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Multiple Perspectives on University History & Engineering Assignments. Sheena Gardner University of Warwick 19th European Systemic Functional Linguistics Conference & Workshop 23-25 July 2007, Saarbrücken, Germany. An Investigation of Genres of Assessed Writing

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multiple perspectives on university history engineering assignments
Multiple Perspectives on University History & Engineering Assignments

Sheena Gardner

University of Warwick

19th European Systemic Functional Linguistics Conference & Workshop

23-25 July 2007,

Saarbrücken, Germany

An Investigation of

Genres of Assessed Writing

in British Higher Education


Warwick - Reading - Oxford Brookes


Hilary Nesi, Sheena Gardner, Jasper Holmes, Sian Alsop, Laura Powell, Richard Forsyth, Dawn Hindle

CELTE, Warwick

Paul Thompson, Alois Heuboeck

SLALS, Reading

Paul Wickens, Signe Ebeling, Maria Leedham

ICELS, Oxford Brookes

project aims
Project Aims
  • Develop a Corpus of British Academic Written English (BAWE)
  • Characterise proficient student writing across disciplines and years
four research strands
Four Research Strands
  • Corpus development
  • Discourse community perspectives
  • Multidimensional analysis of register
  • SFL analysis of genres
1 corpus development
1. Corpus Development

a. Collect assignments

b. Tag files and prepare for submission to Oxford Text Archive

c. Develop Sketchengine interface for end users

d. Develop shared portal with parallel corpora (BASE, MICASE, MICUSP)

a collection issue text vs texts
A Collection Issue: text vs texts

corpus as text: computational analysis of forms

Random Sampling

Stratified Sampling

Cluster Sampling

Opportunistic / Convenience Sampling

Purposive / Judgemental Sampling

corpus as texts: ‘manual’ analysis of meanings

2 discourse community
2. Discourse Community

a. Departmental documentation

b. Tutor interviews

c. Student interviews

d. Assignment submission forms

tutor on engineering projects
Tutor on Engineering Projects:
  • In year four they have a team project with tasks similar to what they’ll get in employment. They work in teams with students from a range of engineering disciplines to tackle various complex engineering problems. They produce a document with costings targeted at a Venture Capital company.
on engineering reports
On Engineering Reports:
  • There is a standard structure.. They have a layout of headings and a description of the sorts of things that would go under each of those headings, and they map whatever they’ve done onto that.
  • Although a third-year project may be similar in structure to a laboratory report written in the first year, the writer will have to assimilate, evaluate and integrate a wider range of information.
engineering students
Engineering Students:

“Basically we make a summary first the reasons are if someone in industry wants to know what we’re doing, they haven’t got time to read through they just want to know what’s going on. Then the introduction .. Contents .. Then a theory which takes a huge chunk it’s explaining everything…”

“It doesn’t matter how good the project is, if it isn’t well written, it won’t get good marks”

engineering assignments
Engineering assignments:
  • Laboratory reports
  • Project reports
  • Reflective journals
  • Posters (e.g. for transport museum)
  • Summaries of analysis + recommendations
  • Site investigation reports (both factual and interpretative)
  • Funding proposals
  • Business plans
  • Essays
history tutor
History Tutor:

Formative assignments are 2000-2500 word essays in response to a question, like an exam question. A rhetorical exercise to persuade the reader to accept the argument.

Summative essays are longer, 4000-5000 words. 8000 word essays require additional organisational skills.

history student
History Student

“I try to use different opinions. I say someone’s opinion, then counter it with someone else’s. I weave my own perception in but I’d never say “this is what I think” directly. I use some arguing and counter but I always go back to my introduction stance.

… I put across my argument always and a. you have to consider the popular argument at the time. You don’t want to go against the flow completely as you don’t have the skill to do that. But b. I consider what the professor will think.”

history assignments
History Assignments

Formative Essays (2000-2500 words)

Summative Essays (4000-5000 words)

Literature Review (2,500 words, recently introduced in one core module)

Book Review (in one optional module)

Summative Essay (8000 words; optional)

3 multidimensional register analysis
3. Multidimensional Register Analysis

Biber’s team tag the corpus for their lexicogrammatical features; do frequency counts, and factor analysis,

identify dimensions of variance among

Levels, Disciplines, Groups, Text types.

We interpret.

biber s dimensions eg narrative
Biber’s dimensions, eg Narrative:

Features of Narrative/Non-narrative dimension (Conrad and Biber 2001):

positive features

  • past tense verbs
  • third-person pronouns
  • perfect aspect verbs
  • public verbs
  • synthetic negation
  • present participial clauses

negative features

  • (present tense verbs)
  • (attributive adjectives)


|Romance fiction





0+Popular lore



|Religion, Editorials



|Press reviews, *history*



|Professional letters

|Academic prose


-3+Hobbies, *anthropology*







bawe dimensions pilot data
BAWE dimensions (pilot data)

Factor 1: History is high; Engineering is low

  • History: factual adverbs (definitely, inevitably), likely adverbs (apparently, predictably), and existential verbs (seem, appear);
  • Engineering: predictive modals (will, would, shall), active verbs & total nouns.
further corpus analysis
Further Corpus Analysis
  • Descriptive statistics (TTR, word length, sentence length, text length)
  • Word frequencies (history, historians)
  • Collocations (Ward 2007)
  • Ngrams / lexical bundles (Eberle & Leedham; Oakey)
  • And more ….
4 systemic functional genres
4. Systemic Functional Genres

Three school history genres (Coffin)

  • Analytical exposition:

(Background)^ Thesis^ Arguments^ Thesis Reinforcement

  • Analytical discussion:

(Background)^ Issue^ Arguments^ Position

  • Challenge:

(Background)^ Arguments^ Anti-Thesis

history issue and thesis
History Issue and Thesis
  • E.2 Issue (AD)
  • This essay will look at continuity and departure through these two periods thematically, and attempt to form a conclusion as to whether the 'Age of Braudel' conserved or contradicted original Annales historiography. (AD)
  • E.3 Thesis (AE)
  • I will attempt to show why I agree with scholars such as Craig Calhoun that it was primarily artisans that resisted the changes brought by industrialization and who seemed to have more of a sense of unity in comparison to the factory workers.  (AE)
progression in history genres
Progression in History Genres
  • No evidence of Coffin’s progression from Narrative to Analytical genres
  • No clear evidence of Coffin’s progression from narrative to argumentative language
  • Limited evidence of addition of ‘literature review’ stage to long essays
  • No clear evidence of increase in Challenges
progression in history
Progression in History
  • In Field as identified by manual Assignment Initial Sentence Subject analysis AND by computational word frequency comparisons
  • In nature of sources: from books (1st yr), to edited books (2nd yr) to occasional journal articles (3rd yr)
proposed genres engineering
Proposed genres (Engineering)
  • Laboratory Report: to report on tests/experiments conducted; (Summary)^Introduction^Theory^Apparatus^Methods^Observations and results^Analysis of Results^Discussion^Conclusion^Bibliography^(Figures & tables)^Appendices
  • Design Proposal: to put forward a proposal for a system or product: (Summary)^(Background)^Introduction^ Design Feature decisions ^(Costing/Suppliers)^ Conclusions^ (Bibliography)^(Appendices)
  • Product Evaluation: to evaluate a piece of equipment or procedure: Introduction ^Strengths ^Weaknesses ^(Practice/performance tests) ^Conclusions^(References)
  • Design Report: to design and test a system: Summary^Introduction^Theory^Analysis^Comparisons^Conclusions^References
  • Exercise: to practice a number of isolated generic stages or reflect on methodTask 1^Task 2^..Task n
  • Dissertation: to develop a design proposal for a system or product in the context of the literatureAbstract^Self-assesssment^Introduction^Literature Review^(Theory)^Methodology^Analysis and Results^(Discussion)^Conclusion^Costing^References^(Appendices)
self assessment in engineering
Self assessment in Engineering

“the engineering data obtained ... was very limited .... The work is important as it showed .... The work should be continued to determine .... The work was a success in that ... The extent of the experimental work completed is not as great as originally expected ... The author found obtaining information on ... very difficult ... There was no scope in the available time to consider alternative .... Whilst efforts were made to minimise variations in ... these could not be eliminated completely during the project phase.” (Diss)

summary lr dp dr
Summary (LR, DP, DR)
  • “A compact gearbox design is required to use in an electric drill to produce a 25:1 speed reduction from a motor developing 36W at 9000rpm. ... analysis ... costs ...comparisons ... Therefore it is believed that the gearbox is a cost effective design which makes economic use of available space” (DR)
progression in engineering
Progression in Engineering
  • Building block
  • Early genres aim to test, design, evaluate, propose costings - separately
  • Final dissertation puts these together, plus ‘literature review’ and ‘self-assessment’
integrating four strands
Integrating Four Strands
  • CorpusRandom sampling vs Purposive samplingin future: technology is promising …
  • Discourse Community

Number and nature of genres not predictable from department labels for assignment types

  • Computational AnalysisEven ‘simple’ descriptive statistics need other strands Findings may be unclear, or bring significant insights
  • Genre AnalysisPrompts need for further texts in the corpusNeeds to be checked with Discourse CommunityCan be reinforced by computational analysis
shunting two prongs echo chambers strands
…Shunting ……Two-prongs ….. ……...Echo-chambers …. Strands
  • Shunting [MAKH] – carriages being pushed along rail tracks – 1961 ref to moving up and down rank scale; adapted by Miller 2006. But ‘tracks’ not at all clear from computational to manual analyses
  • Two-prongs [CMIM] – only two?
  • Echo-chambers [T&H] – works from small text to large corpus, but one-directional? some ‘sounds’ get lost?
  • Strands? Here FOUR strands, not two: the corpus development and discourse context are also variable and responsive to the computational and manual analyses; each strand is autonomous and separable, but they mutually reinforce for a rich description