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A New Corpus of Student Academic Writing. Susan Conrad Sarah Albers Department of Applied Linguistics Portland State University. Our Objectives for this Presentation. Share information about a resource you may want to use

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A new corpus of student academic writing

A New Corpus of Student Academic Writing

Susan Conrad

Sarah Albers

Department of Applied Linguistics

Portland State University

Our objectives for this presentation
Our Objectives for this Presentation

  • Share information about a resource you may want to use

  • Encourage sharing among (American) universities with similar projects

    • Writing from all levels at the university, all departments

Overview of the Presentation

  • Background on the project and Portland State

  • Current state of the corpus

  • Ongoing research & development; future plans

Background the viking corpus project
Background: The “Viking Corpus” Project

The beginnings

  • “Corpus Linguistics in Language Teaching” class

  • Web announcement from M.A. student C. Gardes

    • Papers graded B or higher

    • Course, but no assignment info

    • Focused on immediate ESL teaching needs

Project background continued
Project background continued…


  • More general use for PSU’s ESL program

    • The IELP: ~350 students. Common goal: enter PSU

    • New interest in innovations in curriculum & materials, corpus linguistics

  • Potential usefulness in other contexts

    • Other ESL programs

    • PSU more generally

      • Diversity: non-traditional students

      • “University Studies” – no university-wide writing program

  • Time to put effort into the design!

Project background continued1
Project background continued…

A comment from the “supervising professor”

  • Student initiative

  • Serendipitous convergence of department developments

    (ESL program integration, MA projects)

What do we have & what should future students gather?

 Sarah’s project

Documentation and further development
Documentation and further development

Goals for my work on the project:

  • Documentation

    • better understand what was already in the corpus

    • read for paper topics and assignment types

  • Evaluate the organization of the corpus

    • By native-speaker/non-native speaker, student level, or department?

    • How is the corpus going to be used?

      → Goal is to learn about student writing in general

      → Organized primarily according to department

  • Guidelines for data collection

Design principles
Design principles

  • Quality of Writing

    • Assignments received a grade of ‘B’ or better

  • Diversity

    • Authors – selected up to 3 papers per student for a given department

  • Balanced Representation

    • Targeted collection = one or two departments for data collection and build relationships with students & professors

Assignment types
Assignment Types

Art & Literary Analysis ALAN

Empirical Research EMPA

Library Research LIBR

Narrative (creative) NARR

Reading Reaction READ

Report REPT

Personal Opinion POPN

Proposal PROP

Reflection REFL

Self-Reflection SREF

Theoretical Application THEA

These abbreviations are included in the file names, along with department & author’s number/level

Current state of the corpus strengths and weaknesses
Current state of the corpus: strengths and weaknesses


  • Good start for Humanities & Social Science

  • Descriptive file names & a framework for documentation

  • Useful for pedagogical purposes: answering ESL teachers’ questions & materials development

    Opportunities for improvement

  • Balance: 5 departments consist of 67% of the corpus

  • Need for science writing

  • Other departments with 15 papers or less: Anthropology, International Studies, Public Administration, Social Work, & others

  • Overall, more information about assignment guidelines

Value of the corpus for pedagogical purposes
Value of the corpus for pedagogical purposes:

1. Setting Curriculum Priorities

2. Professional development

Setting curriculum priorities
Setting Curriculum Priorities

Example questions:

1. How much time should be spent on studying reduced relative clauses (RRCs)?

Ex: …a four year plan comprised of streamlining processes.

  • Do proficient student writers used RRCs, and if so how?

    → quite frequent in professional academic prose

    → corpus gives us info about student writing

    2. How does a successful writer of a library research paper utilize transitional phrases?

  • By Level 5 (out of 7), IELP students are practicing library research papers

Importance of the corpus for in service teachers
Importance of the corpus for in-service teachers

Combining Skills/Contextualizing Grammar

  • Utilizing materials from this corpus in grammar classes will:

    • Develop grammar competence


    • Prime IELP/ESL students for writing at the next level


  • Tailoring activities according to student interests

    • Teachers can find samples from the disciplines she knows her students are planning to choose as majors

Value for pre service teacher training
Value for pre-service teacher training

Culminating experience or practicum option:

  • Pursue corpus-based materials development project

    • Supplementary materials for an IELP class

  • “Symbiotic” mentorship with experienced instructor

    • Instructor (-time, -corpus training)

    • MA: TESOL student (+time, +corpus training, +eager to apply knowledge in practice)


  • Strengthens IELP instruction

  • Engages pre-service teachers in IELP curriculum

  • Readiness and confidence to teach academic English

Challenges current work
Challenges & Current Work

  • IELP teacher time & training

    • Collaborative projects for materials development & research

      MA student + IELP teacher + AL program faculty

      (H. Hahn-Streichen, D. Smith, S. Conrad, ORTESOL support)

    • Data overload / false generalizations

      • Research into corpus design: sample lengths (L. Spitzer)

  • Access and Plagiarism

    • Website including interface for corpus searches (T. Vaslev)

  • Motivating studentsto submit papers

  • Developing relationshipswith faculty in other depts

Future plans
Future Plans

  • Funding from PSU for an expanded corpus & research

    • Language characteristics of high and low papers

    • Demographic characteristics and writing characteristics (e.g. Does Gen 1.5 writing exist?)

    • Characteristics of University Studies writing (vs within depts)

    • Comparison of IELP papers & regular class papers

  • Principled corpus for research into...

    • Variation in “similar” assignments across disciplines

    • Text types of PSU writing (comparison with other universities, with BAWE, etc.)

  • Incorporation of corpus analysis with studies of classrooms & students

Portland state corpus of student academic writing

Portland StateCorpus of Student Academic Writing

User Agreement Form / Web Access

[email protected]

[email protected]

Thank you