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Comparison between expert and novice academic writing

As stated above, in this chapter some results from the author’s previous research into cross-cultural variation in novice academic writing (Povolna 2012) are used for purposes of comparison. Master’s theses written by students of English at the very end of their studies are often viewed as “the most sustained and complex piece of academic writing” (Swales 2004: 99) the majority of university students ever undertake and are, of course, expected to be of good quality. Therefore, it is assumed here that they are worth considering in comparison with RAs produced by expert writers from the same discourse community and with RAs written by native speakers of English in particular now that international academic communication in the majority of fields which university graduates enter is conducted in English and we are witnessing an ongoing process of internationalization of all scholarship (Duszak 1997).

The overall results-given in this chapter for the lack of space only in normalized frequency of occurrence per 1,000 words-are shown in Tables 10-5 and 10-6, which provide results drawn from the analysis of causal and contrastive relations respectively. (It should be noted that for reasons of brevity students are labelled Ss in the titles of the tables that follow.)

Table 10-5: Variation in the use of more frequent causal DMs in RAs by English and Czech expert writers and in theses by Czech Ss

Type of corpus (No. of words)

English

writers

(74,545)

Czech

writers

(57,819)

Czech

students

(87,636)

Hypotactic DMs

per 1,000

per 1,000

per 1,000

as

0.29

0.40

0.62

because

0.66

0.43

0.94

since

0.40

0.90

0.34

All hyp. DMs

1.35

1.73

1.90

Paratactic DMs

per 1,000

per 1,000

per 1,000

as a result

0.03

0.02

0.10

consequently

0.03

0.10

0.19

hence

0.08

0.07

0.02

now

0.07

0.02

0.01

(and) so

0.26

0.07

0.41

so that

0.03

0.09

0.06

therefore

0.79

0.69

0.96

thus

0.66

1.02

0.99

then

0.51

0.35

0.13

All par. DMs

2.59

2.42

2.93

TOTAL DMs

3.94

4.15

4.83

Based on the findings discussed in Sections 7 and 8 above and those presented in Table 10-5, it can now be postulated that there is some variation in the ways expert and novice writers from the same discourse community apply DMs in order to express causal relations. For example, the repertoire of the more frequently used DMs, i.e. those written in bold in the above table owing to their frequency of occurrence of 0.1 or more per 1,000 words, is slightly different because Czech novice writers in general tend to resort more frequently to the markers listed in the table; this concerns the hypotactic DMs as and because, and the paratactic markers as a result, consequently, so and therefore (shown twice in example (14) below), which Czech students apply in many more cases than the other groups of writers compared in Table 10-5, including English experts. The explanation for this tendency could be that there is a narrower range of DMs that most students know well and thus prefer to use, sometimes rather repeatedly, as in (14). This example, which also comprises the contrastive marker nevertheless, illustrates a tendency most typical of a corpus representing novice writing in this chapter, namely to introduce almost every segment of discourse with an overt guiding signal. This tendency is particularly strong in the case of causal markers, the frequency of which is the highest of all the corpora examined here both with hypotactic (1.90) and paratactic relations (2.93); probably this is caused by their often redundant use, as discussed in Povolna (2012).

(14) (CzStCorpus, Text 5)

It is very common for the Czechs to make fun of everything and therefore many jokes connected with advertising have come into existence as well. Advertising is a very essential kind of support for many organizations and activities that are not paid by the state and do not make any profit. The state is not always generous enough as far as sports events or various charitable institutions are concerned and therefore the money from the sponsors is needed. Nevertheless, the main aim of every advertisement has always been the desire to sell the advertised product.

Concerning some other similarities and/or distinctions that are worth mentioning here, it is evident that in all the three corpora the paratactic markers therefore (0.69-0.96) and thus (0.66-1.02) clearly predominate, which has been expected, since these DMs are usually regarded, together with however, as the three most typical markers of all English academic texts (Biber et al. 1999). Apart from these three DMs, the paratactic so and then are common in particular in the English expert writers’ corpus, since as stated above, these markers are connected with the more dialogic and interactive character of academic texts produced by native speakers of English, in which coordination tends to prevail. Another noticeable distinction is the most frequent application by far of the hypotactic marker since (0.90) in the Czech expert writers’ corpus. Based on the above findings it can be only tentatively suggested that in the Czech academic discourse community this marker is connected with more advanced writing, since this DM appears so typically neither in the Czech learner corpus, nor in the English expert writers’ corpus (for illustration, see (7) in Section 7 above).

Similarly to the overall distribution of causal DMs as broken down in Table 10-5 above, the corpus findings in Table 10-6 indicate that there is some variation in the use of contrastive DMs between the three corpora included in the analysis. Concerning the overall tendencies in the use of hypotactic markers that can be seen from the table, it can be concluded that there are two markers, namely although and while, with increasing frequency of occurrence per 1,000 words if we proceed from Czech novice to Czech expert and then to English expert writing, i.e. 0.37-0.50-0.74 and 0.19-0.42-0.94 respectively. These two contrastive markers seem to be characteristic in particular of academic discourse produced by expert writers (for while, see example (11) above), although they occur also in novice writing.

Table 10-6: Variation in the use of more frequent contrastive DMs in RAs by English and Czech expert writers and in theses by Czech Ss

Type of corpus (No. of words)

English

writers

(74,545)

Czech

writers

(57,819)

Czech

students

(87,636)

Hypotactic DMs

per 1,000

per 1,000

per 1,000

although

0.74

0.50

0.37

even if

0.01

0.14

0.06

even though

0.12

0.19

0.21

though

0.07

0.14

0.24

while

0.94

0.42

0.19

whereas

0.23

0.38

0.21

All hyp. DMs

2.11

1.80

1.35

Paratactic DMs

per 1,000

per 1,000

per 1,000

but

2.03

1.35

2.05

however

1.62

1.56

0.66

in contrast

0.09

0.04

0.03

instead

0.08

0

0.08

nevertheless

0.16

0.14

0.39

nonetheless

0.04

0.02

0.11

on the contrary

0

0.04

0.09

on the other hand

0

0.16

0.41

still

0.23

0.16

0.23

though

0.04

0.04

0.18

yet

0.11

0.09

0.64

All par. DMs

4.48

3.79

5.13

TOTAL DMs

6.59

5.59

6.48

Then there are two other hypotactic markers which are relatively frequent in all the data-even though and whereas; the former is illustrated below, together with although, as taken from the learner corpus, where it is slightly more common than in the other corpora discussed in this chapter. Example (15) also testifies to the tendency identified in particular in novice writing to introduce every segment of discourse with an overt signal (for more details, see Povolna 2012).

(15) (CzStCorpus, Text 5)

Even though pictures may refer to some kind of socially accepted priorities or stereotypes, their creators cannot be sure to evoke the same reactions in every reader. Various co-interpretations are possible although at least some accompanying text is always present.

As regards the overall distribution of paratactic contrastive DMs expressed in normalized figures in Table 10-6, it can only be added that also in the learner corpus the distribution is rather uneven in terms of both types and tokens of DMs students are able to apply. Of the eleven paratactic markers listed in the table eight markers occur most frequently in the learner corpus, namely but, nevertheless, nonetheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, still, though and yet. The most typical DM- but-is shown in (16) together with nonetheless, which is otherwise rather scarce in the data, but still most frequent in novice writing. Example (16) also illustrates another tendency identified a few times, namely to cumulate certain markers, sometimes even those expressing the same semantic relation.

(16) (CzStCorpus, Text 3)

Concerning the clause structure, vocatives are common especially in initial position. Nominal groups tend to be infrequent as subject, the personal pronoun is more in evidence-especially the first person, which is an expected, but nonetheless a distinctive feature of conversation. One might also note in this connection the use of the informal you, in its impersonal function as against the more formal one or in place of the third person pronoun.

Finally, it remains to be stated that the highest rates of hypotactic contrastive markers have been identified in the English expert writers’ corpus (2.11), while the highest rates of paratactic DMs are in the Czech learner corpus (5.13). In all the three corpora paratactic markers, which by default are connected with natural ordering of discourse segments, unambiguously prevail over hypotactic DMs, which may (see even though in (15) above) but need not enable such ordering (see although in the same example). It should be noted that variation within the individual corpora as well as between them is to a great extent influenced by the writing habits of the individual authors and, in the case of Czech students, also by overt instructions provided by thesis supervisors and teachers of academic writing.

 
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