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Professor Ken Hyland, University of East Anglia

Let’s be specific: disciplinary writing in EAP

Ken Hyland

Professor Ken Hyland

It is now largely accepted that, for the moment at least, English should be taught to facilitate students’ studies at university and encourage participation in global networks of scholarship, but more controversial is exactly what kind of English should be taught.  In this paper I argue that as ESP teachers we should attend to the specific contexts of language use. Because texts are only effective when writers employ conventions that other members of the community find familiar and convincing, these conventions are likely to differ across disciplines. Identifying the particular language features, discourse practices, and communicative skills of target groups therefore becomes central to teaching English in universities, and teachers have to become researchers of the genres they teach.  In this presentation I will draw on my research over the last decade to highlight the disciplinary-specific nature of writing and argue for a specific view of teaching EAP.

Ken Hyland is Professor of Applied Linguistics in Education at the University of East Anglia. He is well known for his work on academic writing and EAP, having published published over 240 articles and 27 books on these topics with over 38,000 citations on Google Scholar. He was founding co-editor of the Journal of English for Academic Purposes, co-editor of Applied Linguistics and now editos book series with Routledge and Bloomsbury. He is an honorary professor at The Universities of Hong Kong, Warwick and Jilin. A collection of his work was recently published as The Essential Hyland, Bloomsbury, 2018.

Dr Nigel Harwood, University of Sheffield

Is everything rosy in the EAP garden? Points to ponder from a study of proofreaders of student writing

Dr. Nigel Harwood

Dr Nigel Harwood

In this plenary I discuss a recent study of student proofreading (Harwood 2018) and how it speaks to several wider themes of concern to the EAP community at large.

In my study, 14 UK university proofreaders all proofread the same authentic, low-quality master’s essay written by an L2 speaker of English to enable a comparison of interventions. Proofreaders explained their interventions by means of a talk aloud while proofreading and at a post-proofreading interview. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data revealed evidence of widely differing practices and beliefs, with the number of interventions ranging from 113 to 472. Some proofreaders intervened at the level of content, making lengthy suggestions to improve the writer’s essay structure and argumentation, while others were reluctant to do more than focus on the language. Disturbingly, some proofreaders introduced errors into the text while leaving the writer’s errors uncorrected.

The salient themes I extrapolate for discussion with reference to the EAP community at large are as follows:

the role of the EAP practitioner

Just as there is a lack of consensus around the meaning of ‘proofreading’ and who, if anyone, should be permitted to proofread, there is also a lack of consensus amongst EAP practitioners, lecturers, and students as to the role the EAP practitioner should play. To what degree should we seek to research, learn, and teach discipline-specific approaches? To what extent should we seek to induct our students into the idiosyncrasies of our institution’s departments and favoured research paradigms? This may be a very old topic of conversation (see Spack 1988), but it continues to stir debate (see Huckin 2003; Hyland 2002).

local vs. national/international approaches to EAP research

My proofreading research uncovered highly varying practices and beliefs at one university research site. But to what extent are my findings true in other contexts, where different beliefs about proofreading may prevail? A larger national or international study could move beyond potentially idiosyncratic results so as to arrive at generalizable findings, albeit necessarily sacrificing the level of depth and detail afforded by a smaller qualitative project. Similarly, we can debate the merits and demerits of researching EAP locally and on a grander scale. Large corpus-based studies have taught us much about discipline-specific patterns of writing across the academy (e.g., Hyland 2000). However, we have been aware for some time that lecturers’ writing requirements may differ even within the same department (Lea & Street 2000). Such contextual peculiarities make the case for locally appropriate EAP research and pedagogy (Harwood 2017; Kirk 2018).

the ethics of EAP

A flawless proofread text can give the misleading impression that a student writer has acquired academic literacy and the theme of ethics looms large in any discussion of proofreading. Similarly, scholars like Benesch (2001), Ding & Bruce (2017), and Hadley (2015) have challenged us to consider the ethics of EAP: Are we truly educating students and helping them legitimately acquire academic literacy? Or are we merely masking or patching up their deficiencies in a manner which gets the job done, but which lacks a formative underpinning?

the differing levels of competence of EAP practitioners

My proofreaders exhibited markedly varying levels of competence in correcting and manipulating academic prose. Some proofreaders assuredly rewrote error-ridden, abstruse text; others made a poorly written essay even worse. We have seen dramatic advances in EAP research over the past 40 years since Swales’ (1981) seminal Aspects of Article Introductions, and there may be a presumption that in all parts of the world EAP practitioners have soaked up this subject-specific and pedagogic knowledge. In two recent research projects conducted with my international students (e.g., Menkabu & Harwood 2014), however, I have been struck by some teachers’ lack of EAP knowledge, as well as the lack of appropriate in-service EAP-focused training to address these deficiencies.
My talk will end with the opportunity for debate and discussion.

Benesch, S. (2001). Critical English for Academic Purposes: Theory, Politics, and Practice. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Ding, A. & Bruce, I. (2017). The English for Academic Purposes Practitioner: Operating on the Edge of Academia. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Hadley, G. (2015). English for Academic Purposes in Neoliberal Universities: A Critical Grounded Theory. Cham: Springer.
Harwood, N. (2017). The EAP practitioner as researcher and disseminator of knowledge. BALEAP ResTes Symposium, Leeds.
Harwood, N. (2018). What do proofreaders of student writing do to a poorly written master’s essay? Differing interventions, worrying findings. Written Communication 35(4).
Huckin, T.N. (2003). Specificity in LSP. Ibérica 5: 3-17.
Hyland, K. (2000). Disciplinary Discourses: Social Interactions in Academic Writing. Harlow: Longman.
Hyland, K. (2002). Specificity revisited: How far should we go now? English for Specific Purposes 21: 385-395.
Kirk, S. (2018). Enacting the curriculum in English for academic purposes: a legitimation code theory analysis. Unpublished EdD thesis, University of Durham.
Lea, M. R., & Street, B. V. (2000). Student writing and staff feedback in higher education: an academic literacies approach. In M. R. Lea & B. Stierer (eds.), Student Writing in Higher Education: New Contexts. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press, pp. 32–46.
Menkabu, A. & Harwood, N. (2014). Teachers’ conceptualization and use of the textbook on a medical English course. In N. Harwood (ed.), English Language Teaching Textbooks: Content, Consumption, Production. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.145-177.
Spack, R. (1988). Initiating ESL students into the academic discourse community: how far should we go? TESOL Quarterly 22: 29–51.
Swales, J.M. (1981). Aspects of Article Introductions. Language Studies Unit, University of Aston. 


Nigel Harwood is a reader in Applied Linguistics at the University of Sheffield, UK. His research interests include academic writing, citation analysis, and TESOL textbooks and teaching materials. He is co-editor of the journal English for Specific Purposes.

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