Montemayor-Borsinger, Ann Barbara Sylvia
Case studies of academic writing in the sciences: a focus on the development of writing skills.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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The aim of the present thesis is to make a longitudinal study of changes affecting sentence-initial elements in articles published over time by a sample of researchers in international journals of physics. The linguistic framework adopted for such a study is a systematic-functional one. The general research methodology is established around two main axes, one linguistic, and the other statistical. To conduct a longitudinal survey focusing on thematic changes, it was necessary on the one hand to set up clear and unambiguous linguistic categories to capture these changes and, on the other, to present and interpret the findings in manageable and reliable ways with the assistance of statistics.
A pilot study was initially set up to explore possible changes in two articles published within a two year interval by the American Physical Society. The articles were the first and the last of a series of five articles written by the same researcher on the same problem in physics. The method of analysis of the texts used a formulation of Theme that included Subject as an obligatory component, and Contextual Frame - i.e. pre-Subject elements - as an optional one. The analysis, using taxonomies proposed by Davies (1988, 1997) and Gosden (1993, 1996), suggested differences in thematic elements, especially regarding a certain type of complex Subject.
On the basis of coding difficulties and the findings of the pilot study, taxonomies were modified to include in particular new Conventional and Instantial classes for Subject and Contextual Frame. Conventional wordings, both in Subject and in Contextual Frame position, are identified as being expressions which are readily available to novice writers of articles, because they are commonly used terms in the fields of research concerned. In contrast Instantial wordings are identified as being expressions which have been especially contrived by the writer to fit a given stretch of discourse. As writers develop and make their own the matter with which they are working; they become increasingly capable of crafting these more complex workings which involve multiple strands of meaning. In the case of this latter class, particular reference is made to post-modification and clause-type elements which allow meanings to be combined in specific ways.
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