Abstracts in Academic Discourse

Variation and Change

by Marina Bondi (Volume editor) Rosa Lorés Sanz (Volume editor)
©2013 Edited Collection 376 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 187


The book brings together a rich variety of perspectives on abstracts as an academic genre. Drawing on genre analysis and corpus linguistics, the studies collected here combine attention to generic structure with emphasis on language variation and change, thus offering a multi-perspective view on a genre that is becoming one of the most important in present-day research communication. The chapters are organized into three sections, each one offering distinct but sometimes combined perspectives on the exploration of this academic genre. The first section looks at variation across cultures through studies comparing English with Spanish, Italian and German, while also including considerations on variation across genders or the native/non-native divide. The second section centres on variation across disciplines and includes a wide range of studies exploring disciplinary identities and communities, as well as different degrees of centrality in the disciplinary community. The third and final section explores language and genre change by looking at how authorial voice and metadiscourse have changed over the past few decades under the influence of different media and different stakeholders.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction: Rosa Lorés Sanz / Marina Bondi
  • Section 1: Variation across Cultures
  • Evidential and Epistemic Devices in English and Spanish Medical, Computing and Legal Scientific Abstracts: A Contrastive Study: Francisco Alonso-Almeida
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Data and method
  • 3. Evidentiality and epistemic modality: a description of a terminological indeterminacy
  • 4. Results and discussion of findings
  • 4.1. Lexical devices
  • 4.2. Modal verbs
  • 5. Conclusions
  • Abstracts: Cross-linguistic, Disciplinary and Intercultural Perspectives: Ines-A. Busch-Lauer
  • 1. Relevance, definition and classification of abstracts
  • 1.1. The abstract as a genre of particular relevance in the academia
  • 1.2. The categories of abstracts
  • 1.3. Abstracts from a linguistic perspective
  • 2. Disciplinary, cross-linguistic and intercultural aspects
  • 2.1. Disciplinary aspects
  • 2.1.1. Length of abstracts
  • 2.1.2. Structure of abstracts in the disciplines
  • 2.1.3. Samples – Linguistics, Medicine and Technology
  • Linguistic abstracts
  • Medical Abstracts
  • Technology abstract - nanotechnology
  • 2.2. Cross-linguistic and intercultural aspects
  • 2.3. Metadiscourse and author involvement
  • 3. Writing abstracts
  • 3.1. General remarks and textbooks
  • 3.2. Experience from teaching the genre abstract to students
  • 4. Conclusion
  • Source text material
  • On English and Italian Research Article Abstracts: Genre Variation Across Cultures: Giuliana Diani
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Materials and methods
  • 3. Move analysis in English and Italian linguistics RA abstracts: An overview
  • 4. Detailed analysis of moves in English and Italian linguistics RA abstracts: cross-cultural comparison
  • 4.1. The ‘Introduction’ move
  • 4.2. The ‘Purpose’ move
  • 4.3. The ‘Methodology’ move
  • 4.4. The ‘Results’ move
  • 4.5. The ‘Conclusion’ move
  • 5. Conclusion
  • Lost (and Gained) in Translation: A Contrastive (English/Spanish) Analysis of Rhetorical and Lexicogrammatical Patterns in Sociology RA Abstracts: Rosa Lorés Sanz
  • 1. Introduction. Research article abstracts in the globalized world of scientific communication
  • 2. Methodology and corpus description
  • 3. Results and discussion
  • 3.1. Rhetorical structure of Sociology RA abstracts as reflected in the three (linguistic) contexts of analysis
  • 3.2. Lexicogrammatical realizations in the Objectives move in Sociology RA abstracts: a look into typicality
  • 4. Conclusions
  • Gender and Academicity: Insights from Research Article Abstracts: Andrzej Łyda / Krystyna Warchał
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Gender and communication in the academia
  • 3. Academic lexis in abstracts of linguistics research papers
  • 3.1. The abstract: a generic view
  • 3.2. Material studied and procedure
  • 3.3. Results
  • 4. Concluding remarks
  • Section 2: Variation Across Disciplines
  • Influence of Collocational Variations on Making the PhD Abstract an Effective “Would-be Insider” Self-promotional Tool: Geneviève Bordet
  • 1. Introduction
  • 1.1. Abstracts as a genre in today’s scientific publishing
  • 1.2. Abstract, genre, text and moves
  • 1.3. Abstracts, genre, text and collocations
  • 2. Aims of the study
  • 3. Corpus selection
  • 4. Methodology
  • 4.1. Identification of the moves structure and of the “collocational chains”
  • 4.1.1. All texts are marked for rhetoric moves
  • 4.1.2. All texts are marked for “collocational chains”
  • 4.2. Analysis of the “collocational chains” and their rhetorical distribution
  • 4.2.1. At sub-corpus level
  • 4.2.2. At text level
  • 4.3. Interpretation of the data collected at sub-corpus and text level
  • 5. Pivotal terms and collocational variation: four case studies
  • 5.1. Case study 1: Materials science L1
  • 5.1.1. Nature and role of the collocations’ variations across the rhetorical structure at text level
  • 5.1.2. Frequency analysis of pivotal terms at text and sub-corpus level
  • 5.1.3. Distributional analysis at sub-corpus and text level
  • 5.2. Case study 2: Didactics of mathematics L1
  • 5.2.1. Nature and role of the collocations’ variations across the rhetorical structure at text level
  • 5.2.2. Frequency analysis of pivotal terms at sub-corpus level
  • 5.2.3. Distributional analysis at sub-corpus level
  • 5.3. Case study 3: collocational variation in a text taken from the Materials science L2 sub-corpus
  • 5.4. Case study 4: collocational variation in a text taken from of Didactics of mathematics L2
  • 6. From text to corpus and back
  • 6.1. The moves structure
  • 6.2. Collocational chain formation
  • 6.2.1. Choice and use of general terms
  • 6.2.2. Choice and use of specialized terms
  • 6.3. Collocational chain pattern
  • 7. Comparative analysis
  • 8. Conclusion
  • Variation Across Disciplines. The Case of Applied Linguistics and Medicine: Silvia Cavalieri
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Materials and Methods
  • 3. Results
  • 3.1. Differences in the move structure between MED and AL abstracts
  • 3.2. Differences in style
  • 3.3. Lexical patterns of framing verbs
  • 4. Conclusions
  • A Genre-oriented Analysis of Research Article Abstracts in Law and Business Journals: Anna-Maria Hatzitheodorou
  • 1. Introduction: the genre of the research article abstract
  • 2. The study
  • 2.1. The corpus
  • 2.2. Methodology
  • 2.2.1. Frameworks of analysis
  • 2.2.2. The proposed framework for the analysis of abstracts
  • 3. Results
  • 3.1. Quantitative results
  • 3.2. Qualitative analysis
  • 3.2.1. Abstract from The Total Quality Management journal
  • Macro-structural analysis: major moves
  • Micro-structural analysis: linguistic realizations of moves
  • 3.2.2. Abstract from the European Law Journal
  • Macro-structural analysis: major moves
  • Micro-structural analysis: linguistic realizations of moves
  • 3.2.3. Abstract from the Child and Family Law Quarterly
  • 4. Discussion
  • Appendices
  • Appendix 1. Moves in research article abstracts of law journals.
  • Appendix 2. Moves in research article abstracts of business journals.
  • Appendix 3. Number of sub-moves and percentages of occurrence in the legal journals.
  • Appendix 4. Number of sub-moves and percentages of occurrence in the business journals.
  • Research Article Abstracts as Domain-specific Epistemological Indicators: A Corpus-based Study: Michele Sala
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Material and methodology
  • 3. Results
  • 3.1. Attribution
  • 3.2. Knowledge thematization
  • 4. Discussion
  • 5. Conclusion
  • Abstract Quality in Complementary and Alternative Medicine Papers: A Structural and Cross-Generic Analysis: Françoise Salager-Meyer / María Ángeles Alcaraz Ariza / Beverly A. Lewin
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Corpus and methods
  • 2.1. CAM Journal selection and corpus size
  • 2.2. Guidelines/Instructions for authors (first objective)
  • 2.3. Journal requirement and actual publication (second objective)
  • 3. Results and discussion
  • 3.1. Journal guideline analysis
  • 3.2. Some inconsistencies found in guidelines
  • 3.3. Published paper abstracts
  • 3.3.1. Total number of published structured abstracts and compliance with abstract structure guidelines (Table 5)
  • 3.3.2. Favored abstract pattern (Table 6)
  • 4. Conclusions
  • Acknowledgements
  • Section 3: Language and Genre Change: A Diachronic Perspective
  • Changing Voices: Authorial Voice in Abstracts: Marina Bondi
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Materials and methods: focus on framing
  • 2.1. Corpus description
  • 2.2. Methods
  • 3. Voice markers: variation and change
  • 3.1. An overview
  • 3.2. Self-mention: First person markers
  • 3.3. Locational self-mention
  • 3.4. Personal vs. locational self-mentions in framework sequences
  • 3.5. Markers of stance and argument
  • 4. Discussion and conclusion
  • Shifting Metadiscourse: Looking for Diachrony in the Abstract Genre: Paul Gillaerts
  • 1. Introduction and corpus
  • 1.1. Corpus
  • 1.2. The metadiscourse model (Hyland 2005)
  • 2. Metadiscourse: methodological issues
  • 2.1. Discourse or metadiscourse?
  • 2.2. Double coding
  • 2.3. Distinguishing between metadiscourse markers
  • 3. Analysis
  • 3.1. MD density
  • 3.2. The evolution in MD markers
  • 3.3. Positions of the metadiscourse
  • 4. Conclusions
  • Development of Academic Journal Abstracts in Relation to the Demands of Stakeholders: Akiko Okamura / Philip Shaw
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Different approaches to the rhetorical moves in academic journal abstracts
  • 2.1. Standards
  • 2.2. Journals
  • 2.3. Information science
  • 2.4. The discourse-analytic tradition.
  • 3. Evaluative language and discourse in abstracts
  • 4. Data and Method
  • 4.1. Data
  • 4.2. Method
  • 4.2.1. Moves analysis
  • 4.2.2. Corpus analysis
  • 5. Findings
  • 5.1. Length
  • 5.2. Analysis of moves
  • 5.3. Linguistic features
  • 5.3.1. Self-mention words (e.g. I, we, my, our, the author(s), the researcher(s), this paper)
  • 5.3.2. Proposition-evaluating verbs
  • 5.3.3. Use of nouns
  • 5.4. On-line presentation of abstracts in 2010
  • 6. Discussion
  • 6.1. Disciplinary difference
  • 6.2. Standardization
  • 6.3. Promotional discourse
  • 7. Conclusion
  • Acknowledgements
  • Afterword: John M. Swales
  • References
  • Internet sources
  • Notes on Contributors



This book draws together a rich variety of perspectives on abstracts as an academic genre. Though not as widely researched as research articles, abstracts have drawn the attention of a number of genre researchers over the past two decades. Their relatively standardized textual structure, together with their manageable size, make it comparatively easy for analysts to look at rhetorical moves (Bhatia 1993; Kaplan et al. 1994; Dos Santos 1996; Hyland 2000; Stotesbury 2003; Martìn-Martìn 2003; Lorés 2004) or sentence relations (Bondi 2004; Van Bonn/Swales 2007; Golebiowski 2009). The pervasiveness of the genre in contemporary scientific discourse, as well as its growing importance in a world where scientific production has increased steadily, emphasize the need for more detailed analyses of the different sub-genres of abstracts, of their changing language features and of their variation across disciplines and cultures.

Focus on textual structure shows substantial agreement as to the key role played by representing the various stages of research in the generic structure of abstracts, mostly mirroring the typical IMRD structure (Introduction-Methods-Results-Discussion). The number of moves or stages of the abstract – as well as the names of the moves – seem to vary from one study to another. Bhatia (1993: 78-79) identifies four moves: 1. Introducing purpose: a statement of the author's intention (the problem to be tackled, the objectives of the paper, the hypothesis on which the research is based, the thesis supported); 2. Describing methodology: an exposition of the experimental design ← 9 | 10 → (data, procedures, methods, scope); 3. Summarizing results: a statement of the author's findings and observations on the suggested solutions to the problems; 4. Presenting conclusions: the interpretation of the results, a statement of the inferences that can be drawn from the findings and the implications and applications they suggest. Dos Santos (1996: 484-490) suggests that there is frequently a fifth move, preceding all the others: Situating the research, typically realized by Stating current knowledge and/or Citing previous research and/or Extending previous research and/or Stating a problem.

Emerging interest in cross-disciplinary variation has shifted attention from greater emphasis placed on general features (Swales 1990; Bhatia 1993) to conventions and modes of inquiry that constitute each discipline (discourse community) and its ‘disciplinary culture’ (Hyland/Bondi 2006). Some scholars have investigated abstracts across disciplines (e.g. Bhatia 1993; Melander et al. 1997; Hyland 2000, 2004; Samraj 2002, 2005; Bondi 2004; Dahl 2004b, 2009), while others have focused their investigation on one specific discipline or field: (bio)medical studies (Anderson/Maclean 1997; Busch-Lauer 1995a, 1995b; Huckin 2001), experimental social sciences (Martìn-Martìn 2002, 2003), economics (Bondi 1997, 2001) or (applied) linguistics (Dos Santos 1996; Lorés 2004; Pho 2008). Adopting a sequential structure Introduction-Purpose-Method-Results-Conclusion, Hyland (2000) found it hardly fits onto humanities abstracts, where introductions are more important than methods. In his view, this can be related to the different purpose of research in the humanities: discussing or defining an issue, rather than establishing empirical truths (Hyland 2000: 72).

Even when working within the same disciplinary field, generic structures may be perceived to vary by different analysts. While Huckin (2006), for example, identifies only four moves for the biomedical abstract (Purpose, Methodology, Results and Conclusions), Anderson and Maclean (1997) divide the medical abstract into five moves (Background, Purpose, Methods, Results and Conclusion) and Busch-Lauer (1995a, 1995b) identifies six: Background, Purpose, Methodology, Results, Conclusions and Suggestions/Recommendations. Emphasis on internal variation can be seen in Salager-Meyer (1990), with its focus on different research types and different textual genres ← 10 | 11 → in medical journals. Variation in the identification of the structure can thus depend on patterns of move balance, move embedding and move reversal, which are used to add emphasis, relevance or visibility to specific features of the specific type of research being reported or the specific function of the abstract.

The current growth of English as the international language of research publications has also intensified cultural contact and possibly brought about new international standards in rhetoric and language use. Studies of academic discourse have also long shown interest in contrastive rhetoric (Connor 1996, 2002, 2004; Mauranen 1993a, 1993b, 2001; Casanave 2004), with an emphasis on the role of local cultures on the rhetorical organization of texts and on the definition of a “cultural identity” in academic prose (Breivega et al. 2002; Fløttum/Rastier 2003). The contrastive exploration of abstracts has usually involved English and other languages as L1 (Alharbi 1997; Alharbi/Swales 2011; Burgess/Martín-Martín 2010; Busch-Lauer 1995a, 1995b; Divasson-Civeti/Léon-Pérez 2006; Martín-Martín 2003, 2005; Lorés-Sanz 2006, 2009a; van Bonn/Swales 2007), but increasing interest has been shown in comparing abstracts in a different L1 with English translations (Bielski/Bielska 2008) or in working with both parallel and comparable corpora (López-Arroyo et al. 2007; López-Arroyo/Méndez Cendón 2007).

Diachronic investigation of the historical development of abstracts as a genre has been more limited, but long present in major studies on academic genres (e.g. Bazerman 1988; Berkenkotter/ Huckin 1995; Gross et al. 2002). The rapid extension of abstracting practices in different fields over the past century and their growing importance in the context of research communication have been investigated by many (e.g. Salager-Meyer 1990; Melander et al. 1997; Berkenkotter/Huckin 1995; Gross et al. 2002; Swales/Feak 2009) and variously related to changes in structure or language, often within single disciplines (Bazermann 1988 and Berkenkotter/Huckin 1995 for physics; Salager-Meyer 1990, 1992 and Atkinson 1992 for medical research writing; Bondi 1997 for economics; Bondi/Cavalieri 2012 and Gillaerts/Van de Velde 2010 for linguistics). Specific studies of disciplinary and cross-disciplinary corpora illustrate how abstracts developed their current features and what the recent spread of abstracts ← 11 | 12 → across different disciplines may be bringing about, in the context of an unprecedented growth of publications, the increasingly international nature of discourse communities, as well as the development of larger electronic databases.

All the trends mentioned above are brought into focus by the different sections of the present volume. Drawing from genre analysis and corpus linguistics, the studies collected here combine attention to generic structure with emphasis on language variation and change, thus offering a multi-perspective view on a genre that is becoming one of the most important in present-day research communication.

Abstracts in Academic Discourse: Variation and Change is structured in three sections, each one offering distinct but sometimes combined perspectives on the exploration of this academic genre. The section Variation across cultures opens the book with FRANCISCO ALONSO-ALMEIDA’s work, which adopts the cross-cultural perspective in his study of evidential and epistemic devices in English and Spanish abstracts in the disciplines of medicine, computing and law. Starting with a definition of the abstract genre in semantic, textual and functional terms, the author provides an overview of the deep ongoing discussion concerning the categories of epistemic modality and evidentiality. Data from the corpus under study are divided into lexical items with an evidential or an epistemic semantic load, and modals. Among other findings, the study reveals that there is a great deal of variation regarding disciplinary practices for authors to show their stance towards their texts. As for the cross-linguistic contrast, one important conclusion of this chapter is that, in general terms, the use of evidential and epistemic devices is more prominent in the English subcorpus than in the Spanish one across disciplines, thus presenting a more strategic use of these devices with the combination of lexical words and modal verbs both to soften their claims and to protect their public self-image by the avoidance of imposition.

In the second chapter, INES BUSCH-LAUER introduces a multi-view approach to the exploration of the academic genre under study. Starting with the presentation of categories of abstracts, the author focuses on various cross-linguistic, intercultural and disciplinary aspects. Text composition (length and structure) and language features are also illustrated. A final section on the writing of abstracts provides ← 12 | 13 → a proposal on how to teach abstract writing to ELF speaker students of technical subjects.

GIULIANA DIANI adopts a cross-linguistic and cross-cultural perspective in her study of the genre, examining comparatively the rhetorical structure of research article abstracts written in English for international scientific journals and abstracts written in Italian and published in Italian journals in the field of linguistics. Her aim is to investigate the rhetorical preferences that characterise the members of the international and Italian scientific communities in this field. Diani’s study shows that the rhetorical structure of research article abstracts written in Italian in the field of linguistics conforms to the international conventions based on the norms of the English academic discourse community. However, abstracts by Italian linguists are less rhetorically complex than the English abstracts. In the author’s view, these differences can be explained on the basis of several socio-cultural factors, such as different intellectual styles and cultural patterns, or the influence (or lack) of academic writing instruction.

Cross-culturality is also the perspective adopted by ROSA LORÉS-SANZ in her contribution to the study of academic abstracts. The author contrastively explores the rhetorical structure and lexicogrammatical patterning which characterize Sociology research article abstracts written in English as L1 and published in leading international journals, and the English translations of Spanish abstracts written by Spanish academics and published in national journals but indexed in international databases. The final aim is to anticipate the difficulties academics in the field of Sociology may have when disseminating their research in English. The rhetorical structure of abstracts in English by Spanish Sociologists seems to be much less complex, which may have implications as to the way L2 English abstracts are received by their international addressees. As regards the lexicogrammar, distinct phraseological patterns are found, which reveal that an adjusting process takes place between the primary text (the Spanish abstract), on the one hand, and the target linguistic and rhetorical requirements (English as the language of international academic communication) on the other.

The first section closes with ANDRZEJ ŁYDA and KRYSTYNA Warchał’s contribution, which looks into the writing practices, and ← 13 | 14 → more specifically, the lexical choices of male and female scholars, and the interaction of gender with other parameters such as native vs. non-native status of the author. Based on a corpus of abstracts in the discipline of linguistics, the study focuses on the extent to which the writers rely on academic vocabulary and disciplinary terminology to produce a successful abstract, in an attempt to relate lexical strategies to the gender of the writer. Their data and findings point at complex interactions between gender and a whole array of variables, such as academic experience, academic recognition status and L1–L2 distance, which might explain the different use that male and female authors of linguistics abstracts make of academic lexis.

The second section, Variation across disciplines, collects chapters which mainly adopt a cross-disciplinary perspective but which also display integrating and combinatory approaches. This is the case of the chapter by GENEVIÈVE BORDET, who studies the collocational variations and their text-structuring role in a corpus of PhD abstracts, within the disciplines of mathematics education and materials science, all written in English, by native (L1) writers and by non-native French (L2) writers. Bordet argues that reiteration of lexical (‘pivotal’) items and their collocational variations together form a powerful device for the creation of an authoritative abstract, likely to be received by the targeted community as a both acceptable and innovative discourse. Bordet argues that collocational chains can adapt to the specific epistemological research pattern of the disciple, thus offering ‘would-be insiders’ a valuable opportunity to demonstrate, in a strictly limited space and in the absence of most other rhetorical devices, their legitimacy through an appropriate mastering of the field vocabulary.

The exploration of abstracts across disciplines is also the focus of study for SILVIA CAVALIERI. The author investigates differences and similarities of the abstract as a genre across the disciplines of applied linguistics and medicine, focusing on move structure and ‘framework sequences’, metadiscursive expressions combining forms of self-mentions, and frame markers (Hyland 2005) used to represent the structure of the abstracted article. The study further considers the question of writer’s visibility (personal/impersonal style). In her results, Cavalieri shows that medicine researchers have a greater awareness of their research community, demonstrated by the presence in ← 14 | 15 → medicine abstracts of the situating research move, that allows writers to anchor their research to previous literature claiming centrality to the topic discussed in their paper. In applied linguistics abstracts, on the contrary, there is a greater presence of verbs of saying, showing the disciplinary preference for attribution rather than averral.

In her chapter, ANNA-MARIA HATZITHEODOROU designs a move analysis framework with the aim to reveal disciplinary variation and patterns of move deployment in research article abstracts of law and business. The author finds that the frequency of occurrence of moves is determined by the journal where the abstract is published and that certain moves are more central than others. Her methodological approach proves to be a vantage point at the time of highlighting the links between purpose in writing and content and style, and can, therefore, prove useful to ESP/EAP teaching as it can sensitize students to the discursive practices of their disciplines.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (April)
genre analysis corpus linguistics media stakeholders
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 376 pp., num. fig. and tables

Biographical notes

Marina Bondi (Volume editor) Rosa Lorés Sanz (Volume editor)

Marina Bondi is Professor of English Language and Translation at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, where she is also Director of the CLAVIER (Corpus and Language Variation in English Research) centre. She has published on various aspects of discourse analysis, genre analysis, argumentation, metadiscourse, evaluative language and corpus approaches to specialised discourse. Rosa Lorés-Sanz is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and German Studies of the University of Zaragoza. She has edited books and published articles in national and international journals on pragmatics and translation, and corpus and contrastive studies (English- Spanish) applied to academic and specialized languages. She is a member of the research group InterLAE.


Title: Abstracts in Academic Discourse
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