Lexical bundles and disciplinary variation: A corpus-based study of American university students’ writing

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Lexical bundles, sequences of multiple words that often occur together in natural discourse (Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan, 1999), have been found to serve as building blocks of discourse and mark fluent language productions in previous studies. This study aims to have a better understanding of disciplinary variation between Science-Technology and Humanities-Social Sciences disciplines reflected in the employment of lexical bundles in student writing. To do this, the study examines four-word lexical bundles in a corpus of high-grade written assignments produced by students at an American university. Lexical bundles that are extracted from the corpus are classified according to the structural patterns and the discourse functions. Since the focus of the study, inspired by Durrant (2017), is to characterize Science-Technology and Humanities-Social Sciences writing, a qualitative analysis of distinctive lexical bundles in each disciplinary category is carried out to identify characteristics of writing in these two major categories. It is found that both Science-Technology and Humanities-Social Sciences make great use of research-oriented bundles, while stance bundles, which express attitudes and perspectives of writers or someone else, are least used. The qualitative analysis revealed some major differences between writing in Science-Technology and Humanities-Social Sciences, which mostly concern the physical nature in the former and the interpretive and abstract focus in the latter. The findings of the study are expected to be beneficial to not only research but also practice in English for Academic Purposes (EAP). Some implications for EAP practice and suggestions for future work on lexical bundles are discussed at the end of the study.
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