This is a new research area for me–seeking to apply multidisciplinary research approaches to academic writing, and exploring the relations between reading, thinking and writing. Insights from this research can inform the development of teaching methods and online resources to support teaching and learning. Indeed they will also carry implications for automatic multidocument summarization and text generation methods.

Research approaches include:

  • Applied linguistics & genre studies
  • Text mining & writing analytics
  • Knowledge organization and knowledge representation
  • Human information use behavior and citation analysis
  • Thinking and argumentation

Synopsis: Academic writing encompasses all the types of discursive writing that undergraduate and graduate students engage in to satisfy academic requirements at tertiary education institutions. It includes writing essays, literature surveys, research reports and theses. Academic writing also covers writing of research and scholarly papers for journal and conference publications by faculty and PhD students. Academic writing is difficult for students to learn and do well, and difficult for teachers to teach. Thinking is inseparably intertwined with writing. Not only do different subtypes of academic writing require different kinds of thinking, the different sections of a research report require different kinds of thinking and writing as well. In addition, reading skills are important to good writing.

Project descriptions below:

Project: Evidence-based teaching of literature review writing (MOE-Tertiary Education Research funding for 2 years)

The literature review is an important and pervasive type of academic writing. Students have to include a literature review in term papers, project reports, research proposals and dissertations. A literature review is more than just a summary of previous research on a particular topic. It is difficult to write a good literature review as it requires critical thinking, argumentation and writing skills. The process of literature review writing includes assessing and selecting relevant information from previous research papers, integrating the information (e.g., comparing and generalizing reported research results), synthesizing arguments to justify the current research, and presenting the arguments in coherent and persuasive text.

It is difficult to teach literature review writing because of the different types of intellectual activities and skills involved. Instructors of report writing need more resources in the form of best-practice patterns and examples, and online or computerized diagnostic aids, to give detailed guidance to students. The project will carry out in-depth linguistic and content analyses of literature reviews published in top journals in three fields (sociology, biological science and mechanical engineering), to identify the linguistic, informational and argumentation strategies used.

Based on the results of the analyses, online pedagogical resources will be developed, including a catalogue of linguistic, informational and argumentation patterns found in good literature reviews, together with specific examples. At least two e-learning modules will be developed: the first on constructing the discourse/rhetorical and argumentative structure of the literature review; and the second on the selection of information from the cited papers and the transformation and integration of the information into a literature review. A computerized diagnostic tool (computer program) will be developed to make use of the catalogue of patterns to analyse student literature reviews, compare their profile with those of published literature reviews, and suggest directions for improvement. Suitable evaluation metrics will be developed for use by the diagnostic tool. Finally, an evaluation study will be carried out where classroom lessons on literature review writing (using the online resources and computerized diagnostic tool) will be developed. The new “evidence-based” teaching of literature review writing will be applied in undergraduate courses on academic report writing. The performance of the “treatment” group will be evaluated in comparison with a control group using the “traditional” method.