Discipline, level, genre: Integrating situational perspectives in a new MD analysis of university student writing

Sheena Gardner, Hilary Nesi, Douglas Biber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)
214 Downloads (Pure)


While there have been many investigations of academic genres, and of the linguistic features of academic discourse, few studies have explored how these interact across a range of university student writing situations. To counter misconceptions that have arisen regarding student writing, this paper aims to provide comprehensive linguistic descriptions of a wide range of university assignment genres in relation to multiple situational variables. Our new multidimensional (MD) analysis of the British Academic Written English (BAWE) corpus identifies clusters of linguistic features along four dimensions, onto which academic disciplines, disciplinary groups, levels of study and genre families are mapped. The dimensions are interpreted through text extracts as: (1) Compressed Procedural Information vs Stance towards the Work of Others; (2) Personal Stance; (3) Possible Events vs Completed Events; and (4) Informational Density. Clusters of linguistic features from the comprehensive set of situational perspectives found across this framework can be selected to inform the teaching of a ‘common academic core’, and to inform the design of programmes tailored to the needs of specific disciplines.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)646–674
Number of pages29
JournalApplied Linguistics
Issue number4
Early online date14 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Sheena Gardner is Professor of Applied Linguistics at Coventry University. Her research uses functional, corpus and genre-based approaches to investigates the nature and use of academic English in educational contexts. Her publications include Genres across the Disciplines with Hilary Nesi (Cambridge 2012), Multilingualism, Discourse and Ethnography with Marilyn Martin-Jones (Routledge 2012) and Systemic Functional Linguistics in the Digital Age with Siân Alsop (Equinox 2016).

Hilary Nesi is Professor in English Language at Coventry University. Her research activities concern the discourse of English for academic purposes and the design and use of dictionaries and reference tools in academic contexts. She was principal investigator for the projects to create the BASE corpus of British Academic Spoken English and the BAWE corpus of British Academic Written English. She is the co-author of Genres across the Disciplines: Student writing in higher education (Cambridge University Press 2012).

Douglas Biber is Regents' Professor of Applied Linguistics at Northern Arizona University. His research on corpus linguistics, English grammar, and register variation (in English and cross-linguistic; synchronic and diachronic) has resulted in over 220 research articles, 8 edited books, and 15 authored books and monographs.


  • student writing
  • Academic Writing
  • multidimensional analysis
  • BAWE corpus
  • disciplinary differences


Dive into the research topics of 'Discipline, level, genre: Integrating situational perspectives in a new MD analysis of university student writing'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this