Grammatical Complexity in Discipline-specific Student Writing: Writing Development, Writing Quality, and Functional Description

Project: Research

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The aim of this project is to help university students improve their discipline-specific English writing in Hong Kong (HK). English is used as a medium for academic and professional communication in specialized areas in HK, for example, business, science, and education. To enhance students’ communication in these areas, HK universities often provide mandatory discipline-specific English courses for first-year undergraduate students. One major course objective is to help students build appropriate grammatical structures for effective communication with intended audiences in disciplinary communities. However, students are now linguistically more diverse than they used to be: Both local and international students have different English-learning backgrounds prior to coming to the university. Thus, it is a challenge for instructors to effectively address the learning needs of such a diverse group. This challenge has not been comprehensively tackled, although it can affect students’ academic success in specific disciplines and their professional careers in the future.To address this challenge, this project will analyze grammatical structures in a corpus of student writing to provide recommendations for effective communication in disciplinary written contexts. The student writing will be collected from four discipline-specific courses: English for Science, English for Engineering, English for Business, and English for Humanities and Social Sciences at a HK university. The four courses are designed for major disciplines, and the student writing from these courses represent important genres that students need to master for effective communication in the disciplines. For each discipline-specific context, three important aspects of English learning will be emphasized: a) Student writers: Analyzing stages of writing development for students with diverse English-learning backgrounds based on selected grammatical measures; b) Writing assessment: Exploring the relationship between grammatical measures and teachers’ judgements of writing quality; c) Writing instruction: Providing a functional description of co-occurring grammatical features and their communicative functions in good-quality student writing.Few studies have focused on how grammatical structures are related to writing development, writing quality, and functional description in discipline-specific student writing. Bridging this gap will not only contribute to existing knowledge on second language writing but will also have important impacts on discipline-specific English education in HK universities. Benefits include providing targeted instruction for students at different stages of writing development, offering teacher training for assessing writing assignments, and providing evidence-based guidelines for the development of instructional materials. The beneficiaries are stakeholders related to discipline-specific English education, including students, teachers, and program coordinators in HK universities and beyond.


Project number9048259
Grant typeECS
Effective start/end date1/01/23 → …