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Rules of academic writing: a synchronic and diachronic corpus analysis across the disciplines

Dixon, Tülay Örücü (2022) Rules of academic writing: a synchronic and diachronic corpus analysis across the disciplines. Doctoral thesis, Northern Arizona University.

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Standards of academic writing are documented in style guides adopted by academic disciplines, style guides such as the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association and Scientific Style and Format. Some of the standards in these style guides are expressed as prescriptive or proscriptive rules that provide academic writers with language advice. Regarding such prescriptive and proscriptive rules, this dissertation has two goals: (i) to identify and describe the body of rules that form standard academic writing and (ii) to examine whether such rules matter; that is, whether they are followed in current academic writing and whether adherence to such rules has changed over time. To accomplish the first goal, six style guides adopted by academic disciplines were analyzed to identify rules. The identified rules (n = 537) were categorized by their aim (e.g., promoting clarity, removing bias), linguistic category (e.g., lexical, grammatical), and the disciplines for which they are intended, among others. These basic categorizations revealed contradictions in how prescriptive and proscriptive rules are traditionally viewed in the linguistics community. Prescriptive and proscriptive rules are often referred to as “grammar rules,” but the vast majority of the rules are, surprisingly, about lexis. As discussed by Curzan (2014), rules are often associated with arbitrary judgements regarding what constitutes “correct” or “standard” language, but rules can also be motivated by desirable values in writing such as clarity, concision, and bias-free language. Such basic categorizations and descriptions show the various layers of rules, furthering our understanding of rules and their study as a sociolinguistic phenomenon. To accomplish the second goal of the dissertation, 155 rules were analyzed in a corpus of reputable journal article writing in four disciplines (i.e., biology, history, psychology, mechanical engineering) during two periods (i.e., 1950, 2020). The corpus included 17,085 articles with 117,707,019 words. The corpus analyses provided insights into (i) which rules are violated more versus less often, (ii) what characteristics are shared by rules that tend to be violated more often, and (iii) which rules will likely continue to be followed or violated. A few of the major findings are as follows: (i) lexico-grammatical or grammatical rules are generally violated more often than lexical rules; (ii) surprisingly, some bias-free language rules are violated (e.g., the use of the biased terms opposite gender, opposite sex, and chairman); (iii) current academic writing violates the rules that proscribe the dense use of nominalizations, long noun-noun sequences, and adverbial uses of based on, and there is a considerable increase in the frequency of these features from 1950 to 2020, indicating that the rules proscribing these features will likely continue to be violated; (iv) academic writing in biology, psychology, and mechanical engineering include fewer agentless passive voice constructions in 2020 compared with 1950, and this decrease in the frequency of passive voice constructions is related to the increase in the use of the first-person pronoun we; and (v) the proscribed use of the relative pronoun which in restrictive relative clauses is mostly followed by academic writers, and adherence to this proscription has increased from 1950 to 2020. The findings of the dissertation have implications for the study of prescriptivism as a sociolinguistic phenomenon and for anyone involved in the writing, teaching, and/or editing of academic writing.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Publisher’s Statement: © Copyright is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
Keywords: academic writing; corpus linguistics; disciplinary writing; prescriptivism; proscriptivism; style guides
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
NAU Depositing Author Academic Status: Student
Department/Unit: Graduate College > Theses and Dissertations
College of Arts and Letters > English
Date Deposited: 02 Jun 2023 18:40
Last Modified: 02 Jun 2023 18:40
URI: https://openknowledge.nau.edu/id/eprint/5957

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