Writing at the crossroads: a linguistic analysis of academic business report writing at a modern UK university

Henry, James (2022). Writing at the crossroads: a linguistic analysis of academic business report writing at a modern UK university. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Business Studies and related subjects represent the most common degree choice for international students joining UK universities. This thesis addresses the need for researchers and practitioners in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) to understand the academic writing requirements of this discipline in order to more fully support international students.

The thesis focuses on a common written genre completed by Business students in UK Higher Education, the academic business report. Using a specially constructed 90,000-word corpus of student writing at a modern ‘post-92’ university, this thesis examines the main linguistic features of business reports in an EAP and in a subject module setting. A comparison of writing in the subject and EAP context informs a discussion of developments and changes to teaching and assessment at the research site.

A range of research methods and approaches are used in this thesis to investigate student business reports. Genre-analytic approaches (Bhatia 1993; 2004; Swales 1990; 2004) show that whilst the overall structure of the reports in the EAP and subject contexts may be similar, important differences are present in the proportion of the reports dedicated to certain moves reflecting differing communicative purposes in the two tasks. Corpus based methods (Baker 2006; Scott 1997; 2010) are used to show how keywords in different sections of the report reveal different emphases and approaches in the subject and EAP settings. Systemic-functional linguistic (SFL) methods (Halliday & Matthiessen 2014) are employed to show how these differences are realised at the clause-level, in terms of the field of discourse in the Analysis section and in the deployment of modality resources in the students’ Recommendations. The ways in which student writers evaluate and appraise the target company are also analysed through an application of the APPRAISAL framework (Martin & White 2005). Interviews and focus-groups shed light on several of the linguistic findings and are used to challenge some of the assumptions underpinning current pedagogy at the research site. A pedagogical intervention in the EAP setting is also described, to show how changes made to teaching and learning at the research site led to important differences at the lexico-grammatical level of student writing.

The main conclusions of this thesis are that whilst business report tasks in the EAP and subject context may initially appear similar in terms of the task set and the overall structure of the student writing, important differences are present in the communicative purpose of the tasks, with the student reports in the EAP setting reflecting a more practical and professional orientation in contrast to the more traditionally academic aims of the subject task. These differences are revealed through an application of genre, corpus, SFL and interview-based techniques and approaches. In contrast to much of the research into writing in the applied disciplines such as Business, Law or Engineering, it is argued in this thesis that it is desirable for applied tasks in both the subject and EAP contexts to require students to demonstrate theoretical and disciplinary knowledge, and that these tasks should not necessarily aim to completely mirror professional writing.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies, Department of English Language and Linguistics
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/13048


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