Combining intuition with corpus linguistic analysis: a longitudinal study of lexical chunks in four students’ writing

Leedham, Maria (2010). Combining intuition with corpus linguistic analysis: a longitudinal study of lexical chunks in four students’ writing. In: Formulaic Language Research Network (FLaRN), 23-26 Mar 2010, Paderborn, Germany.



This paper describes a longitudinal case study of the academic writing of four undergraduate Chinese students from UK universities in terms of changes in the lexical chunks in their assessed writing. A total of 37 assignments comprising 48,000 words from the students’ writing within the disciplines of Engineering, Hospitality Management, and Food Science are analysed with the aim of tracing the development of chunks over time. A further aim is methodological since two approaches to identifying chunks are compared. In the literature on lexical chunks, a dichotomy is frequently purported to exist between intuition-based methods of finding language deemed to be ‘formulaic’ (Wray, 2008), and frequency-based means of extracting ‘n-grams’ using computer software.

In the former method, each student’s assignments are read by this researcher in order to identify noticeable chunks. The second method uses WordSmith Tools v.5 (Scott, 2008) to compare the number of occurrences of chunks within assignments by individual students with the number of occurrences found in reference corpora of first language English texts in the same disciplines. This paper discusses the benefits of combining both of these methods in a recursive process of reading the original Word documents and conducting corpus analyses on the texts. Discussion centres on how the methods complement and reveal more about the students’ writing together than either can in isolation. The analyses also uncover changes in each student’s writing over the three year period of their undergraduate degrees. Finally, tentative suggestions are made with regard to the teaching of academic writing to both native English speaking and non-native English speaking student groups across discipline areas.

Scott, M. (2008). Wordsmith Tools v.5.
Wray, A. (2008). Formulaic Language: Pushing the Boundaries. Oxford: OUP.

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