March 2016
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Stephanie Link, Elena Cotos, & Sarah Huffman

Stephanie Link
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA

Elena Cotos
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa, USA

Sarah Huffman
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa, USA

Genre studies and the use of disciplinary corpora for teaching the art of research writing have received much attention throughout the years as postgraduate students continuously seek pathways toward acculturation into the academic discourse community. A long research tradition in academic writing pedagogy has been well informed by contributions from Swales’ (1981) work on the creating a research space (CARS) model for introductions to research articles (RAs). In his genre-based approach, he conceptualizes moves and steps as overarching communicative goals and specific units of functional meaning. His seminal research has translated pedagogically to focus on learning tasks that raise students’ awareness of rhetorical structure within genres and discourse communities and develop means of analyzing texts both structurally and linguistically for discipline-specific genre conventions. This genre-based pedagogical approach is now broadly used in advanced academic writing courses.

While move/step concepts have held wide implications for the analysis and teaching of all RA sections, research has fallen short of developing further pedagogical approaches, similar to the CARS model, that have been validated using interdisciplinary corpora. Of particular pedagogical importance are discussions/conclusions (D/C), as they prove challenging in graduate students’ creation and support of research claims.

Our research demonstrates how corpus-based move analysis can directly inform genre-based research writing pedagogy. We first present a cross-disciplinary model for D/C sections. The authorial intent, content construction, and language realizations of select discourse elements are exemplified before we illustrate how the results of our analysis translate to corpus-based pedagogical materials and tasks employed in a postgraduate writing course.

Corpus-Based Move Analysis and Descriptors of Moves and Steps

We conducted an extensive move analysis of a corpus of 900 RAs from 30 disciplines, the details of which are described in Cotos, Huffman, and Link (2015). In brief, we employed a top-down corpus analysis (see Biber, Connor, & Upton, 2007) that resulted in a comprehensive model containing move and step descriptors, which were reviewed by faculty in each discipline and refined using existing D/C models.

The resulting model consists of four moves and fourteen steps, which are named in parallel with the CARS metaphor. To summarize, the model specifies four rhetorical moves occurring in D/C sections, which aim to ground the discussion of findings (Move 1), provide interpretation of the findings (Move 2), draw comparisons to previous relevant works (Move 3), and elaborate on the commentary (Move 4). Here is a sample of one particular step in Move 3 from a biomedical science publication:

Move 3: Step: Countering with evidence

Earlier studies have found inconsistent hippocampus-dependent learning deficits in Fmr1-knockout mice [14, 31, 32]; however, we saw robust behavioral changes.

Given that a primary end-goal for developing a D/C model was corpus-based genre pedagogy, we offer learner-friendly descriptors that clarify the rhetorical intent and content realizations for each step. These descriptors will be provided in a forthcoming article in Writing and Pedagogy (Cotos, Link, & Huffman, in press).

Pedagogical Application

Our D/C model has been utilized as instructional material for graduate-level, academic writing courses at Iowa State University. In one such course centering on instruction of the RA genre, interactive, corpus-focused tasks supplement the genre-founded instructional approach. Students partake in hands-on analysis of authentic corpora to equip them with tools for analyzing research discourse and producing their own texts. The D/C model also informed the composition of written texts, which were supplemented with video tutorials. Knowledge consolidation exercises for paired activities and D/C peer review guidelines integrating the rhetorical concepts were also developed and then utilized in the course.

In our presentation at the 2016 TESOL International Convention, we intend to outline tasks integrated into the course. By illustrating our corpus-based genre pedagogy, we hope to motivate a discussion about a genre-driven agenda that continuously promotes the direct transfer of research results to the classroom.


Biber, D., Connor, U., & Upton, T. (2007). Discourse on the move: Using corpus analysis to describe discourse structure. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Cotos, E., Huffman, S., & Link, S. (2015). Move analysis of the research article genre: Furthering and applying analytic constructs. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 19, 52–72.

Cotos, E., Link, S., & Huffman, S. (in press). Studying disciplinary corpora to teach the craft of Discussion. Writing & Pedagogy.

Swales, J. (1981). Aspects of article introductions. Aston ESP Reports, No. 1. Language Studies Unit, University of Aston: Birmingham, UK.

Stephanie Link is an assistant professor of TESL/applied linguistics at Oklahoma State University. Her primary research interests are in the development and evaluation of emerging technologies for computer-assisted language learning with a special focus on L2 writing, genre analysis, systemic functional linguistics, and automated writing evaluation.

Elena Cotos is an assistant professor in the Applied Linguistics Program at Iowa State University. She investigates genre writing in the disciplines and automated writing evaluation to improve writing pedagogy. Elena is also the director of the Center for Communication Excellence of the Graduate College and the principal investigator on the Research Writing Tutor project.

Sarah Huffman is a postdoctoral researcher for the Graduate College’s Center for Communication Excellence at Iowa State University. Her research interests include genre analysis and academic writing instruction, best practices for training graduate student writing tutors, and systemic functional linguistic approaches to language development.

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As a member of the ALIS community, would you be willing to undertake TESOL training and review proposals in the area of applied linguistics for the TESOL 2017 Convention?