A genre-base investigation of theme : product and process in scientific research articles written by NNS novice researchers.
This multi-method study presents an exercise in applied discourse
analysis conducted within the broad framework of systemic-functional
linguistics. The theoretical part of the work explores the
relationship between one functional component of language, Halliday's
notion of Theme, and the characterisation of a particular genre, the
scientific research article (RA). Relevant literature on a variety of
views of genre and Theme in the traditions of English for Academic
Purposes (FAP) and systemic-functional linguistics is reviewed. The
integration of these two levels of functional description is used as
a basis for exploring the way in which Theme and generic structure
relate to 'successful' processes and products of scientific research
communication. The particular educational setting for the applied
part of this work is the writing of first scientific RAs in English
by NNS (non-native speaker) novice researchers.
The primary method of study adopted here is corpus-based and initial
discourse-functional analysis and description of marked and unmarked
thematic choices are based on a corpus of 36 published RAs in the
physical and life sciences written by 'experienced' NSs. This corpus
represents a base 'norm' of thematic usage against which other
corpora are compared, namely, published RAs written by 'experienced'
NNS scientists and unpublished first and final RA drafts written by
NNS novices. Major findings indicated that 'appropriate' thematic
selections in the RA genre are constrained by the changing rhetorical
purposes, signalled by means of moves, which operate throughout the
different stages of scientific RA discourse; thus, the textual
metafunction of Theme plays a significant role in the
characterisation and dynamic wi thin-text structuring of the
scientific RA genre. Furthermore, background surveys by means of
questionnaires and interviews of the participants in the process of
international research communication, in particular, of 'expert' NS
journal editors, confirmed that 'appropriate' thematic control was
clearly associated with the judgement of the merits of NNSs' RAs, and
thereby, their 'successful' publication. With the pedagogical
application of such theoretical insights in mind, the use of the
teaching/research tool of Propositional Clusters (PCs) was explored
in the EAP classroom as a heuristic for raising NNS novices'
awareness about the manipulation of Theme in drafting and redrafting
RA sections. Data collected from PCs exercises indicated their
potential to raise awareness about the role of 'appropriate' thematic
control in helping to create 'successful' texts.
This study contributes to our understanding of aspects of the
functional relationship between elements of discourse structure and
lexica-grammatical components such as Theme/Subject. In addition,
reflecting the social-semiotic perspective of a systemic-functional
framework, this work strongly emphasises the social-constructionist
nature of the processes involved in international research
communication through the medium of the scientific research article.