A Corpus-Based Study of Academic Vocabulary in Foundation-Level Students' Assessed Academic Writing at a UK University

Therova, Dana (2021). A Corpus-Based Study of Academic Vocabulary in Foundation-Level Students' Assessed Academic Writing at a UK University. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00012672


Academic vocabulary is widely recognised as a key aspect of writing style in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) contexts, and there is a well-established link between the knowledge and use of academic vocabulary and academic achievement. Given that written assignments represent one of the main modes of assessment at UK universities, the significance of academic vocabulary in assessed academic writing seems indisputable.

This study reports on a textual analysis of the deployment of academic vocabulary in four genres of assessed academic writing produced by multilingual foundation-level students (N=193), in the context of one UK university in 2014 - 2018. It also investigates the deployment of academic vocabulary longitudinally by considering the development of these vocabulary items over the duration of a one-year foundation programme. Textual analysis is conducted through a corpus-based approach assisted by AntWordProfiler (Anthony, 2014) and AntConc (Anthony, 2018), which enable the identification and further exploration of academic vocabulary items on the basis of the New Academic Vocabulary List (Gardner & Davies, 2014). This is complemented by an online survey (N=51) and semi-structured interviews (N=14) exploring students’ perceptions of the main factors contributing to the acquisition, deployment and development of academic vocabulary items in their written assignments.

Findings generated by textual analysis highlight the effects of the writing genre, topic and assignment brief on academic vocabulary in written production. The interview and survey findings underline the importance of an instructed environment and exposure to appropriate sources as well as the vital role of feedback, peer support and opportunities for practice. These findings have potentially important pedagogical implications for foundation programmes catering for diverse student populations.

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