Prescription and reality in advanced academic writing

Feng Kevin Jiang, Ken Hyland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
38 Downloads (Pure)


The byzantine conventions of advanced academic writing in English are notoriously difficult for graduate students and junior scholars to gain control over. Global higher education and academic publishing have seen a massive expansion in recent years, so that the ability to demonstrate insider disciplinary competence and a grasp of scholarly persuasion has become essential for academic success. With courses in English for Research and Publication Purposes (ERPP) in their infancy and unknown in many countries, writers often turn to the advice of style manuals for guidance. Here they often find recommendations to follow general principles of clarity, brevity and objectivity and are given advice on specific features to achieve this. In this paper we examine three of the most commonly referred to features: demonstrative ‘this’, existential ‘there’ and first-person pronouns. With the aid of a diachronic corpus of articles from four disciplines over the past 50 years, we find that expert use of these features has increasingly departed from the advice in the guides. We describe how the use of these features has changed and stress what instructors in ERPP courses might teach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-42
Number of pages29
Issue number39
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020


  • style guides
  • prescriptive advice
  • research writing
  • Corpora

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