meaning of tone in English.


Certain strategies are commonly used in English for taking, holding onto, and
relinquishing the floor in conversation. Try to find example exchanges which
illustrate these strategies. How many of these are used in the L1 of your students? If
none, what forms are used to produce an equivalent effect? Using the sample
exchanges which you have identified, find out if your students use, or would feel
comfortable using, such strategies in exchanges with a) each other in English, and b)
native speakers of English. Write a short report on your findings.


What arguments are there for using authentic texts in the classroom? What problems
does the use of such texts create for learners?


What do you think should be the role of translation in the classroom? How would
you justify the use of translation in terms of language learning theory?


Choose an EFL textbook and examine how women and men are rep resented both in
visual terms as well as representatives of professions.


Produce an activity and/or materials for developing some area of written discourse in
your own teaching/learning situation (you may adapt an existing activity/set of
materials if you wish). Trial the activity/materials with a group of your learners.
Submit the materials and/or a description of the activity, plus a commentary on how
useful you found it and why.


Take an article from an English/American newspaper or magazine and one in another

language, but on roughly the same topic. Compare and contrast the metaphorical
systems used and discuss the implications for students.


Take a sample of written work from your students. Identify and analyse two error
patterns one of which you believe originates in the L1, and the other which you
believe derives from general misuse or overgeneralisation of learning strategies.
Devise teaching procedures to help your students deal with these patterns.

It may have been difficult to categorise an assignment as a particular type.

This is because they are often a blend of the different types. However, for the

purposes of discussion it is useful to deal with them as though they are always
different and discrete entities. To do this, we will take an assignment title for
each type as an example.

Analysis assignments
If we take question 2 in Activity 1 as typical of the type of analysis assignment
that you might be expected to write, we can try to isolate some of its features.
Activity 2
List the activities that you must undertake to complete assignment 2 in
Activity 1.

The Commentary on Activity 2 shows that the assignment is very specific and
very limited in what it is asking you to do. This is characteristic. The purpose
of the assignment is to give you practice in identifying tone types, and then to
establish that you understand the significance of the choices made. You are
not being asked to compare Brazils model of discourse intonation with other
models. You are being trained in how to use it and asked to explain this aspect
of the model using your transcriptions; you will be marked on these two areas
separately. The identification of the tone choices and their transcription is half
the assignment. It is necessary that you should do this accurately. Being able
to use the examples to explain Brazils ideas on tone choice is the second half.
If your analysis is faulty, the second half of your essay is likely to be weaker.
In assignments which ask you to gather and/or analyse data, the amount of
time that this involves is taken into account. That is why it would be unfair to
expect you to then write extensively. Learning is taking place during the
analysis of the tape and is demonstrated to have taken place through the

Essay assignments
If we take question 4 as typical of the type of essay assignment that you might
be expected to write, we can try to isolate some of its features.

Activity 3
List the activities that you must undertake in order to complete assignment
number 4 in Activity 1. Note that it is one of the choices given at the end of
the course on Second Language Acquisition. It does not refer to a specific part
of the course. Rather, it is a broad question which allows the student to use
ideas and material from throughout the module, and also the module 1
The list in the Commentary is much longer than for Activity 2. Essay
assignments require more background reading and assembling of relevant
material as opposed to data analysis. The material then has to be assembled
into a coherent framework which answers the question asked. Last comes the
complex process of putting your ideas down on paper and eventually of
preparing your work for submission. Each of these stages requires many tasks
and you may have included more detail in your list than we have in ours.
Looking more carefully at what is required in researching, writing and
submitting an essay-type assignment will form the basis of much of the rest of
this unit.

Mini research projects

These assignments are a hybrid they combine elements from analysis-type
assignments and essay-type assignments.
Activity 4
List the activities that you must undertake to complete assignment 7 in
Activity 1.
The list of activities in the Commentary is longer again. It would also be
worthwhile reading Unit 6 on dissertation writing before doing a mini-project.
You will find information there on how to write up research.
Although we have divided the types of assignment you will be asked to do
into three types, it should be stressed that there is a lot of overlap between the
different types. You may be asked to do an essay type assignment but with a

limited amount of data analysis, or one which includes reflections on your

own experiences. You need to try to assess for each assignment that you do,
the balance between the different parts. This is best done through analysing
the information given to you in the title.

Analysing Assignment Titles

We have already touched briefly on this in Activity 1 when you were asked to
assign titles to one of three groups. Unit 2 also looked at the importance of
understanding what an assignment title was asking you to do. Now we are
going to look in more detail at the wordings used in assignment titles, and
particularly at the difference between process words, those telling you what to
do, and content words, those telling you what to write about.
Activity 5
Look at the two assignment titles below. Underline the words which tell you
what to do.

Describe any educational change that you have been involved in and
try to assess the relative importance of the factors leading to successful
change that we have covered in the unit.


Refer to the table provided in Unit 1, Commentary on Activity 3

comparing Crystal and Roach on the functions of intonation. Draw up
a column for Discourse Intonation and discuss the similarities in the DI
account of intonation function.

The words you should have underlined are those words which give directions
about how to do the assignments, or what the assignment is asking you to do.
These are sometimes called process words. Make sure you know what
different process words are asking you to do. Many are very similar, but the
subtle differences are important when it comes to analysing titles and deciding
what is expected. The next Activity gives definitions of many of the process
words you will find in your assignment titles.

Activity 6

In the following table, link the definitions on the right with the correct process
words on the left. One has been done for you as an example.

1. Analyse


2. Assess/Evaluate


3. Compare


4. Contrast


5. Criticise/Critique
6. Define


7. Describe


8. Discuss


9. Explain


10. Illustrate
11. Trace
12. Outline


13. Suggest


look for similarities and differences and perhaps reach

conclusion about which is preferable
use a figure or diagram or specific examples to make
the meaning clear
give your judgement about the merit of theories and
opinions, or about the truth of facts; support your
judgement by a discussion of evidence or the
reasoning involved
decide the usefulness or worth or something, giving
reasons for your decision
bring out the differences between things
set down the precise meaning of a word or phrase; in
some cases it may be necessary or useful to examine
different possible definitions
follow the development from its starting point;
possibly try to give reasons for what has happened
describe the various parts of X and explain how they
work together, or whether they work together. Give
points for and against
write about the various opinions you have been
reading about on the subject; give reasons for and
against; draw a conclusion about the opinions
give a detailed account
make plain; interpret and account for; give reasons
propose a theory and defend; defend it by showing
how it could work
describe the essential parts only

Some assignments do not make use of process words. Some ask questions, as
in the example used in Activity 3. Below, the words important to
understanding the assignment have been underlined.
What arguments are there for using authentic texts in the classroom?
What problems does the use of such texts create for learners?

1 Based on Allen, A. (1991) Handout 1, Open Teaching Toolkit: Writing Skills. Open University Press.

Notice, that in addition to the question words, arguments and problems

have also been underlined. The person who wrote this question is telling you
very clearly what is required. First you need to discuss the arguments and then
the problems. Remember Discuss means to investigate or examine by
argument and give reasons for and against. So, one approach to this
assignment would be to group together those people and their arguments
which support the use of authentic texts and those who oppose their use.
Having looked at the arguments for and against at a theoretical level, you can
then relate them to problems faced by different types of learners in different
learning environments.
We have not so far discussed the content words. These are often less
problematic but they are important in helping you focus on the topic. They
will be looked at in more detail in the next section.

Finding a Focus
When you have selected an assignment title, you should consider very
carefully what you need to do and to find out in order to answer it. It is likely
that books and articles have already been written on the subject. You are only
asked to write 4,000 words, so it is necessary to carefully define the focus of
your assignment in order to make the reading and writing workload
manageable. First look back at the course material dealing with your
assignment. Then write a preliminary list of the main points and arguments
you want to make. Do your main points support the arguments you are
making? Next, reading and note-taking will help you further narrow down the
focus and find evidence to support your position.
Discussion/Reflection Task 1
Below is a list of questions you should be considering when beginning an
assignment. Read the list. If there are any other things that you think are
important and are not covered by the list, add them at the end.

What do the process and content words in the title tell me?

What is the purpose of this type of assignment? What type of knowledge do I need to

What are the main points?

What is my position/opinion?

How much detail do I need to go into?

Is depth or breadth more important?

Which aspects of the topic interest me most? Would it be appropriate to focus on them?

What do I need to read for an overview.

What do I need to read in detail?

As you are reading and making notes, you may decide that some of the content
words in your assignment title need to be defined or narrowed down in order
to help you focus your writing.
Activity 7
Read the title of assignment number 4 in Activity 1. Write down as many
different types of authentic texts as you can think of. Are there any problems
in making this list?
The Commentary shows that the definition of authentic text is by no means a
clear cut one.
Content words which have a very wide scope, such as learners, may also
sometimes need to be focused. For example, instead of talking about the
problems of learners in general you might want to concentrate on one
particular group. To narrow the focus of a word or title you can use
expressions like the ones below.
For the purposes of this study/assignment, only children under the age
of 16 will be discussed.
The focus of this discussion will be on child language learners under
the age of 16.
In order to narrow the focus of this study, only child learners under the
age of 16 will be investigated.
Examples will be taken from school children learning their first foreign
language. Bilingual children and those studying at more advanced
levels will not be included.


Reviewing the Literature 2

When you have analysed your title, done your reading and decided what must
be included in your assignment and what position you are going to take, it is
then necessary to decide on its overall organisation. You need to decide how
to organise your points to best support your argument. (Detailed planning is
dealt with in Unit 4.) However, whatever the assignment structure you will
almost certainly have to report on and discuss the literature you have read.
This is considered an important aspect of academic writing. For professional
academics writing articles and books, reporting on the work of others allows
them to place their own work in context and acknowledge their debt to other
researchers. For students writing assignments and dissertations (see also
Section 6.10), reporting the literature allows you to demonstrate to the person
marking your work that you have read widely and that you have understood
what you have read. It is very important that you make it clear that you are
reporting or discussing the work of others. If this is not clear, you can be
accused of plagiarism that is, pretending that the work is your own. This is
considered a very serious matter in universities. Articles and books are often
the result of years of work and not acknowledging the person who did all that
work is similar to stealing their ideas. We shall return to this at the end of this
Activity 8
List at least 3 reasons for talking about the literature in an assignment or
The Commentary and your own answers will show that there are a number of
reasons why we report and comment on what other writers have said. In theses
and dissertations there is often a chapter entitled Review of the Literature
near the beginning (see Unit 6). In essay type assignments, the reporting and
discussion of the work of others may well occur all the way through. Below,
we shall deal in detail with how you discuss what you have read. We shall
look at:

2 T he approach and Activities in this section are based on ideas presented by Susan Hunston, the University of Birmingham.




showing you understand

showing your opinion

the problems of plagiarism

You use quotations to show the exact words someone has used, especially if
what they say is very important or very well phrased.
Activity 9
Here are the first two paragraphs of a chapter of a book by Ronald White on
language syllabuses and curricula. In these paragraphs, White explains what
he is going to talk about in the rest of the chapter. Read the paragraphs and
underline two sentences which summarise what he is saying.
Since one of the purposes of this book is to place language syllabus design within the wider
context of curriculum, it is important to review some of the major value systems o r ideologies
which underlie approaches to curriculum, as well as the curriculum models associated with
these ideologies. Such a review will serve to show where some ideas such as behavioural
objectives and proposals for process syllabuses have come from, while also providing some
perspective on the place of such ideas within the field of curriculum studies and, thus, on their
status within ELT.
It is also important to be aware that different models of curriculum represent the expression of
different value systems and, consequently, of quite divergent views on education. Indeed, it is
hardly surprising that views on these issues will be value-laden, given the fact that curriculum
studies attempt to answer quite fundamental questions about the nature and p urpose of
education. Even though the concerns of the language teacher and syllabus designer might
seem remote from such considerations, I hope it will become clear that any decisions about
developing a language teaching programme must reflect the assumptio ns and beliefs of those
engaged in such an enterprise, and that it is important to illuminate such planning by working
out where one stands in relation to the numerous options available. I shall begin this review of
curriculum options by considering the important issue of the major value systems which
underlie them. (White, 1988: 24)

Lets suppose that we want to explain Whites ideas by quoting him. First, we
have to pick parts of the sentences to quote. In the first of the summary
sentences we identified above, we would not want to include the word also,

because this links back to Whites previous paragraph, which we are not
quoting. We could, therefore write it like this:
White (1988: 24) says:
It is ... important to be aware that different models of curriculum represent the
expression of different value systems and, consequently, of quite divergent
views on education.

Notice that we use Whites surname (not first name or initials) and we put the
date of the book and the page number of the quotation in brackets after his
name. This tells the reader from where we have taken the quotation. The
words says is followed by a colon, or we could also use says that. Then we put
the quoted sentence on a new line, because it is quite a long quote. The
quotation is indented, that is moved away from the left-hand margin and single
spacing is used, and a smaller font size is selected. The dots tell the reader that
we have missed something out (in this case, the word also).
In our quotation we have included more than Whites idea we have also
included It is important to be aware that, which is a way of telling us the idea
is important. We could miss this out, and our quotation would read like this:
White (1988: 24) says that
different models of curriculum represent the expression of different value
systems and, consequently, of quite divergent views on education.

Activity 10
Using the quotation below, select those parts of the sentence which tell you
Whites idea. What are the other part(s) of the sentence doing? Write out
Whites idea as a quotation which might appear in an assignment.
Even though the concerns of the language teacher and syllabus designer might seem remote
from such considerations, I hope it will become clear that any decisions about developing a
language teaching programme must reflect the assumptions and beliefs of those engaged in
such an enterprise, and that it is important to illuminate such planning by working out where
one stands in relation to the numerous options available.
(White, 1984: 24)

We do not usually want to quote anything too long. If we use a short

quotation, it does not go on a new line, but follows on from what goes before,
with quotation marks. For example, we might quote part of Whites first idea
like this:
White (1988: 24) says that different models of curriculum represent
the expression of different value systems.

A good essay contains some quotations, but not too many. Some people
suggest a maximum of 10% and this is probably a good guideline. We can
make an essay more interesting by reporting what someone has said instead of
quoting them. When we report, we use our own words to describe an idea that
we have read. Lets go back to Whites first idea that we quoted above:
different models of curriculum represent the expression of different
value systems.
This could be reported like this:
White argues that each curriculum model expresses a particular value
system (White, 1988: 24).
Notice that in this example the reference information, that is, the date of
publication and the page number, appears in brackets at the end of the
sentence, but before the full stop.
Activity 11
In the sentence below taken from the second paragraph, White recommends
that somebody does something.
it is important to illuminate such planning by working out where one stands
in relation to the numerous options available.
Decide who should do something and what they should do. Then add your
report about what should be done and by whom onto the example report given

The Commentary on this Activity shows that Whites ideas can be expressed
much more briefly through reporting rather than direct quotation. Another
advantage of reporting is that it shows that you have understood the ideas you
have read and can rephrase them and make them your own.
It is possible and often very useful to use a combination of reporting and
quoting. We may decide, for example, that Whites phrase working out where
one stands in relation to the numerous options available is so good that we do
not want to change it. In that case, we can report as before, but include a short
piece of quotation:
White argues that each curriculum model expresses a particular value
system. He recommends that anyone involved in developing language
courses should be aware of these models and values, and that one
should [work] out where one stands in relation to the numerous
options available (White, 1988: 24).
There are three things to notice about this report:

the square brackets show that White does not use the exact word work (he
uses working)

everything that is exactly the same as what White said is in the quotation

White uses the pronoun one (instead of you or he or she), so we have

used the same pronoun so that the two pronouns match. The aim is to
produce a sentence that makes sense, even though part of it contains our
words and part of it contains Whites words.

Often, you want to report on or refer to the ideas which form a whole article or
book. In such cases, it is not possible to give a page reference, but it is still
important to give the authors name and the date of publication (and a full
reference in your reference section). This can be done by referring to the
author in your main text as in the example:
Halliday (1994) maintains that language fulfils a number of

Alternatively, the name of the author of the ideas can occur in brackets like
The argument that language fulfils a number of metafunctions
(Halliday, 1994) is the basis of the analysis presented here.
It is generally better if you use the latter approach as it foregrounds the idea
rather than the name of the person who had the idea, and gives your essay a
better flow. For all sources, whether quoted directly, reported or paraphrased
(see below) it is essential to acknowledge them in the text and then to give
complete information about the authors and texts in the Reference List at the
end of your assignment (see Students Handbook or Appendix 1 in this

Showing that you understand

Usually when we talk about what someone has said we do not want to
concentrate on one sentence only we want to summarise a whole paragraph,
several paragraphs, or even a whole chapter. This is much more difficult to do,
of course, because you cannot do it unless you understand the paragraph or
chapter well. On the other hand, it is well worth summarising in this way
because in so doing you demonstrate to the person reading your essay that you
really do understand what you have read. In any case, it is useful as you read
to make summaries of important paragraphs or chapters so that you make sure
you understand them and can remember them. (See also Unit 2.)
Activity 12
Below is a section of a book by Richards and Rodgers. The writers are talking
about the teaching method known as Total Physical Response, and here they
are describing the role of the teacher in this method. Read this section and
1. underline key words or phrases;
2. group these words or phrases under your own headings;
3. use these headings or groupings to summarise the teachers role in Total
Physical Response in 40 words or less.

The teacher plays an active and direct role in Total Physical Response. The instructor is the
director of a stage play in which the students are the actors (Asher, 1977: 43). It is the teacher
who decides what to teach, who models and presents the new materials, and who selects
supporting materials for classroom use. The teacher is encouraged to be well prepared and
well organised so that the lesson flows smoothly and predictably. A sher recommends detailed
lesson plans: It is wise to write out the exact utterances you will be using and especially the
novel commands because the action is so fast-moving there is usually not time for you to
create spontaneously (1977: 47). Classroom interaction and turn taking is teacher rather than
learner directed. Even when learners interact with other learners it is usually the teacher who
initiates the interaction:
Teacher: Maria, pick up the box of rice and hand it to Miguel and ask Miguel to rea d the
Asher stresses, however, that the teachers role is not so much to teach as to provide
opportunities for learning. The teacher has the responsibility of providing the best kind of
exposure to language so that the learner can internalise the basic rules of the target language.
Thus the teacher controls the language input the learners receive, providing the raw material
for the cognitive map that the learners will construct in their own minds. The teacher should
also allow speaking abilities to develop in learners at the learners own natural pace.
In giving feedback to learners, the teacher should follow the example of parents giving
feedback to their children. At first, parents correct very little, but as the child grows older,
parents are said to tolerate fewer mistakes in speech. Similarly teachers should refrain from
too much correction in the early stages and should not interrupt to correct errors, since this
will inhibit learners. As time goes on, however, more teacher intervention is expe cted, as the
learners speech becomes fine tuned. (Richards and Rodgers, 1986: 934)

In the Commentary we noted that we were summarising facts, not opinions. If,
however, we wish to summarise opinions, we can begin with X say that .
Activity 13
Here are the same writers, Richards and Rodgers, giving their opinion of the
good and bad things connected with the Grammar Translation method. Try to
summarise their opinions in 50 words or less. Before you begin, remember to
underline or highlight the main points and to group them using your own
Grammar Translation dominated European and foreign language teaching from the 1840s to
the 1940s, and in modified form it continues to be widely used in some parts of the world
today. At its best, as Howatt (1984) points out, it was not necessarily the horror that its critics

depicted it as. Its worst excesses were introduced by those who wanted to demonstrate that the
study of French or German was no less rigorous than the study of classical languages. This
resulted in the type of GrammarTranslation courses remembered with distaste by thousands
of school learners, for whom foreign language learning meant a tedious experience of
memorising endless lists of unusable grammar rules and vocabulary and attempting to produce
perfect translations of stilted or literary prose. Although the GrammarTranslation Method
often creates frustration for students, it makes few demands on teachers. It is still used in
situations where understanding literary texts is the primary fo cus of foreign language study
and there is little need for a speaking knowledge of the language.
Contemporary texts for the teaching of foreign languages at college level often reflect
GrammarTranslation principles. These texts are frequently the product s of people trained in
literature rather than in language teaching or applied linguistics. Consequently, though it may
be true to say that the GrammarTranslation method is still widely practised, it has no
advocates. It is a method for which there is no theory. There is no literature that offers a
rationale or justification for it or that attempts to relate it to issues in linguistics, psychology,
or educational theory. (Richards and Rogers, 1986: 45)

2. Re-phrasing
If you are quoting something that is important but complex or difficult to
understand, it is a good idea to say the same thing in your own words as well.
This may sound strange. Why should you say the same thing twice? By using
your own words, you show that you have not just copied the quotation, but
you have understood it well too. You can either summarise what is being said
before using the quotation, or you can use the quotation and then summarise
its meaning afterwards.
3. Giving your own example
Writers will often give examples of their own ideas, but if you can, think of
your own examples you show that you really understand what the writer is
saying. Here is one writer, Carter, talking about the meaning of words in
We shall begin with idioms. These present particular difficulties because they are
restricted collocations which cannot normally be understood from the literal meaning
of the words which make them up. Thus, to have/get/give cold feet (= to be/to make
afraid) cannot be modified to frozen feet or chilly feet without chan ging the
meaning. And in its idiomatic meaning cold feet is semantically opaque in so far as

the meaning of the whole is not obvious from the individual meaning of the
constituent parts. Similarly, to let the cat out of the bag (= to reveal a secret) cannot
be decoded if only the meaning of let, cat, bag and out are known as separate items.
(Carter, 1987: 58)

Carter gives two examples of idioms that mean something different from the
combination of each of the words in them: cold feet and let the cat out of the
bag. If you want to use Carters ideas in an essay, it would be a good idea to
give one or more different examples of your own, either from English or from
another language (with a translation). This shows that you understand and can
apply other peoples ideas to different material. By using your own examples
you are also demonstrating originality, a quality highly valued by those
marking you assignments (see 5.9 later in this unit).
4. Taking it one step further
If you really understand something that someone has said, you may be able to
take their argument one step further, that is, to say something that may be
inferred or concluded from what they say. This shows that you are thinking as
well as reading and that you can produce not only parallel examples but
original ideas as well. It is this type of reporting the literature that earns the
highest marks.
Here is another example from Carter; in this extract he is talking about the
difficulties involved in trying to define what a word is. He has just talked
about words in written language and goes on to say:
we should note that spoken discourse does not generally allow of such a clear
perception of a word (Carter, 1987: 4)

Activity 14
Try to rephrase what Carter says in your own words.
Give some examples of words that are often difficult to perceive separately in
speech (e.g. gonna going to, wudja would you).
What would be the consequences of this if, for example, you wanted to count
the number of words spoken by a speaker?

Lets take another example, this time from an article by Willis and Willis
(1996) about teaching grammar. At this point in the article, they are talking
about word order in English:
The order of elements within the English clause is very fixed. This may be
comforting for learners. Less comforting is the fact that in order to maintain this order
and at the same time allow for flexibility in the way information is presented and
highlighted English has some complex devices like clefting, involving the use of a
dummy subject it:
I thought it was someone playing a joke.
Its always the money that gets reported, isnt it?
These services present a learning problem. They need to be drawn to the attention of
learners and treated systematically. This can only be done by looking at cla uses
within texts. Since the structure of a given clause is determined by its place in
discourse we need to look at clauses and sentences in context, not in abstract.

Discussion/Reflection Task 2
Here are some questions you might ask yourself as you read this passage.
Think about them, and if possible, discuss them before reading the next
What kind of English structure are Willis and Willis talking about here? Do
you agree that things like this present a learning problem? What do you
understand by the word systematically here? What are the consequences for
the teacher of the last sentence of the extract?
Lets assume that we agree that Willis and Willis are talking about structures
where the clause begins with it so that a particular element is emphasised, and
that this is difficult for learners because the normal word order is altered. The
word systematically is open to several interpretations. Here is our best guess:
Teachers should have a plan for teaching these structures and they should try
to teach several kinds of it clauses in an order they have decided on. In other
words, the teaching should be complete, it should be ordered and it should be
planned. The last sentence of the extract tells us that we can only teach these
structures when they occur in texts, that is, in things that our students are

reading or listening to. We should not make up sentences that show the
structure and try to teach it out of context. So, in order to teach the structure,
the teacher has to choose things for the students to read or listen to that have
these it clauses in them.
Thinking about this further, it means that Willis and Willis are talking about
something that English does the cleft sentences but they are also talking
about the way that we teach grammar, and they are linking the two together.
Activity 15
Summarise what Willis and Willis are saying in the extract above.

Showing your opinion

When we quote or report what someone has said, we also need to decide
whether we agree with them or not. According to how we write, we can show
that either what the writer says is definitely true or what the writer says may
be true.
Lets return to a statement by Willis and Willis:
Since the structure of a given clause is determined by its place in discours e we need
to look at clauses and sentences in context, not in abstract.

Depending on your opinion, this sentence can be presented as definitely true

or only possibly true. You can present it as your own view (as well as Willis
and Willis view), or simply as Willis and Willis view, leaving yourself free
to agree or disagree with them.
1. Presenting a shared view
If you want to present this view as your own, shared with the writer, use the
verb point out or demonstrate, or use as. For example, you might write any of
the following:
(a) Willis and Willis (1996: 65) point out that since the structure of a
given clause is determined by its place in discourse we need to look at
clauses and sentences in context, not in abstract.

(b) Willis and Willis (1996: 65) demonstrate that since the structure of
a given clause is determined by its place in discourse we need to look
at clauses and sentences in context, not in abstract.
(c) As Willis and Willis (1996: 65) point out, since the structure of a
given clause is determined by its place in discourse we need to look at
clauses and sentences in context, not in abstract.
Notice that if you use as... you do not also use that. Notice also that if you use
a report like this you have committed yourself you must continue to agree
with Willis and Willis in the rest of your essay!
2. Withholding your viewpoint
If you do not want to give your own viewpoint, use a verb such as argue,
suggest or state, or the phrase According to as in these examples:
(a) Willis and Willis (1996: 65) argue that since the structure of a
given clause is determined by its place in discourse we need to look
at clauses and sentences in context, not in abstract.
(b) Willis and Willis (1996: 65) suggest that since the structure of a
given clause is determined by its place in discourse we need to look
at clauses and sentences in context, not in abstract.
(c) According to Willis and Willis (1996: 65), since the structure of a
given clause is determined by its place in discourse we need to look
at clauses and sentences in context, not in abstract.
None of these mean that you disagree with Willis and Willis, simply that you
do not want to agree with them strongly at this stage. You may, of course,
state that you agree with them later in the essay.
3. Disagreeing
If you strongly disagree with Willis and Willis, you can use the verb claim,
which implies that you disagree.
Willis and Willis (1996: 65) claim that since the structure of a given
clause is determined by its place in discourse we need to look at
clauses and sentences in context, not in abstract.

If you use claim it is difficult for you to change your mind in the essay and
agree with them. For further examples of types of reporting structures see
Thompson (1994).
Activity 16
Using the examples in (1), (2) and (3) above as a guide, include the quotation
below in three sentences to show 1. that you agree with the writer; 2. that you
neither agree nor disagree; 3. that you disagree with the writer:
It is ... important to be aware that different models of curriculum represent the expression of
different value systems and, consequently, of quite divergent views on education.
(White, 1988: 24)


The problems of plagiarism

We have spent a long time looking at how to report what writers have said.
We mentioned at the beginning of this section and elsewhere in this Guide
why it is so important to discuss the work of others and to acknowledge it
clearly. Before finishing this section, it is necessary to discuss the dangers of
plagiarism more fully. Plagiarism is the deliberate or accidental use of the
words or ideas of another person without acknowledging them. Examples of
plagiarism3 are:

presenting substantial extracts from books, articles, lectures, and other

students work

without clearly acknowledging, through the use of

quotation marks and/or referencing, where the material has come from










acknowledging the source

quoting directly from a source without using quotation marks and giving
reference information

Students most commonly plagiarise work when they are unsure of their own
writing ability, or when they do not understand something clearly enough to
express it in their own words. It is usually apparent to someone marking a
students work that some of it has been plagiarised. Even if the marker does

3 Based on Hay, I. (1996) Communicating in Geography and the Environmental Sciences. Melbour ne: Oxford University Press.

not recognise the source text, he/she will notice things such as a change of
style in the writing.
The most common form of plagiarism, and one which not all students realise
is actually plagiarism, is paraphrasing without acknowledging the source. This
type of plagiarism is theft of intellectual property, the ideas rather than the
words that someone has thought about and worked on, perhaps for many
years. To return to a quotation we used earlier from Willis and Willis (1996:
Since the structure of a given clause is determined by its place in discourse we need
to look at clauses and sentences in context, not in abstract.

The text below would be considered as an example of plagiarism.

Because the structure of a particular clause is determined by its
position in discourse we must look at clauses and sentences in context,
not in abstract.

Activity 17
Re-write the sentence above to avoid plagiarising the ideas of Willis and
It is important to be aware of the seriousness of plagiarism and how to avoid
it. We have discussed here how to acknowledge your sources either through
the use of quotation marks or by paraphrasing and using a reference. For both
of these methods to be successful, and to avoid accidental plagiarism, it is
vitally important when making notes that you write down page numbers next
to the ideas you are summarising and that you enclose all copied material in
quotation marks.

Summary of Sections 5.55.7

In this section we have discussed the reasons for summarising the literature in
an assignment or dissertation and the importance of avoiding plagiarism. We
have looked at specific ways of quoting, reporting, showing that you
understand and showing your opinion of what a writer says.


Re-Drafting and Proof-reading

Once you have produced a first draft of your assignment, you will have
interpreted the title, assembled and read the appropriate texts, done any
necessary research and analysis and put your ideas on paper. It may feel as if
you have done all the hard work and now you can send your work to be
marked. You have indeed done the intellectual work, but if you want your
assignment to reflect the effort you have put in, it is necessary to edit and
present it with care. This involves re-drafting and proof-reading.
In this section, we are going to look at:


overall structure

Editing for overall structure

This is the real re-drafting stage, where you may decide that you need to move
text around or re-write parts in order to make your message clearer. If
possible, it is a good idea to leave your first draft for a day or two before you
come back to read and refine it. This way, you see it more as your reader will
see it.
The first stage is to re-read your title and then to read your assignment to see if
it answers it. Then analyse your document in more detail to see if all the parts
are contributing to answering the question and furthering the arguments you
wish to make. Do this in three stages.

layout Is the structure logical and clearly signalled? Does the

introduction give an indication of what is to come? Does the conclusion
sum up what you have said?

headings If you have used headings and sub-headings, do they give a

clear outline of your assignments structure? Have you used the correct
numbering system? (Check with the Student Handbook

tables, etc. If you have presented any data in the form of tables or
figures, are they labelled clearly and referred to in the text?

When you re-draft an assignment it is easy to forget about the importance of

presentation. Before reading further, it is suggested that you re-read Unit 3
Section 3.7, on presentation.

Editing for style

The characteristics of academic style have been dealt with thoroughly in
Section 3.8. Remember, especially, that academic writing is usually formal
and concerned with presenting supported arguments and that even where you
are reporting on your own experience, observations or experiments, avoid
constantly beginning sentences with I.
Below is a checklist of style concerns which you can keep in mind when rereading and re-drafting.

Is the style appropriate for an academic assignment? Have you got the
balance right between:


formality and informality

personal and impersonal
facts and opinion

Does the sentence structure reflect the appropriate style?

minimise use of personal pronouns e.g. I, we

use passives e.g. we need = is required
minimise use of phrasal verbs e.g. to put off = to postpone
expressions of:
-certainty e.g. this is sure to ...
-possibility e.g. this may cause ...
-tentativeness e.g. this tends to ...


Does the vocabulary reflect the appropriate style?

avoid the use of colloquial language e.g. a hard slog = hard


use technical/specialised terms where appropriate e.g. to write

out the conversation = to transcribe the tape


avoid the use of contractions e.g. We didnt = We did not

Proof-reading for correctness

This is more than just proof-reading for spelling errors. You should also be
looking for errors in grammar, punctuation, vocabulary and logical signalling.

Below is a check-list which highlights errors that often occur in students

1. Word order
Remember the basic word order is Subject Verb Object
2. Verbs


(a) tenses (past, present, conditionals); avoid too many

(b) agreement (single subject = single verb)
(c) prepositions + ing e.g. before being tested
3. Connecting words
Are they correct? e.g. NOT besides of BUT besides

Are they logical? e.g. beware of using thus, hence and

therefore unless what you are saying follows logically from your
previous sentence(s)

Are there enough? e.g. some people use too few connecting words
which can make it difficult to follow their argument.
4. Prepositions
Are they correct? e.g. corresponds to; the possibility of
5. Collocation
Make sure you put the right words together in the right order.

Dr Rogers offered his warm congratulations on her success.

Dr Rogers congratulated her warmly.

6. Word formation
Make sure you get the right form of the word.

the countrys economy

the economic situation
an economical car

7. Vocabulary

Is the meaning of the word precisely what you want to say? If you
are unsure, use a dictionary.
Is the word appropriate to the audience?

The students said the text was really boring =

The students found the text uninteresting.

8. Spelling
Use spelling check software if you have it.

Be consistent e.g. all familiarize or all familiarise, not both

i.e. American spellings or British spellings, not both (but do not

change the spellings in direct quotations)

Check homophones. Are you using the right one?


bare bear; there their; practice practise

9. Punctuation
Capital letters for names of people, places and organisations at
the beginning of sentences

All sentences must have a main verb

Separate sentences with full stops. If the ideas are very closely
linked a semi colon (;) may be appropriate e.g. Analysing spoken
data is time consuming; select only those sections which are


Correct use of apostrophes, especially its versus its.

Summary of Section 5.8

This section has dealt with re-drafting and proof-reading. The importance of
looking at the whole essay and deciding whether it is structured in the best
possible way to answer the question set is stressed. Then a number of criteria
are summarised for use in editing and proof-reading for style and accuracy.


Markers Expectations
Work for a higher degree, such as a Masters degree, has to show significant
differences from that suitable for a first degree. The most obvious differences
is that you are studying something in detail which might have been just one
component of an undergraduate course. For example, at Birmingham,
undergraduates study English literature and language at the same time. For
your MA you are looking in much greater depth at language. This depth has to
be evident in your writing. Below is a summary of the types of things markers
will be looking for.

depth of understanding and analysis

e.g. evaluation of readings, arguments, methods.

discussion of implications e.g. whether a particular methodology is

useful in all situations and with all groups, or whether it is limited
in some way.

evidence of wide reading e.g. whether relevant and up-to-date

sources are discussed.

clear argument e.g. the main thesis is stated clearly and evidence is
presented logically to support it.

appropriate style and presentation, e.g. the student shows an

understanding of academic conventions, an ability to write clearly
and to present work in an appropriate format.

These points are also made in your Student Handbook in the discussion of
Grading of Assignments. You should look carefully at this before writing
and also when your assignments are returned to you. Compare your grade and
comments with those listed in the Student Handbook and try to decide how
you could have improved your assignment.
Discussion/Reflection Task 3
Below is the beginning of the grading guidelines from the Student Handbook.
Compare the criteria for assignments receiving 75% and above with those
receiving between 66% and 74%. Underline what you consider to be the key
differences and discuss them with other students if possible. Rephrase them in
your own words.
Grades A to A+ (75% 100% )

shows originality in conceptualisation of study.


skilled synthesis referring to a wide range of sources.


cogent, critical analysis and evaluation.


identifies implications of present knowledge for future.


clear, precise and persuasive.


shows outstanding scholarship, originality and meticulous analysis.

Grades AB to B++ (66% 74% )

well planned and skilful, discusses pertinent issues in depth.

provides a critical review of a substantial range of sources.


coherent, cautious, well founded interpretation and appraisal.


careful relating of present knowledge to future practice.


good clear presentation, clearly signposted.

Overall: work of good quality at higher degree level showing perceptive and critical insight.

Below we have underlined some of the words in the A, A and A= group

which we think are most contrastive with the second group. Then we have
tried to highlight what we think the difference is. Compare your analysis with


shows originality in conceptualisation of study.

skilled synthesis referring to a wide range of



cogent, critical analysis and evaluation.

identifies implications of present knowledge for



clear, precise and persuasive.

shows outstanding scholarship, originality and

meticulous analysis.
Organisation: The top grades differ from all the rest in terms of originality.
References: Both emphasise the importance of referring to sources. The top
grades, however, show a wider range of reading and an ability to synthesise,
that is to recombine the ideas of others in an original way.
Analysis: The best analyses are well-argued and evaluative. They may well
compare and contrast different theories, adapt them to suit new situations, or
propose entirely new ones. Those which receive between 66% and 74% are
good but show less innovation or critical insight.
Relevance: Implications implies a wider understanding of the possible future
changes in practice, than does careful relating.
Presentation: Language which is precise, allows the writer to say more things
in a limited space. If an assignment is persuasive, it makes its points well and
supports them with logical argument and evidence.
Overall: Scholarship is a term which refers to academic merit and


together with originality.


careful analysis



You should make use of the complete marking guidelines set out in your
Student Handbook each time you receive your work back. Within the grade
band you have been awarded, look at the different criteria for Organisation,
References and so on. Think about what you could do for your next
assignment to receive a higher mark.

Summary of Unit
This unit has discussed assignment writing from the initial stages of selecting
and analysing the title through to understanding the grading system. In
particular the importance of planning on the basis of an understanding of the
title; using and referring to the literature; and thorough re-drafting and proofreading have been emphasised. All these areas are of equal importance to
dissertation writing (Unit 6).


Commentary on Activities
Commentary on Activity 1
You may have found Activity 1 difficult. This is because what we refer to as
analysis assignments are not always purely analysis. Some assessment or
reflection is often also required. In 9, both analysis and material production is
1. Essay
2. Analysis
3. Mini- actionresearch
4. Essay
5. Essay

6. Analysis/mini-actionresearch
7. Mini- actionresearch
8. Analysis
9. Analysis +

Commentary on Activity 2

Make sure you understand and can identify different tone unit types.
Find the relevant tone units on the tape.
Transcribe the tone units using the correct conventions.
Write a brief explanation of tone in English using the transcriptions as
examples. Include a bibliography if necessary.

Commentary on Activity 3
Refresh your memory of the course by skimming through the course
Note down the arguments that you want to use to support or refute the
use of authentic texts in the classroom.
Find, read and make notes on articles relevant to your arguments.
Summarise your arguments and the problems for learners.


Using your summary, plan your assignment.

Draft your assignment.
Read and re-draft.
Prepare final version, including the bibliography.

Commentary on Activity 4


Decide on an area of written discourse that is a problem for students

you teach or have taught.
Read anything you can find about the area your students have
problems in and review material/activities designed to help.
Decide whether you want to produce something original or adapt an
existing activity/set of materials.
Produce the activity/set of materials.
Decide on assessment and evaluation criteria. For example, are you
going to ask for student feedback?
Use the activity/set of materials with a group of students.
Produce a copy of the activity/set of materials together with notes on
how they are to be used.
Draft a commentary on how useful the activity/set of material was and
why. This needs to include background on the students and their
problems; a justification for the activity/materials produced, including
reference to existing work in the area and possibly ways of improving
or adapting it further.
Read and re-draft the whole assignment.
Prepare final version, including the bibliography.

Commentary on Activity 5
The words underlined tell you what to do.

Describe any educational change that you have been involved in and
try to assess the relative importance of the factors leading to successful
change that we have covered in the unit.
Refer to the table provided in Unit 1 Commentary on Activity 3
Crystal and Roach on the functions of intonation. Draw up a
column for
Discourse Intonation and discuss the similarities in the DI
account of
intonation function.
Commentary on Activity 6
1 = h;

8 = i;

2 = d;

9 = k;

3 = a;

10 = b;

4 = e;

11 = g;

5 = c;

12 = m;

6 = f;

13 = l.

7 = j;

Commentary on Activity 7
Your list may have included some of the following: books, magazines,
newspapers, advertisements, letters.
You may also have considered whether things which were written to be read
aloud for example, news broadcasts should be included. Also, is a letter
written in English by someone whose first language is, say, Spanish, an
authentic text? What about, simplified readers? Are they authentic texts?
Commentary on Activity 8
Possible reasons are:
To make you read widely.
To show that you have read widely.
To show that there are different points of view.
To give the opportunity to evaluate different points of view.
To allow your point of view to be seen in a wider context.
To show what the wider context is before narrowing the focus of your
Commentary on Activity 9
The two sentences which we think best summarise what the writer is saying
are :
It is also important to be aware that different models of curriculum represent
the expression of different value systems and, consequently, of quite divergent
views on education.
Even though the concerns of the language teacher and syllabus designer
might seem remote from such considerations, I hope it will become clear that
any decisions about developing a language teaching programme must reflect
the assumptions and beliefs of those engaged in such an enterprise, and that it
is important to illuminate such planning by working out where one stands in
relation to the numerous options available.
Commentary on Activity 10
The words Even though the concerns of the language teacher and syllabus
designer might seem remote from such considerations, I hope it will become
clear that are not part of Whites idea. They just remind us who the ideas are
relevant to and tell us that we will find an explanation of the idea which
follows later in the chapter. So, we only need to start quoting from any

White (1988: 24) says:

any decisions about developing a language teaching programme must reflect the
assumptions and beliefs of those engaged in such an enterprise, and ... it isimportant
to illuminate such planning by working out where one stands in relation to the
numerous options available.

Notice that we have also missed out the second that, because it is part of I
hope it will become clear that ... and that ... We have used dots to show that
something is missed out. We have also indented the quotation from the left
margin and used single spacing and a smaller font.
Commentary on Activity 11
Who should do something? People involved in developing language courses.
What should they do? They should first be aware of the different curricula
available, and the value systems that these represent, and second they should
be aware of what their own value system is. Our combined previous and new
report should look similar to this:
White says that each curriculum model expresses a particular value
system. He recommends that people involved in developing language
courses should be aware of these models and values, and that they
should be aware of what their own value system is (White, 1988: 24).
Commentary on Activity 12
Here is one possible summary.
The role of the teacher in TPR is firstly, to decide the content of each
lesson, secondly, to provide exposure to the language for the learner,
and thirdly, to correct errors, though only as the learner improves
(Richards and Rodgers, 1986: 934).
Notice that we still put in the reference to the book, to show that this is not our
own idea. The reference goes in brackets at the end, before the full stop. In
this example, we are summarising facts about TPR, rather that the writers
opinions, so we do not need to begin the sentence with Richard and Rodgers
say that ....

Commentary on Activity 13
Here is one possible summary.
Richards and Rodgers say that the Grammar Translation method is
easy for teachers and is useful when learners are interested in literature
rather than language, but it is often boring and does not lead to the
ability to speak the language. It has no theoretical justification
(Richards and Rodgers, 1986: 45).
Notice that we have still put the reference at the end of the sentence. It would
also be possible to have included the reference information after mentioning
Richards and Rodgers names.
Richards and Rodgers (1986: 45) say that ...
Commentary on Activity 14
Here is a possible answer:
Carter (1987: 4) says that spoken discourse does not generally allow
such a clear perception of a word. In other words, it is more difficult
to perceive boundaries between words in speech than in writing. For
example, in speech, people often say wudja instead of would you and
gonna instead of going to. In each case, two words in writing sound
like one word in speech. This would cause problems if we wanted to
write down what someone said and count the words. We would have to
decide whether to count wudja and gonna as two words each or as one.
Commentary on Activity 15
Here is a possible answer:
Willis and Willis (1996: 65) say that some points of grammar can only
be taught when students read them or listen to them in context. One
example is so-called cleft sentences, such as Its always the money that
gets reported, isnt it? It is impossible to teach this without having a
text in which it occurs. Willis and Willis also say that structures like
this need to be . treated systematically. In other words, the teacher
has to plan to teach them. This means that the teacher has to choose
articles for the students to read which have sentences like this in them.

Commentary on Activity 16
Three possible answers are given below. Notice that it has been changed to
(I)t. This is because the quotation has been embedded within another
sentence. It would be inappropriate to have a capital letter in the middle of a
sentence. To show that something has been changed, square brackets are used.
1. White (1988: 24) points out that (I)t is ... important to be aware that
different models of curriculum represent the expression of different
value systems and, consequently, of quite divergent views on
2. According to White (1988: 24) (I)t is ... important to be aware that
different models of curriculum represent the expression of different
value systems and, consequently, of quite divergent views on
3. White (1988: 24) claims that (I)t is ... important to be aware that
different models of curriculum represent the expression of different
value systems and, consequently, of quite divergent views on
Commentary on Activity 17
Possible ways of avoiding plagiarism are:
1. According to Willis and Willis (1996: 65) since the structure of a given
clause is determined by its place in discourse we need to look at clauses and
sentences in context, not in abstract.
2. Because the structure of a particular clause is determined by its position in
discourse we must look at clauses and sentences in context, not in abstract
(Willis and Willis, 1986: 65).



Note: This unit is intended to be read after completing the modules of the first
year of the course, that is, just before undertaking decisions about the
dissertation. At this time you will be provided with more detailed Guidelines
for Writing a Dissertation. As the latter document will be more up to date than
this unit and you should use that as your primary source of guidance,
especially if you find conflicting advice given.

This unit will describe the elements that make up a typical dissertation for a
Masters degree at Birmingham University, and raise issues to be considered
by those undertaking such a piece of work.


By the end of the unit you should:

know what types of research can be used in a dissertation

understand the basic components of a dissertation what they consist of
and how they are different

have a clear idea of how to approach each part


Suggested Reading

Bell, J. (2010) Doing your Research Project: A Guide for First-Time

Researchers in Education and Social Science. Buckinghamshire: Open
University Press.

Weissberg, R. and Buker, S. (1990) Writing Up Research. New Jersey:

Prentice Hall Regents.
This book is particularly useful for the non-native speaker of English since it
deals primarily with issues of the appropriate grammar and vocabulary for
report writing. It contains many useful examples of the type of language
needed for each section.


Every Masters degree at ELAL requires students to write a dissertation of
15,000 words. It is the final task of an exacting course and is often the longest
piece of continuous writing or research that students at this level have ever
Since a dissertation is a considerable undertaking which requires the use of
different skills at different stages, it is important to plan carefully for each
stage well in advance in order to succeed. Fifteen thousand words can be
written in a week but no Masters dissertation (that passed!) was ever written
so hastily. The background reading, research design and implementation,
analysis of results and writing up of each part, require several weeks, and the
time needed for final tidying up, checking of references, collation of
appendices and printing should not be underestimated.
Faced with this final hurdle of the course students feelings can range from
overwhelmed and discouraged to excited and enthusiastic.
The following may have been among the reasons for writing a dissertation
which you have identified:

an extensive piece of writing based on wide reading and research is the

typical format of nearly all academic writing in education and linguistics

the ability to do such a piece of work establishes you as a member of the

academic community

MA dissertations can become journal articles or lead to Ph.D. theses


Choosing a Dissertation Topic

Choosing a topic can be the hardest part of the whole exercise for some
students since it can be difficult to backtrack once you have committed
yourself to a particular area. MA students are all motivated differently towards
their dissertation; for some the simple thirst for knowledge is enough, for
others the thought of publication and fame keeps them going, for others it is
simply a case of slogging through to do enough to get the degree. If you find
your motivation or inspiration is low at the beginning it is worth giving a little

more time and thought to choosing your topic and assessing yourself. Is it
important to you to get a high mark? What usually motivates you to do your
best work? Are there any topics that you know you should avoid?
Some people like study for studys sake and are excited by questions of
theory. For many others though, it is the practical rather than the theoretical
which stimulates them, and so the motivation to set about an arduous
academic task is more likely to be extrinsic (coming from external reasons).
The next sections will look at these different types of motivation.

Intrinsic motivation
As you studied the modules on this course, some questions concerning the
ideas and information presented will probably have arisen. Hopefully you will
have found the answers you sought as you read further. This is how
knowledge in the world is increased questions are raised and answers are
sought. Good dissertations are those that raise an original question, check that
no one else has already found an answer, look for a way to answer it and offer
the results of this attempt either as an answer, or as raising new questions to be
answered by more research.
Discussion/Reflection Task 1
Think of the area of the course that has interested you most so far. Why did it
interest you? What would you like to know more about in that area? Try to
write two or three specific questions. Could any of those questions be
developed into a dissertation topic? If not, think of another area of the course
that interests you and try to develop some research questions about that area.
With some specific questions that excite you, ideas of how to set about
answering them usually start to flow. This is not to say that all your ideas at
this stage will be realistic or feasible in your own situation, but once you have
initiated a few ideas, something possible will probably occur to you. If not,
discuss your questions with other students or staff often a different
perspective can help you to clarify your ideas, and can suggest new
approaches or new questions to ask. A mental block can be removed by just

one small inspiration which sets up a chain reaction leading to a dissertation

topic you are both happy with and interested in.

Instrumental and extrinsic motivation

Perhaps you see the degree you are studying for as a means to an end. If this is
the case, and every module and essay you have written has been simply
work to be got through, then the dissertation probably represents to you a
difficult but at least final task towards your goal. Perhaps you can harness
some of that motivation by choosing a topic which will have personal
relevance to you when the course is finished. Is there a research topic which
you could build on when the degree is safely under your belt? Can you
improve the conditions of your work environment or that of colleagues? In
your own professional situation is there a particular issue which raises a lot of
interest and, if studied, could be accepted for publication? Try to give yourself
solid pragmatic reasons for getting down to work, and as you make your
timetable remind yourself of what you will be gaining at the end of it all.
Although motivation can be described in terms of intrinsic and extrinsic, it is
not a fixed commodity and can vary between the two in any individual. It can
also vary within the individual at different times in the project, for example
you may start by feeling this was a qualification that had to be attained
(extrinsic) but find yourself fascinated by the data and the implications of the
research you are doing (intrinsic).
Discussion/Reflection Task 2
Where are you now in motivational terms on the clines between low and high
intrinsic motivation and low and high extrinsic motivation? Try to describe
your position on these two lines and say why you are there. Obviously the
closer together your two points are, the better motivated you will be.




Types of Research
A major consideration for your dissertation is how you are going to approach
the research. All dissertations require both background reading and a research
project of some kind. Some kinds of project are more quantitative, almost like
scientific experiments, while others are much more library- and literaturebased or qualitative. The following list of types of research gives a range of
possibilities, but depending on the question being researched, your project
may draw elements from more than one of these categories. However, within
the limits of time and length, it is generally better not to attempt too varied a


Analysis of documentary evidence

In this type of non-empirical (= non-experimental) study the data are usually
previous literature or documentary evidence. The aim can be to present an idea
or explain phenomena by synthesising theories from different sources, or to
evaluate ideologies represented in certain official documents. It would be
expected that the topic area is thoroughly researched and the reading required
for this kind of dissertation is perhaps twice that of an empirical study.


If your aim is to gather a number of facts or opinions from a group of people
in order to compare and contrast them, then a survey using questionnaires
and/or interviews is probably the best way to go about this. If you decide to
make a questionnaire it is worth remembering that it is very common for only
a half to two thirds of questionnaires to be returned. Your dissertation
supervisor will usually want to check a questionnaire before it is administered
since a badly constructed questionnaire can give results which are virtually
useless for research purposes. As a general rule, try to pilot your questions in a
practice situation (if all else fails use fellow students of this course/colleagues)
to check that you have pitched them at the right level, and that they are clear
and unambiguous.
Try to avoid the experience of the following student:

The whole process took about ten hours in total ... To write and administer
such a questionnaire seemed straightforward but was not; most of the
information gained was either largely irrelevant or, given the subjective or
ambiguous and contextless nature of the answers, relatively useless. Most of
the other answers were predictable and only served to confirm what was

Case studies
An alternative to gathering specific information from many different people or
situations (usually at least 30 for statistical validity) is the detailed but less
specific study of a smaller number of situations. However, as part of a
dissertation, the reasons for the case study must be clear and the methodology
systematic. Case studies are sometimes used in conjunction with other
research methods where a multi-faceted approach to a particularly complex
issue is desirable.
The problem with case studies as academic exercises is that there is a danger
that the information gathered will be subjective, descriptive and anecdotal
rather than generalisable to other contexts. To avoid this you must be careful
to give as much background detail as necessary to show how the context could
be related to other similar situations.
A successful study will provide the reader with a three-dimensional picture and will
illustrate relationships, micropolitical issues and patterns of influences in a particular
context. (Bell, 2010: 9)


Action research
Action research, or a study of the effect of changing an element in the
professional situation after identifying a problem and devising a possible
solution to it. Action research is generally on-going, ideally becoming part of
a professional's whole approach to their profession, that is, alert to problems,
flexible enough to change and reactive enough to evaluate the results of the
changes made. An example of action research in progress can be very valuable
as a dissertation topic, but it must also be extremely well-planned and
methodical over a reasonably long period an ad hoc, last minute rush does
not constitute true action research. To do it properly it should be remembered

that evaluating the existing system, devising new methods, collecting data, reevaluating, modifying and so on all take considerable time and effort which
should not be underestimated.

Obviously we are not talking about laboratories and test tubes here, but rather
some controlled test which could be used to compare, say an aspect of a







where this

methodology was not used. According to scientific principles, the variables

would need to be reduced as far as possible in order to minimise distortion and
truly test the effect of one change over another. However, languages are multidimensional and complex it is difficult to devise experiments in Applied
Linguistics which are objective. If the idea is simple enough though (without
being trivial), certain features of learning / language behaviour can be tested in
an experimental way. It is necessary to have a basic understanding of what is,
and is not, significant in scientific experimental results and how to obtain that
information. The difficulty for most professionals with this kind of dissertation
is a lack of training in statistics, so before going too far, check with your
supervisor whether there will be adequate support for the type of statistical
analysis of your results that may be necessary.


Writing a Dissertation Proposal

Around modules 3 and 4 you need to start thinking about your dissertation or
Extended Translation Project. One of your tutors jobs is to help you create an
appropriate, feasible dissertation proposal, so make sure you use his/her
It is very common to pick a topic that would result in something more like a
Ph.D. thesis than an MA dissertation if it were done properly. In these cases a
very good dissertation topic can be found by restricting the idea in some way,
scaling down the research, focusing on a smaller area in the same field.

As a general guide, check your ideas against these questions:

Can this research question(s) be answered in principle?

What evidence will I need to answer it/them?
Is this piece of research possible in my situation?
It is sometimes hard to relinquish grandiose research plans but 15,000 words is
only enough for a small, sharply focused topic. It is possible that some day
you may be able to go on and expand your thesis to a Ph.D. version, in which
case your dissertation could be thought of as a pilot study. At the other end of
the scale, some ideas are based on questions that may be too insubstantial to
warrant 15,000 words of research. If the answer to the question(s) you are
asking has already been given elsewhere, then it is a good idea to change your
approach in some way so that you have a question that has not already been
researched by someone else. Duplicating the research of other academics is
quite acceptable as long as you are establishing some part of your research as
new and different with your own focus. This can be a useful approach if you
are comparing the original findings from one context with your own, different
context, in order to test the extent to which the original findings are
When you have decided on an idea you are ready to write a proposal. This will
consist of:
1. Activity 1 a provisional title
2. a description of the area of study, possibly including your reasons for
choosing it
3. your specific focus, often in terms of research questions
4. your hypothesis
5. your research method(s) including an indication of where your data will
come from
6. provisional titles for each chapter, a brief synopsis of what each will
contain and an estimated number of words for each chapter
7. a list of books that you have identified as useful or potentially useful
8. a rough work schedule

Activity 1
What follows are 3 examples of dissertation proposals from the area of
Teaching English as a Foreign Language. None of them is complete according
to the list above. What is missing in each one?
Dissertation Proposal 1
An Evaluation of school-based INSET for ELT in *******
1. According to The ******* Education Commission Report No.6 (1995), 52.1% of English
language teachers are not subject-trained.
2. Under the new Language-streaming Policy, secondary schools are streamed according to
their medium of instruction: English, Mixed-mode and Chinese.
Greater autonomy is given to schools with the introduction of School-based
Curriculum and School Management Initiative.
There is a growing concern that training courses alone are not enough and school-based staff
development is gaining importance.
Area of study
1. To study the integration of external professional education and training with professional
support inside schools
2. To study the role of head of department in managing changes in education policy and staff
3. To make recommendation for School-based INSET programmes
Approach and method
1. Evaluate the current school-based INSET programmes. This will be conducted with the
help of questionnaires or interviews.
2. Evaluate the effectiveness of the various kinds of teacher training courses in develop ing the
professional knowledge, skills, attitudes and performance of professional staff in schools.
Interviews or case study will be conducted.
3. Make recommendations on programme design.
Work schedule
Phase I May
Decide on the method and content of res earch (in Birmingham).
Phase II June
Conduct research (in *******).

Phase III July

Analyse data and evaluate. Submit first draft (in Birmingham)
Phase IV AugustSeptember Conduct further research (if necessary). Submit final draft (in
Caldeshead, J. (1988) Teachers Professional Learning. Falmer Press.
Caldeshead, J. and Gates, P. (1993) Conceptualising Reflection in Teacher Development.
Falmer Press.
Day, C. Caldeshead, J. and Denicolo, P. (199 ) Research on Teacher Training.
Holliday, A (1994) The House of TESEP and the Communicative Approach: the special need
of state English language education ELTJ 48(1).
Oldroyd, D. and Hall, V. (1991) Managing Staff Development: a handbook for secondary
schools. Chapman.

Submitted by **********, MA TESL


Dissertation Proposal 2
Initial Assessment of a new Pre-service Teacher Education Program in *******
Chapter One General Problems in pre-service teacher education in *******
1. Training or Education?
2. A Micro vs. a Macro Approach
3. The Socio-political Context
4. Language Policy
5. Selection Procedure
Chapter Two The nature of the beginning students
1. Adequate Concepts of Education
2. The Needs of a Beginning Teacher
3. Successful Teaching and Self-image

Chapter Three Induction support for student teachers The supported teaching scheme
1. Approaches adopted by the scheme
2. Key Phrases of the School Experience
First year a) Early field experience b) Support teaching practice
Second year a) Block teaching b) Additional school visits
3. Teacher Development through support teaching scheme
Chapter Four Study of the Effectiveness of the Support Teaching Scheme
1. Method a) Sending questionnaire b) Conducting interview
2. Analysis of Data Collected
Chapter Five
1. Evaluate the scheme in the effectiveness of teacher development
2. Implications of the scheme to teacher education program in *******
Literature to be consulted
Calderhead, J. (1988) Teachers Profess ional Learning. The Falmer Press.
Calderhead, J. and Gates, D. (1993) Conceptualising Reflection in Teacher Development. The
Falmer Press.
Day, C., Calderhead, J. and Denicolo, P. (eds.) Research on Teacher Thinking: Understanding
Professional Development. The Falmer Press.
Edge, J. (1988) Training, Education, Development: Worlds Apart? Revised version of a
plenary paper presented at the United Kingdom Association of Teachers in Overseas
Education, Morray House, Edinburgh.
Fullan, M. (1992) Focus for Change. London: The Falmer Press.
Jennings, S. (ed.) (1994) An Introduction to Mentoring in Teacher Education. Exeter:
University of Exeter, School of Education.
Kennedy, C. J. (1993) Teacher Attitudes and Change Implementation.
Richard, J. and Nunan, D. (eds.) (1990) Second Language Teacher Education. CUP.
Smyth, J. (ed.) (1987) Educating Teachers: Changing the Nature of Pedagogical Knowledge

Dissertation Proposal 3
Dissertation Title A Study of ***** English Teachers Perceptions on the One -year Full-time
In-service TOEFL Course (B. Phil. course) in the University of X

Since teaching is a life-long profession that requires teachers to have continuous learning of
both pedagogical knowledge and subject knowledge, in-service education and training
(INSET) plays an important role in improving the quality of teacher as well as to update their
skills and knowledge. Indeed, quite a lot of in-service courses are held by different institutions
and colleges of Education in *** to upgrade and equip teachers coping with the changing
society. However, every year there are still a number of practising teachers who would like to
study the in-service courses in England rather than in ***. In fact, what are the motivation of
these teachers to choose studying abroad? What are their intentions, attitudes and expectations
on the courses? What are their changes (in any aspects) after studying the courses? Due to all
these questions, the writer has a strong interest to focus and narrow down the study on a group
of *** English teachers perceptions on a particular in -service TOEFL course (it is held in the
Department of Education) in the University of X. The general purpose of this study is
concerned with perceptions and views, so self-constructed questionnaires and structured
interviews will be used for data collection. Being an ex-student of this in-service course
(though the writers main field of study is not TOEFL), the writer hopes to find 20 25
teachers to do the questionnaires. If possible, 5 teachers will be interviewed in June in ***.
The subjects for the study are the graduate English teachers who attended the in -service
TOEFL course in the University of X in the past. Concerning the literature, teacher training
as well as teachers attitudes and change are the main areas which need to be consulted.
Indeed, the writer has got some basic concepts, about the teaching theories, process of teacher
training, theories of attitudes, personality and behaviour as well as teachers attitudes towards
innovation, from some books and journals. In short, the writer will organise the study into 6
sections and plan to finish it by the end of July in 199x.
Avalos, B. (1991) Approaches to Teacher Education London, Commonwealth Secretariat.
Hofstede, G. (1991) Cultures and Organisations: Ch. 12 The Cultural Relativity of
Organisational Practices and Theories. London: McGraw Hill.
Kennedy, C. (1988) Evaluation of the Management of Change in ELT Projects Applied
Linguistics 9(4) pp. 32942.
Kennedy, J. (1991) Perspectives on Cultural and Individual Determinants of Teaching Style
RELC Journal, 22(2) pp. 6178. Richards, J. C. and Nunan, D. (eds.). (1990) Second
Language Teacher Education. Cambridge University Press.
Rudduck, J. (1991) Innovation and Change. Milton Keynes: OUP.
Wallace, M. J. (1991) Training Foreign Language Teachers: a Reflective Approach CUP.
Woodward, T. (1992) Ways of Training: Recipes for Teacher Training. Longman.

(est. length)

Chapter 1 Introduction


Chapter 2 Background of in-service TOEFL


course in the University of Birmingham

a brief historical perspectives of the course
course aims
course structure
entry requirements

Chapter 3 Review of Literature


definitions of In-service Education and

Training of Teachers (INSET)
the Importance of INSET
teaching theories and process of teacher
training in INSET
Chapter 4 Methodology


research design
Chapter 5 Analysis of Findings


basic data of the respondents

data presentation and analysis
discussion of interviews
Chapter 6 Conclusion



Your Supervisor
Once you have decided the topic of your dissertation you will be assigned a
supervisor who will be someone with expertise in the general area youre
investigating. Contact with your supervisor is usually by email, but Skype
meetings can be very useful if you are in similar time zones.
Discussion/Reflection Task 3
What do you think the role of your supervisor is? What should they do? What
should they not do? What is your role in the relationship? Think about this
before you read on.
The role of a dissertation supervisor at the University of Birmingham is to
help you through the task of writing your dissertation, suggesting books to
read, giving advice on research methods, reading drafts of your work for
content and style (but not for proof-reading) and generally giving you
feedback and guidance. They are also the first markers of your final version. It
is therefore an important relationship. After receiving your proposal your

supervisor will generally agree a timetable with you for submission of a more
detailed outline and your chapters as they are written; the following is an
example. Exact dates will depend on when you start your dissertation, and on
the precise nature of your project.
It is important to keep to the deadlines that you have agreed as supervisors
have extremely busy schedules of their own and may not be able to mark your
work easily if it comes late and conflicts with other work.
The style of language used by lecturers in the UK varies but it is usually fairly
informal. You will be expected to use first names to your supervisor who will
also call you by your first name (see Unit 1. Section 7.3). Personalities differ
of course, but usually you can treat your supervisor as a respected friend.
Remember that their role is to help and guide you, so listen to their advice and
try not to take negative comments personally. Limit yourself to a reasonable
level of contact dont constantly trouble your supervisor with trivialities. On
the other hand, dont disappear for months without any contact; stay in
touch, even if it is just to say youve been too busy finishing coursework or
have been ill and therefore havent made any progress with your dissertation
for a while. If you are facing serious problems, let your supervisor know
immediately, especially if these will affect your keeping to agreed deadlines.
We recommend you copy all correspondence with your supervisor to so it can be monitored by a member of academic
staff at Birmingham.

Structure of the Dissertation

As formal pieces of academic writing, Masters dissertations can have a fairly
fixed content, namely:

literature review
data section
discussion of findings

Activity 2
Give a one-sentence summary of what you think each of the sections named
above should contain and their role in the dissertation as a whole. Then check
the Commentary to see how far you agree with it.
There is no such thing as an obligatory structure: dissertations may flout any
or all of the guidelines that will be offered in the next sections of this chapter.
What is presented here are the components of a typical dissertation. If in
doubt, keep in close contact with your supervisor and respond to their
feedback (if you ignore advice you only have yourself to blame if you do not
get the mark you feel you deserve).
If this is your first extensive piece of academic writing then you may find it
helpful to plan your first draft according to the following sections. Many
students find the ordered and disciplined nature of the structure suggested
reassuring. It will also help you to focus on what needs to be done so that you
can begin to get your personal timetable for the next few months formed in
your mind.

The Literature Survey

The first section we will deal with is the literature survey or review (the
Introduction is discussed in Section 6.12) since in terms of writing your
dissertation, it is likely that you will complete it first. Your introduction might
better be written after your data collection and results have been analysed (you
will have a better idea of what type of dissertation you are introducing),
whereas the earlier you start the literature review the better. Even if you
decide to rewrite parts of it, or omit the chapter as a separate discussion and
disperse your references to the relevant literature all through your dissertation,
the reading you do will help shape your research and give you new ideas as
you go along. Try to view your drafts as sections that can be changed,
reordered and rewritten, not as permanent or final (see Unit 2 Section 7.2).

6.10.1 Rationale behind literature reviews

The evidence of wide reading, which is often most clearly shown in the
literature review chapter, is a crucial part of any dissertation since it is by this
means that you establish yourself as an intelligent and evaluative reader of
relevant academic texts (see also Section 5.7). In doing this you show the rest
of the academic world that you are aware of what is important and what is
current in the field of research you have chosen. You also argue yourself into
the academic community by showing that whatever else has been written
about the area you work in, your own research is unique in some way. For this
reason what you have to say is of importance and others should take an
interest in it. This is known as identifying the gap which your work will fill.
How do you go about doing this? The first stage is to get access to the relevant
books. Places where you might find details of books on your topic are:

online journals
library databases
abstracting journals
bibliographies of books on a similar topic
lists of references from other published materials
internet sites

From these sources you can create a shortlist of books and articles that seem
relevant. Remember, however, that it is not always easy to get hold of the
books and articles you may want (see Section 1.8), which is another reason for
starting to gather your reading materials as early as possible. Some libraries
have photocopying services (at a price) and if all else fails it is sometimes
possible to ask the author of an article for a reprint.
The next step is to read as widely and yet selectively as possible. Do not forget
the points made in Unit 2 about reading strategies learn an approach to book
contents and journal abstracts which helps you to focus on what is important
to you without getting needlessly side-tracked. Your target may seem a long
way off, but be encouraged; everyone who has faced writing a dissertation has
been where you are now at one stage or another, even your supervisor.

6.10.2 Reference systems

The next point is extremely important. You will save yourself an enormous
amount of work and worry in the month before your handing-in date if you
make it a point to note down a reference for everything you read, right from
the start (see 2.5). This information will be needed for your References (see
Section 6.15 and Appendix 2) so keep some kind of systematic list. For books
you must write the:

place and name of publisher

and for journal articles and sections from books which are edited collections

title of article
page numbers
name of journal or book (plus book details, as per the previous list).

Mastering the details of the order and punctuation of the reference system (see
Appendix 1 and the Student Handbook) at this stage will save you a lot of
tedious editing later on. Separate records for each reading are best since when
the time comes to write your references you can easily sort them in
alphabetical order (see the example in 2.5.3). Along with a summary of the
main points in the text, it is also wise to make a note of why you read the book
(it was referred to elsewhere/someone suggested it/it looked interesting on the
library shelf) since later when you have dozens of texts to search through you
will probably not remember.
You will not necessarily refer to all the readings for which you made notes,
but it is better to be on the safe side. It is extremely frustrating, especially as
the deadline approaches, to find yourself half-remembering the perfect quote
or piece of research to back up a point, and realising that to find that book
again you will probably need to waste half a day searching the elibrary.

6.10.3 Note-taking
Another good habit to get into is to put notes in files according to subject area.
When it comes to reviewing the ideas, theories, or research of others you will
need to lead your reader through a well-ordered, well-pruned garden, not a
jungle of anything and everything you found. It will help greatly if, as you
read, you categorise or position each text in your mind as it fits into your own






method/giving conflicting evidence). Copy out possible quotations in full (use

quotation marks so that you know these were not your own words). Try to
summarise in your own words sections that will be relevant (see Section 5.7
and Appendix 2). As you read focus on the relevance of the text to your
research (see Section 2.4). If it does not seem too relevant, stop reading, note
down what you thought of it and go on to the next book on your list you do
not have time to waste.
All this may sound straightforward but it can be in fact the hardest part of the
dissertation. Each author you read had their own agenda or aim in writing
and it was not the same as the aim will be in your dissertation. You must
somehow read and repackage the ideas you come across so that all the authors
you mention can be shown to have relevance to your aim. This will hardly
ever mean taking their ideas and putting them directly into your survey. If you
do your reader will soon get frustrated with your lack of consideration, since
the result is very likely to be incoherent and confusing. Instead, try to
formulate categories or headings under which you can group the readings you
are doing. If your notes are on cards according to these headings, when it
comes to writing up, you will find it much easier to sort and select what you
wish to include and what you can leave out.

6.10.4 Organising the review

Once you have gathered notes under different headings you then have to
decide how to order the sections so that your review flows, giving the reader
an easy path through the literature you have read, and convincing them of the
importance of this topic, and especially your approach to it (see 4.6). It is also
important to establish exactly what you mean by the terminology you will use
in the dissertation, especially if there are conflicting definitions of some of the
key terms. Defining or discussing definitions of your terms is often the first
section of the literature survey (see 4.5.1). For the bulk of the chapter you
must choose the most appropriate organising framework for your other notes
to make the readers task as easy as possible.
When approaching a text, readers of English generally expect to be given
information in one or more of the following patterns (see also 4.5):

time sequence usually earliest to most recent

general to particular general or distant information leading to specific

or close information.

comparison usually of two sides, often in parallel

topics a series of items one after the other, not mixed

story situation/problem/solution/evaluation

Another point to remember is that you are showing how well you understand
the field of knowledge in which your dissertation belongs. Simply listing the
great names and explaining their contributions one after the other (Naiman
et al. state ... Brown gives us ... Dickenson comments ... Jones warns) is not
enough. You must show the ability to evaluate, compare and contrast each
authors contribution. (see 5.7)
Finally, some words of warning: dissertation writers find it impossible to read
thoroughly all the texts that are relevant to their topic unless it is an extremely
obscure or totally original subject which has not been researched before (and
therefore not much has been written about it). For this reason it is important to
know when to stop reading and get on with planning and executing the data
collection. Whether or not you are good at time management, make a rough

timetable of the weeks between the deadlines for supervision set by your
supervisor. Decide how much reading you hope to get through, then halve it
for a more realistic amount. Plan your days in the library, office or at home
and do not let other engagements or distractions divert you from your work.
(See also 1.6 for advice on time management).

Methods and Materials

Ideally your introduction and literature review will have introduced your
reader to the background to your study: the theory, previous research, types of
approach to the problem. The style of writing of those sections is usually
formal, academic and impersonal, probably similar to the style of writing
expected in the assignments undertaken over the period of the course. The
next section of your dissertation changes gear somewhat in that there is less
need for backup from other sources (that is, less referring to the literature), the
style is more factual and descriptive, past tenses refer to actual events and the
writer of the dissertation can enter the text using words such as I, we or
the author. (NB the traditional convention for scientific writing is to depersonalise it, that is to use passive forms as far as possible and avoid the use
of the first person see 3.8.3 .)
The aim of the section is to describe objectively and clearly the way you set
about your research: how you made your corpus, how you designed the
computer program, how you conducted the interviews etc. In theory your
description should be so clear that anyone wishing to duplicate your research
would have a good idea of how to go about it. Your methods section should
begin with a short (one sentence) overview of the research, followed by
information about your particular study.
The elements which should go in to your methods section are:

the population or sample you used

the location
any restrictions or limiting conditions
your sampling technique
the materials (e.g. questionnaires; include a copy in an appendix)
the procedures
the variables
the statistical treatment given to the results (if applicable)

Try to write carefully and concisely: this is usually a short chapter.


Results and Discussion of Results

The results of your research are usually dealt with in two sections, the first
gives the plain facts or statistics that were found, the second discusses the
significance of these findings. These may be separate chapters or two parts of
the same chapter of your dissertation. In both sections the results reported will
not be exhaustive but relate directly back to the original research questions or
hypotheses and be used to answer them.

6.12.1 Results
Although results are written in prose (especially qualitative results) it is often
easier to show statistics using figures and tables. Tables display numbers or
percentages relating to certain categories and are usually shown either with a
line separating the categories from the numbers (Table 1.1) or in a box (Table
Table 1.1 Years of Teaching Experience
Years of Teaching

Before Taking the Course After Taking the

0.5 1




Table 1.2 Years of Teaching Experience

Years of Teaching
0.5 1

Before Taking the


After Taking the





Figures are used to display statistical information in other ways (pie charts, bar
charts etc. see Figure 1.1) or any other graphics you use in your dissertation
(diagrams, illustrations etc.)

Figure 1.1

Years of Teaching Experience

All tables and figures must be labelled. For tables the title usually goes above
the table and for figures it is put underneath.
Although with a computer it is easy to make information look well-presented
and impressive, do not make extensive use of charts and tables just because
you can. Keep your research objectives in mind and try to make every part of
your results chapter count towards answering the original questions of your
dissertation without overtly drawing the connection at this stage. Figures and
tables support but do not replace the need to state your results in the main text.
The text of the plain results section may:

simply state the results

compare between your own results
compare your results to results published elsewhere.

The following is a table of the types of language used to refer to figures and
Figure 1

identifies a relationship
displays ...
contains a sample
depicts the measurements
shows that...
offers a framework
organises these cases
presents the...
summarises ...

are shown in

Figure 1.

is further illustrated in
are represented in
as in
are depicted in
is summarised in
as specified in
is presented in
listed in
As seen in

Figure 1,

the estimate is...

Referring to

the process is...

The result, as shown in

is clearly...

Such a framework

(see Figure 1)

would allow a clearer...

6.12.2 Discussion of results

Your discussion of results will bring out what is significant or important in
your findings as regards your original research questions. It is in this section
that you connect those questions with the results which answer them. Be
honest about your findings; on no account be tempted to fabricate results to
prove your hypothesis. If findings disprove what you initially believed, or are
inconclusive, say so, and suggest why this might be the case. For example,
limitations of the method used, too small a data sample or the presence of a
variable or factor not originally anticipated could all account for unexpected
results. You will not lose marks for doing this. You will also discuss the
limitations of your inquiry, any problems you encountered as a result of your
research design or other factors and suggest ways that the research could be
carried forward. As an important part of the dissertation (if your research has
revealed something significant this is the place to announce it), you may want
to make this section rather longer than the methods and results chapters,
although you should bear in mind your 15,000 word limit.
The following is a list of elements with examples found in discussion sections
(Hopkins and Dudley-Evans, 1988). These are not all obligatory use it as a
checklist to see if your own discussion would benefit from using some of these

elements as a model. Most of the citations are from a concordance of the word
finding(s) and show how the element might be expressed in English.

Background Information (optional not so necessary if clear from

previous results section)
A survey was carried out in order to find out whether ...
The original hypothesis was that learners and native speakers would ...

Statement of Results (more generalised than the Results section but should
be present to give the discussion a solid foundation)
The findings have shown that when involvement is low, ...
The results indeed showed different patterns although it was found

Expected or Unexpected Outcomes (linking the results to your original

hypothesis were you proved right or wrong?)
Our findings support the proposition that ...
A surprising finding in the study is ...
This finding is not surprising.
This finding is discouraging but not surprising.
This finding for Korean salespeople was not expected.

Reference to Previous Research Implications (although you may have

touched on this in the results section, in the discussion you are freer to
write about the implications of comparisons with others research)
This finding represents a significant divergence from Trulls study.
This finding is in line with Jensens (1986) hypothesis.
This finding is in line with the results of a major survey.
However this runs counter to published data finding that size is not a
This finding tends to replicate the results of Trulls ...
This finding is generally consistent with the majority of the literature.
This finding is in contrast with Lins (1990) finding that ...
This is not a new finding except in its refutation of Trulls results. consistent with the findings of Holthausen and Leftwich (1986)
On balance, this finding is somewhat at variance with the results of
Trulls study.

The present study provides additional support to Carmans (1990)

findings in that ...
A significant finding of this survey becomes apparent when one

Explanation of Unexpected Result (if something gives a result which is

odd or unusual in some way you may give your hypotheses why this
This may also partially explain the conflicting findings in previous
... the practices in two countries may account for this finding.
One possible explanation for this finding could be the relative
compatibility of

Exemplification (using an example to help explain the results)

As an example of this, Jones (1991) found that when groups associated

Deduction (using the results to suggest a possible cause/consequence

This finding suggests that penalties associated with ...
That is, the empirical finding explains why the firm must put aside ...
This finding suggests that it is likely that SP data are affected by ...

Hypothesis (using the results to make a more general claim)

This finding suggests that an opportunity for more ...
This finding clearly reflects the factor most deserving of improvement
The empirical finding, however, may suggest that the factor of ...
The findings also indicate that egoists are willing to change their ...
The findings further suggest that shows largely function through the ...

Reference to Previous Research support (using previous research to

support a deduction or a hypothesis)
One of Moriaty and Spekmans (1983) findings offers support for this

Recommendations (suggesting future work)

Finally, these findings need to be replicated in other settings and across
other ...

There is plenty of scope for future research, and the findings of this
research should stimulate interest in several ...
This finding may offer an opportunity for the Americans to ...

Justification (justifying the need for future work to be done, emphasising

its importance to teachers, students or educational research in general)
The findings will have important implications for the efficiency...
In the context of survey research, these findings have serious
implications above and beyond that of simply ...

Activity 3
Look at the verbs in the citations given above. What tenses are used in
different elements of the discussion section? Do you notice anything about
modality? Fill in this grid showing what tenses and modalities are possible for
each element and try to explain why. The first one is done for you as an

background information
statement of result
reference to previous
research (implications)
explanation of
(un)expected result

often simple past

referring to your research
as a fact in the past.

reference to previous
research (support)


Introduction and Conclusion

The two ends of your dissertation complement each other in that they are both
short relative to the rest of the work and the style is more generalised than
particular (see Figure 2 in 4.5.1).

6.13.1 Introduction
Discussion/Reflection Task 4
Many people choose to write their introduction last. What would be the
advantages/disadvantages of this approach? Which parts of the introduction
could be written first? What is your personal preference?

Activity 4
What are the main elements which you would expect to find in the
introduction to the dissertation? Think about this now and make a list. Check
with the commentary to see if you agree with it.
When you choose to write your introduction will depend on your own
preferences; there is no fixed rule. However, writing it after the rest of the
dissertation is finished gives you the advantage of knowing exactly what is to
come so you can prepare your reader carefully. For some, on the other hand,
getting started at the beginning and writing a tentative introduction first helps
to focus the mind on the topic. It is possible that many ideas for the structure

and organisation of the dissertation may occur to you simply in the act of
writing the introduction.
6.13.2 The first sentence
Since the introduction begins your dissertation it is important that it makes a
good impression on your reader. The first sentence, which is often a general
observation or broad introduction to the research field, should be written with
care (definitely no grammar or spelling mistakes!). Here are some examples of
first sentences of dissertations.
1. For the past seventeen years, the Royal Society of Arts (RSA)
latterly with the University of Cambridge Local Examinations
Syndicate (UCLES) has been validating a certificate in the
teaching of English as a foreign language to adults.
2. Most British people who work, study and travel abroad feel that the
education they received in the UK did not prepare them adequately
for life in or visits to a foreign country.
3. Teacher development outside any formal teacher education context
and encouraging teachers to take responsibility for evaluation and
research in their own classroom have increasingly become
professed goals, in language teaching, of teacher trainers, applied
linguists and language planners.
4. It is widely accepted that teacher education is a continuous or
recurrent process and pre-service education is only its initial phase.
Notice the different ways that are used to introduce a general topic. The first
uses a fact that cannot be disputed and sets the scene in terms of time. The
second makes a sweeping claim on behalf of the Japanese. The third sentence
makes a claim about the aims of professionals in ELT. The fourth makes a
statement which it claims is widely accepted. In general, sweeping
statements should be supported by evidence from the literature, or else
avoided altogether. However there is a certain amount of tolerance for one or
two unsupported generalisations in the first few sentences of an introduction,
since it is recognised that their function is to set the scene and that they are
not claims that should be taken too seriously academically. The first example,

although avoiding bland

generalisation, is less successful in giving an

immediate idea of the topic of the dissertation. If possible, aim at a good

scene setting sentence which avoids making claims which are too general or
6.13.3 Conclusion
Since the conclusion is drawing the dissertation to a close, it is inevitable that
some parts of it will be repeating in a more generalised form statements that
have already been made elsewhere in the dissertation. However you should









paraphrasing what has gone before. The conclusion should not include
completely new ideas or analyses there should be no surprises here. You
should also avoid sweeping generalisations since there is no need for scene
setting at this stage. The conclusion may contain some or all of the following

to report the aims of the research

to report the procedure used
to report the findings and claims made based on these findings
to show how the findings support other research (or vice versa)
to suggest limitations in the procedure or the findings
to state the possible implications of the findings or claims based on
to make recommendations about future professional practice in ELT
to make recommendations about future research

Be sure to link the claims and implications to your own findings rather than
evidence in general. Your recommendations should be seen as consequences
of the findings and not as personal opinions. Finally, use a judicious amount of
tentativeness and modesty in your recommendations avoid being too
Activity 5
The following sentences are taken from dissertation conclusions. Decide
which of the above list of objectives 18 each one is concerned with (not all
are used and some are used twice).
a) As for my research, a number of problems developed and were discovered as the study

b) In future research, I feel it would be beneficial to use free talking between students meeting
for the
first time to compare it with the discourse that the student-native speaker conversations
c) What strategies can be used, how to use them, and where and when to employ the strategy
should be
presented to students as options.
d) This conclusion was reached after all my students revealed that the verbal reports and my
from the video were extremely useful and personalised the learning process in ways they
had never
experienced before.
e) According to the results of the questionnaires and interviews, the ten teachers have both
positive and
negative perceptions of the course.
f) As this study is small scale, the generalisability of the findings may not be high.
g) This study set out to compare native speakers writing processes with those of learners of
through an investigation of the pauses used during composing.
h) In general, teachers share Wood (1988) and Erauts (1994) positive perceptions on the
impact of the
course in relation to teachers professional status, personal growth, career development and
i) Furthermore, as the teachers feel that the support received from lecturers is insufficient in
the course,
some assistant lecturers/tutors should help share the workload of the lecturers.
j) Although, as it replaces other writing homework to some degree, using diaries is not
time-consuming, with a class of thirty it may not be possible to use learner diaries without
cooperation of another teacher.


Title and Abstract

6.14.1 Title
Although your title may not change from your first inspiration for the
dissertation and your proposal through to your final draft, it may equally
change several times. Your title should be a concise indication of the content
of your dissertation. Titles often have two parts divided by a colon, for
example, The Politics of Language Planning: An Investigation into the SocioPolitical Factors Affecting Language Planning. The first part states the major
keywords of the dissertation and the second part expands slightly on these,

indicating the special focus of the dissertation either in terms of its field of
study, its method or its area of research. The two-part model however is not
obligatory and in general, the shorter and more succinct your title is the better;
twenty words is an absolute maximum. All content words in a title are
capitalised as in the examples below.
Discussion/Reflection Task 5
Here are some examples of dissertation titles. Notice the words which recur
most frequently. Are any titles too short? Are any too long? Can you guess the
type of research (see 6.6) that was used?
1) Working with a Corpus: The Analysis of Sentence Adverbs in Grammar and Discourse
2) Sociolinguistic Competence and Language Instruction: An Investigation into Learner
Needs and EFL
3) The Translation of Metaphors in Newspaper Articles: English <=> Greek
4) A Study of the Narrative Structure in Spoken English: An Application of Labovs Mo del
Sinclairs Model to Complex Narratives
5) A Corpus-based Study of South African English
6) An Evaluation of School-based INSET in Hong Kong
7) Female Representation in EFL Textbooks: An Investigation into Gender Equality in
8) An Analysis of the Language used to Represent the Aged and the Elderly in the Press
9) Language Policy and Planning in Greece 1976 1996
10) Evaluating Published Textbooks of Business English: An Analysis of Published
Textbooks of
Business English for Pre-Experience Learners in Taiwan
11) Gender and Power in the British Political Interview
12) Modality in Charlotte Perkins Gilmans The Yellow Wallpaper

6.14.2 Title Page

The title page has a fairly fixed format and wording, although details of font
size, style (bold or plain) and upper/lower case are variable. The standard form

Students full name
A dissertation submitted to
The School of Humanities of the University of Birmingham
in part fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts in (the full title of the degree)
Supervisors name
(all of the above centred)
This dissertation consists of 14,827 words

Department of English
Language and Applied
University of Birmingham
Birmingham B15 2TT
(use tabs to place on right of
Month and year of submission

6.14.3 Abstract
The abstract (sometimes known as a synopsis or summary) is a condensed
version of your dissertation all the main points in 200 words. It comes after
your title page and before the acknowledgements. You may have found that
the 15,000 word limit for the dissertation was almost too constraining for all
that you wanted to say. To reduce it to a maximum of 200 may seem
impossible and will very likely take several attempts. Try to aim for one or
two sentences for each major section of your dissertation:

background (literature review)

aim of research (introduction)
methods used (method)
main findings (results and discussion of results)
conclusion or comment on previous research (conclusion)

Activity 6
The following abstract is 222 words long. Try to reduce it to less than 200
words without losing any of the essential components.
Prejudice is synonymous with discrimination and is, therefore unacceptable. In this research it
has been attempted to show that prejudice against age and the elderly is still present in the
press. Under consideration here is the role of national and local newspapers in Britain today.
The literature search was focused on a core subject area: Critical Dis course Analysis. This
was followed by additional searches in associated subject areas. Extensive searching of the
World Wide Web took place using relevant search terms. Data was gathered by selecting
articles from the local and national press.
In addition, the computer-readable text held in the Bank of English at the University of
Birmingham was accessed to see how certain words were used by the press, and if any sort of
pattern of usage could be established. An analysis using the Fairclough model for Critical
Discourse Analysis was undertaken together with analyses of concordance data obtained from
the Bank of English. It was found that the Fairclough model is a useful tool for linguistic
analysis, but is cumbersome because it requires so much detail for a full analysis. Further to
this, patterns of usage were discernible from the concordance data gathered; but it must be
recognised that the sources of data are not extensive. It was found that there is still prejudice
concerning age in the press.


References, Appendices, Contents, Acknowledgements

Although the elements of this last section are essentially cosmetic compared to
the main body of your dissertation, they require as much care and
concentration and you should allow yourself at least a week to make sure that
you have included everything and formatted it properly. It is also a courtesy to
your markers to include the word count of your dissertation on the title page,

remembering to exclude example texts, extended quotations, tables, figures

and appendices.
6.15.1 References
For your course assignments you will have been used to making a list of
references at the end (see the Student Handbook). You should only have
included works that you actually referred to in the text. There is no difference
for your dissertation. It is important to be extremely accurate: every date, title,
authors initial, article page numbers etc. must be correct check and double
check. A sloppy list of references denotes a careless student and since it is
simply a case of attention to detail this is an area where it is easy to impress.
Remember that the first and second markers of your dissertation as well as the
external examiner are likely to be very familiar with the literature of your
topic and so will spot errors easily and are likely to find them irritating. The
conventions for references are the same as for assignments see Unit 5 and
Appendix 1.
6.15.2 Appendices
If you have administered a questionnaire, analysed specific texts or official
documents or collected large amounts of data you would not usually put these
full texts into the body of your dissertation since this would greatly affect the
word count. It is normal to put the text of such things into an appendix. You
can then refer your reader to it when you discuss that particular text.
Appendices should be numbered and they come before your References. A
title for each appendix is useful for the reader but is not a requirement.
6.15.3 Contents
Page numbering in your dissertation starts with the first page of your first
chapter (the Introduction). The pages before that can be numbered with
Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv etc.). Although there is some variation in
ordering (sometimes the Appendices come before the References), the
components of the dissertation are:

Title page

Table of Contents
Chapter One Introduction
Varying numbers of Chapters for the main text
Concluding Chapter

Your Table of Contents should start from the Introduction and give the section
number, heading and page number for the chapters of your dissertation and the
page numbers for the References and each Appendix. Subheadings should be
indented from the main heading above them (see the example in Activity 4). It
is not advised that your sections be divided further than 3 numbers. After your
Table of Contents you may also include a list of Tables (their titles and page
numbers) and a list of Figures (their titles and page numbers). This is optional
but recommended if you have a large number of Tables or Figures that a
reader may want to refer to quickly. If your appendices are titled they may
also be listed here.
6.15.4 Acknowledgements
It is very likely that towards the end you will feel indebted to a number of










Acknowledgements section is your chance to thank them officially. However

it should not be a catalogue of anyone and everyone in your life! Generally it
is usual to thank:

your supervisor

those who helped in your data collection e.g. interviewees, informants

etc. (these may be referred to collectively as all the staff at ... for

anyone who read or commented on your work

any source of financial support

the person who typed it (if applicable)

anyone who has given personal support (usually family members)

Discussion/Reflection Task 6
The wording for acknowledgements is fairly formal. Here are examples of
typical sentence beginnings. Some of them are unsuitable however which
are they?:

I would like to thank ..............................................for .........................

I would like to express my thanks to ......................for .........................
I would like to express my gratitude to ................for .........................
I would like say a big thank you to ........................for .........................
I would like to express my special thanks to .....for .........................
I would especially like to thank .........................for .........................
I want to express my sincere thanks to ................for .........................
Particular thanks are due to r .........................
I owe additional thanks to .................................for .........................
Thanks also go to ..............................................for .........................
I am also most thankful to...................................for .........................
I really feel grateful to ........................................for .........................
I am most grateful to.............................................for .........................
I am indebted to ...................................................for .........................

It would not be appropriate to use structures 4), 10) and 12) from the list
above the tone is rather too informal.

This unit has discussed all the stages that constitute the final piece of work
required for the Open Learning MA programmes at the University of
Birmingham the dissertation. Issues of motivation, choosing a topic and
writing a proposal are discussed as the first steps towards writing a
dissertation. Then each section of a typical dissertation is examined starting
with how to go about reading and writing for the Literature Review. The
model given here is the traditional or standard model for Masters
dissertations for those who have never written a research paper before. It is
hoped that most questions on how to go about tackling this task have been
answered, and that this chapter, and this entire Self-Study Guide will be
something that you can return to again and again for advice and support while
writing up your research.


Commentary on Activities
Commentary on Activity 1

This has no hypothesis (4) and there are no chapter titles with
provisional content and length (6)


This only has 1, 6, and 7


This is nearly complete but misses out 4 (there is no research

hypothesis) and 8.
Commentary on Activity 2

The introduction sets the scene giving background information, the

research questions and hypothesis (aim of the research) and a brief outline
of the structure of the rest of the dissertation.

The literature review expands on the background, especially from the

point of view of the academic history of the topic, gives a critical review
of the literature up to the present and identifies a gap in previous work
that the dissertation will help to fill.

The data section explains what you wanted to look at and tells how you
went about researching it.

The discussion of findings examines whether your hypothesis was correct

and discusses whether you have been able to answer your research
questions or not.

The conclusion gives overall coherence to the work, rounding it up with a

summary of your findings (including an admission of where there were
weaknesses in your methodology or approach) and discussing the future of
the topic area (for example, which areas need more work).

Commentary on Activity 3
background information

often simple past

statement of result

simple past
present perfect


simple present
modal auxiliaries
simple past (for past

Referring to your research as a
fact in the past.
The discovery of the result is a
fact of the past or it is a past fact
which has present relevance.
The results are treated as general
truths which may or may not be
surprising. The doubt gives rise to
modal auxiliaries (might be
expected). The past will be used to

reference to previous
research (implications)
explanation of
(un)expected result

simple present


usually simple present

simple present
modal auxiliaries

reference to previous
research (support)

simple present


simple present and modal


simple present
modal auxiliaries
present or simple past

simple present and modal


refer to states of anticipation at the

beginning of the research which
were either fulfilled or not.
Both sets of results stand as
general truths.
Same reasons as for (un)expected
Supporting example treated as a
general truth or as a past fact.
General truth.
General truth.
The modality used depends on the
confidence the writer feels about
their hypothesis.
Both sets of results stand as
general truths.
An action in the general present
(we recommend...) Auxiliaries will
be used as exhortation (should,
Simple Present and auxiliaries in
this section reflect strength of
feeling (will, should) but will
sometimes be tentative (could

Commentary on Activity 4
The Introduction has five main objectives:

to introduce the general field of the research and the particular topic of
the dissertation
to summarise previous research in that area
to explain where your research fits into this field
to state the aims of the research, the research questions and hypothesis
to outline the format and content of the rest of the dissertation

Commentary on Activity 5
1, 8, 7, 6, 3, 5, 1, 4, 7, 6
Commentary on Activity 6
This is one possible solution:
This research has attempted to show that prejudice against age and the
elderly is still present in the national and local newspapers in Britain
today. The literature search focused on Critical Discourse Analysis and
was followed by additional searches in associated subject areas.
Extensive searching of the world wide web took place and data was
also gathered by selecting articles from the press. In addition, the
computer-readable text held in the Bank of English at the University of

Birmingham was accessed to see how certain words were used by the
press, and if any sort of pattern of usage could be established.
An analysis of the target texts using the Fairclough model for Critical
Discourse Analysis was undertaken and it was found to be a useful tool
for linguistic analysis, but cumbersome because it requires so much
detail for a full analysis. Further to this analyses of the concordance
data were made and patterns of usage discerned, but it must be
recognised that the sources of data are not extensive. It was found that
there is still prejudice concerning age in the press.
(183 words)



Reference Conventions
The following guidelines are based on the Harvard or Author/Date
referencing system which is the system generally used in academic writing in
the Arts in Britain. The basic principles are:

any idea used in an essay which came from another source should be

the reader should be given enough information to locate the exact text or
paragraph if desired.

In-text referencing
1. Long quotations
Quotations of over 30 words are formatted to show clearly that these words
are not those of the student writing the essay. This is shown by:
16. indentation
17. single spacing
18. smaller font (optional)
Quotation marks (...) are not needed. The source (that is, the authors
surname, a comma, the date of publication, a colon and the page number, all in
brackets) is given at the end of the quotation, for example:
The communication continuum has been described thus:
The six characteristics for communicative activities can be seen as forming one end
of a continuum of classroom activity in language teaching, and they can be matched
by opposite points at the other end of the continuum.
(Harmer, 1991: 49).

2. Short quotations
Shorter quotations may be written as part of the essay text. Quotation marks
are used at the beginning and end of the words which come from another
source, for example:
Jones argues that all previous research was flawed (1997:34).

The source (as above) is given immediately after the quotation. In cases where
the authors name has been mentioned clearly as part of your text, simply the
year of publication and page number are needed.
3. Allowable modifications to the original
The original text must be quoted exactly without any change to the verb tense
or subjectverb agreement. All the formatting of the original (punctuation,
underlining, italics or other form of emphasis) must be retained. If the original
contains a spelling, grammar or factual mistake you must copy it exactly but
you may write sic (meaning as in the original) in brackets after the
awkward word or phrase to show that this mistake is not your own, for
According to Jones, Doctors all need the support of their wives (sic)
(1997: 55)
If you find that some part of the original is superfluous to the point you wish
to make you may omit it, showing the gap with three dots (...):
Original text
Unlike other syllabuses, for example those based on lists of structures or functions,
the Bangalore Projects syllabuses comprised a list of tasks which consisted of things
like finding your way on maps, interpreting timetables or answering questions about
dialogues in which the students have to solve problems.
(Harmer, 1991: 35)

Abbreviated Citation
The procedural syllabus was different from others in that Unlike other
syllabuses ... the Bangalore Projects ... comprised a list of tasks ... in
which the students have to solve problems.

(Harmer, 1991: 35)

Occasionally it is necessary to add a word to make the referencing of the

original clear. In this case you put the added word in square brackets [].
Original text
In the first place some realisations of functions are in fact little more than fixed
phrases (e.g. You must be joking! Come off it!) It may be important to learn them
but that is all you learn! (Harmer, 1991: 26)

Harmer asserts that, It may be important to learn them [fixed phrases]
but that is all you learn! (1991: 26)
It is important to retain the meaning of the original when adding or omitting
4. Reporting, paraphrasing and summarising
All ideas that have an identifiable source must acknowledge that source
otherwise it is considered plagiarism.
5. Quotes within quotes
If the quotation you have used was not from the original text but from a
quotation in another text, you must show this by quoting both the author of the
citation and the author and date of the book it came from:
If the language teachers management techniques are directed
exclusively at involving the learners in solving communication
problems in the target language, then language learning will take care
of itself.. (Allwright in Harmer, 1991: 34)
6. Latin abbreviations
There are certain abbreviations from Latin which are sometimes found in
academic texts. Although the use of these is decreasing and it is not
recommended that you use them extensively, it may be useful to know what
they mean and how they are used in case you find them while reading.

op.cit. short for opere citato meaning in the same book, article, etc. as
was mentioned before. It is preceded by the authors name and followed
by the page number, for example:
(Jones, op.cit. p. 34).

Although this convention may make referencing simpler for the writer, it is
harder for the reader to recover which text is meant if the last citation was
several pages before.

For this reason this convention is no longer

Ibid. short for ibidem meaning from the same book, article etc. as was
mentioned previously. In this case it always refers to the citation
immediately before. For this reason it is not necessary to repeat the
authors name or the date although sometimes the page number is given,
for example:
(ibid., p. 34). or (ibid.: 34)

Again, if the previous citation is not on the same page, it is harder for the
reader to find the reference so the use of this abbreviation is dwindling.

Passim meaning frequently mentioned throughout the text or In every

part. If an idea or phrase is used repeatedly by an author, you can indicate
this by writing passim after the reference:
Language learners are only truly communicating when they have a
purpose and a desire to communicate (Harmer, 1991: passim)

et al. short for et alii meaning and other people. When a work has more
than two authors it is usual in in-text referencing to name only the first and
state et al. to show there are other authors. This is a Latin abbreviation
which is still widely recommended and used.
Halliday et al. (1964) discuss sequencing language items in a syllabus
and assert that this is best done by intuition and experience.

List of references
At the end of every academic work there should be a list of references which
allows readers to locate the citations and references in the text if they wish.
This list is usually called References or List of references. It is not strictly a
bibliography since a bibliography can include books which influenced the
writing or are useful for follow-up reading, but which were not specifically
mentioned in the text. It is not appropriate to put such references at the end of
MA assignments or dissertations.
The list of references will include in alphabetical order of authors names all
works which are referred to in the text.
1. Books

The authors surname is written first followed by a comma and the initials
with full stops after them:
Halliday, M. A. K.
If there is more than one author they are listed thus:
Halliday, M. A. K. and Hasan, R.
Halliday, M. A. K., McIntosh, A. and Strevens, P.
Edited books have the abbreviation ed. or eds. after the editors name.
Sinclair, J. M. (ed.) (1987)
The (ed.) is followed by the year of publication in brackets and the full title of
the book in Italic script (or, more unusually, underlined which ever you use
be consistent). If the book has a number of editions, state the edition of the
book you consulted.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1994) An Introduction to Functional Grammar
(2nd edition)
If there are two or more works published by an author in the same year, they
are lettered (a), (b) and so on:
Halliday, M. A. K. (1967a) Intonation and Grammar in British English
Halliday, M. A. K. (1967b) Grammar, Society and the Noun
After the title comes the place of publication and the name of the publisher.
Sinclair, J. M. (ed.) (1987) Looking Up: An Account of the COBUILD
Project in Lexical Computing. London and Glasgow: Collins
2. Papers or Chapters
If you want to refer to something written as part of an edited collection, start
with the authors name, the date of publication and the title of the paper in
single inverted commas. This is followed by the reference to the collection:
Halliday, M. A. K. (1980) On being teaching, in Sidney Greenbaum

et al. (eds.) Studies in English Linguistics: for Randolph Quirk.

London: Longman.
3. Journal Articles
References to articles in journals start with the name and date as for books.
Then the name of the article is given in single inverted commas followed by
the name of the journal in italics or underlined (whichever convention is being
used for book titles) followed by the journal volume number, a colon and the
page numbers of the article.
Bialystok, E. (1978) A theoretical model of second language
learning. Language Learning 28: 6983.
4. Unpublished works
There are various kinds of writing that come under this heading. The principle
is, as before, to give enough information so that the original could be tracked
down by a reader. Where there is no date use the abbreviation nd for no
date. The title of the work should go in inverted commas. Examples of
references to unpublished texts are: 4
Conley, P. (nd) Experience Curves as a Planning Tool. Available
from the Boston Consulting Group as a pamphlet
Haendel, D. (1978) International barter and countertrade. Staff Paper
No.14. National Center for Export-Import Studies. Washington D.C.:
Georgetown University.
5. Electronic sources5
Although there are no accepted standards for acknowledging electronic
sources yet, try to keep a consistent style that will make the source easily
traceable. Give as much of the following information as possible:
4. authors name and initials
5. year of publication
1 Examples from Cauldwell, R. (1995/6) MA TEFL/TESL Academic Writing Course, Unit 8
2 For more detailed advice about electronic referencing visit the website of South Bank University,
London, /lrc2.html from which much of the information here was

6. title of the document, either the title of the web page or the subject line or
the email
7. medium, whether CD-ROM, email, FTP, gopher, online, telnet, usenet or
8. location, url or ftp address
9. date accessed (many electronic publications change frequently so this
helps trace the document)
Examples of references to electronic sources are:
Smith, J. (1996) Information on Forth Bridge history (email) Personal
email to Jones, T. (12 January 1996)
Yeates, R. (1996) Newsagent for Libraries: Overview (www) (20 January 1997)
Notes and Footnotes
In some genres of academic writing, particularly in the sciences, it is usual
when referring to the literature to write a number instead of the authors
surname and the date of publication. The numbers and full bibliographic
information for each reference are listed at the end of each chapter,
occasionally with extra explanatory notes. It is not recommended that students
on Masters courses in the Centre for English Language Studies use notes in
this way.
Footnotes are extra pieces of information given at the bottom of the page
signalled by a small superscript number. (See the previous page for an
example.) In British academic writing in the arts it is generally thought best to
avoid footnotes which can be superfluous and distracting. If the information is
not important enough to be part of the main text then it is generally better to
omit it altogether.


NOTE: Where there are references within a text that have been used solely for
illustrative purposes, the full reference is not given here.
Allen, A.


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