A Comparison of Metadiscourse Markers in Scientific Research Abstracts: An Interlanguage Study

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Scientific abstracts written by Japanese EFL science majors were compared with the abstracts appeared in published research articles, and we found that EFL students used metadiscourse markers to connect concrete ideas more often and that they were hesitant to use metadiscourse markers to connect abstract ideas.

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English is a lingua franca in science and being able to write effective research article abstracts is essential for scientists. A research article abstract generally consists of several moves: the introduction comprised of the background of the study and knowledge gap, the purpose of the study, the methodology, findings, and conclusion. These moves are often signaled by particular metadiscourse markers. We explicitly teach the structure of abstracts using the ideas of moves and metadiscourse in class. However, which metadiscourse markers are acquired more easily than others is not known. We analyzed the use of metadiscourse markers in research abstracts written by Japanese EFL science majors (EFL corpus: 255 abstracts written by upper-level undergraduate and graduate students in life sciences, 46,717 words) in comparison with two referent corpora: 1,900 abstracts written by Japanese scientists (JS corpus: 353,798 words), and 1,900 abstracts written by scientists in English speaking countries (ES corpus: 340,813). We compared the occurrences of metadiscourse markers in each corpus and found the EFL corpus contained the largest number of metadiscourse markers (per million words) although it had the fewest types. Among them, EFL abstracts overused self-mentions and frame markers but did not use hedges as much as JS and ES abstracts. Those overused frame markers are “first,” “then,” “next,” “aim,” “second” and “purpose,” which are used to indicate the objective of the study and steps of the research procedure. The markers that indicate a knowledge gap, and markers that signal conclusions were used less often than in JS and ES abstracts. Thus, we found learners used metadiscourse markers to describe concrete ideas such as the experiment’s purpose and procedure, but their use of metadiscourse markers that connect abstract ideas in the introduction as well as in the conclusion was limited. Specific examples and pedagogical implications will be discussed.

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Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences
Tokyo University of Agriculture

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Dr. Yo-An Lee
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