Research Article

Expert writers’ structural outlines in research papers: An inquiry into social sciences

DOI: 10.2989/16073614.2021.1942099
Author(s): Xianqing Luo, China, Jason Miin-Hwa Lim, Malaysia


While novice writers are often expected to lucidly demonstrate the order in which different components of their reports are arranged, it is not clear as to whether such outlines are sufficiently prevalent in some social sciences. Neither are we certain about the range of structure- related language resources that can be introduced to novice writers. Based on an in-depth textual analysis and specialist informants’ inputs, this study ascertained the prevalence of structural outlines, reasons for using or avoiding them, and the linguistic resources needed to present them in high impact journals in two social science disciplines, namely ethnic studies (ES) and industrial relations (IR). It was found that the majority of the ES researchers avoid structural outlines, but most of the IR researchers incorporate them for reasons associated with the research methodologies chosen. While ES researchers prefer to use locative adverbials and different tenses, IR researchers tend to employ passive structures in structural outlines. Expert writers in both disciplines, however, rely on the use of nominalisations denoting discourse categories and personal pronouns in combination with communication, accomplishment and activity verbs. Recommendations are provided on how instructors can prepare relevant teaching materials to raise students’ consciousness of the prevalent lexico-grammatical choices needed.

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