US, UK, NZ: variation in student writing across English-speaking countries

  • Nesi, H. (Speaker)
  • Neil Matheson (Speaker)
  • Helen Basturkmen (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


Local differences in university writing conventions can affect the progress of internationally mobile students, although they are rarely acknowledged in teaching materials and university entrance tests, and have not yet been subject to much systematic comparison. The paper will compare upper-level and high-scoring undergraduate literature essays taken from the Academic Writing at Auckland (AWA) corpus, the British Academic Written English (BAWE) corpus, and the Michigan Corpus of Upper-level Student Papers (MICUSP). Just under 100 essays were analysed (25 each from Britain and Auckland and 47 from Michigan), using various methods and tools including the Multidimensional Tagger (Nini, 2014), the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (Tausczik & Pennebaker, 2010) and manual analysis. The results placed the AWA and the MICUSP essays at opposite ends of the scale on many measures. For example, AWA essays contained the greatest number of long words and nominalisations, while sentences in the MICUSP essays were the shortest and contained the fewest long words and nominalisations. MICUSP writing was the most informal and interactive in terms of contractions, pronoun use and question forms, and AWA writing was the most formal and ‘academic’. MICUSP writers also made far less use of sources than the British and New Zealand writers. The paper will discuss the reasons for these and other differences, bearing in mind that US universities generally set fewer discipline-specific writing assignments in the early years of university study than British or New Zealand universities.
Period27 Nov 2017
Event titleThe Applied Linguistics Conference (ALANZ; ALAA; ALTAANZ) : Applied Linguistics in the New Millennium: Multiple Theories, Pathways, and Practices
Event typeConference
LocationAuckland, New ZealandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational