Disciplinary Variation in Academic Writing: A Corpus Study of PhD theses in English Language and Literature

  • Vander Paula Viana

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In the United Kingdom, it is not uncommon to find Departments or Schools of English which bring together researchers working in the fields of English Language and Literature. With a view to checking the extent to which knowledge in these two areas is conveyed in similar ways, the present research examines the genre of doctoral thesis, which is generally regarded as a graduate’s first contribution to scholarship. This investigation therefore addresses two gaps in the existing literature on academic discourse analysis by investigating a genre and two disciplines which have not been sufficiently examined so far. The empirical approach adopted here is grounded on Corpus Linguistics. Lor this reason, two specialized corpora - totaling 40 texts and 2.9 million words - were compiled, allowing for a thorough analysis of the registers of Language and Literature theses. These corpora were probed by means of statistical tests, a multidimensional approach and the key-key-word technique in order to provide a comprehensive account of the structural elements, functional dimensions and semantic groups which are characteristic of thesis writing in English Language and Literature. While the registers may seem to diverge only in respect to the disciplines, the findings of the present study show that register differences are not restricted to the expression of discipline-related concepts. The writing of Language and Literature graduates also varies in relation to how they claim to be credible researchers, and to how they structure their written texts. It is suggested that the pedagogical implications of these dissimilar register configurations should be explored in the future so that doctoral candidates may be provided with discipline-specific guidance on thesis writing.
Date of AwardDec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorJohn Kirk (Supervisor) & Paul Simpson (Supervisor)

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