Researching Learning and Learners in Genre-based Academic Writing Instruction

by Wei Wang (Author) Maurizio Gotti (Volume editor)
©2018 Thesis VIII, 278 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 247


This book contributes insights into second language (L2) students’ learning of academic genres in English for academic purposes (EAP) writing classes by its focus on the current EAP practice in the context of higher education of China. It presents knowledge construction of genre learning research in L2 writing and English for specific purposes (ESP) genre studies, and reports an in-depth qualitative inquiry into three issues of instruction-based genre learning in an academic writing class: students’ learning process of an academic genre in the community of an EAP writing class, students’ individual factors in the learning process, and genre knowledge development through engagement in genre-focused writing instruction. The book has theoretical implications for learning English for academic purposes as well as for learning English as a foreign language in general. It also has pedagogical implications for genre teaching in EAP at Chinese universities and similar educational contexts.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1: Second Language Genre Learning
  • 1.1 Genre and genre learning
  • 1.1.1 Genre
  • 1.1.2 Genre knowledge, genre learning, and learners
  • 1.2 Research on genre learning
  • 1.2.1 Genre learning communities
  • 1.2.2 Genre learning tasks
  • 1.2.3 Individual factors of genre learning
  • 1.3 A specific genre focused – learning thesis writing
  • 1.3.1 Definition and description of the thesis genre
  • 1.3.2 Thesis writing research
  • 1.3.3 Learning thesis writing
  • 1.4 Research focus and design of the current study
  • Chapter 2: Theoretical Framework
  • 2.1 Three strands of theories
  • 2.2 Mediated action
  • 2.3 L2 writer characteristics
  • 2.3.1 Learner autonomy
  • 2.3.2 Discoursal identity
  • 2.3.3 Critical language awareness
  • 2.4 Genre knowledge development
  • 2.4.1 Multidimensional genre knowledge development
  • 2.4.2 Metacognitive genre awareness
  • 2.5 An integrated theoretical framework
  • Chapter 3: Research Design and Methodology
  • 3.1 Research design
  • 3.2 Research context
  • 3.3 Participants
  • 3.4 Methods of data collection
  • 3.4.1 Interviews
  • 3.4.2 Documents
  • 3.5 Research procedures
  • 3.5.1 Recruitment of participants
  • 3.5.2 Research sessions
  • 3.6 Data analysis methods
  • 3.6.1 Constant-comparative method
  • 3.6.2 Textual analysis
  • 3.7 Trustworthiness of the study
  • Chapter 4: Genre Learning Actions
  • 4.1 Responding to explicit instruction
  • 4.2 Interacting with the course instructor
  • 4.2.1 Obtaining assistance with writing practice
  • 4.2.2 Obtaining assistance with research procedures
  • 4.3 Engaging in writing practice
  • 4.4 Drawing on discipline-specific subjects
  • 4.5 Discussion
  • 4.5.1 Primary access to genre knowledge
  • 4.5.2 Individualized scaffolding
  • 4.5.3 Extension of the learning context
  • Chapter 5: Individual Factors of Genre Learners
  • 5.1 English proficiency
  • 5.1.1 Paraphrasing
  • 5.1.2 Use of reporting verbs
  • 5.2 Self-initiative
  • 5.3 Previous L2 writing experiences
  • 5.4 Discussion
  • 5.4.1 Language development and genre learning
  • 5.4.2 Self-initiative in genre learning
  • 5.4.3 Re-mediation of prior L2 writing knowledge
  • 5.4.4 Pragmatic critical awareness
  • Chapter 6: Developing Genre Knowledge
  • 6.1 Formal knowledge
  • 6.2 Rhetorical knowledge
  • 6.2.1 Sociorhetorical purpose
  • 6.2.2 Intertextuality
  • 6.2.3 Authorial stance
  • 6.3 Process knowledge
  • 6.4 Subject-matter knowledge
  • 6.4.1 Lack of sufficient disciplinary knowledge
  • 6.4.2 Enhanced understanding of subject matter
  • 6.5 Discussion
  • 6.5.1 Developing macro-level and micro-level formal knowledge
  • 6.5.2 Rhetorical knowledge in instruction-based genre learning
  • 6.5.3 Process knowledge development in an instructional context
  • 6.5.4 Interplay between multiple genre knowledge domains
  • 6.5.5 Characteristics of the learners’ genre knowledge and the preparedness of EAP thesis writing class
  • Chapter 7: Learning and Teaching in Genre-based Academic Writing Classes
  • 7.1 An instruction-based genre learning model
  • 7.1.1 Learning community
  • 7.1.2 Individual factors of learners
  • 7.1.3 Genre knowledge
  • 7.2 Implications for genre-focused academic writing classes
  • 7.2.1 Scaffolding genre knowledge and metacognitive genre awareness
  • 7.2.2 Combining genre-focused writing instruction with disciplinary ways of knowing and doing
  • 7.2.3 Adjusting to individual factors of genre learners
  • 7.3 Future research on academic genre learning
  • References
  • Appendix A: An interview guide (students)
  • Appendix B: An interview guide (the course instructor)
  • Appendix C: A guide for keeping process logs
  • Appendix D: A sample extract of interview transcripts
  • Appendix E: An overview of participants’ writing
  • Appendix F: A sample of participants’ written texts
  • Appendix G: A sample extract of participants’ process logs
  • Appendix H: A sample of discourse-based interviews
  • Appendix I: Move-step structure of participants’ writing
  • Index
  • Series index

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Second language (L2) writing research in the past three decades has made substantial progress theoretically and pedagogically, as Manchon put it:

The past 25 years have witnessed a gradual expansion of the theoretical frameworks and epistemological paradigms informing and guiding [L2 writing] research, greater variety in theoretical, applied, and … methodological preoccupations of L2 writing researchers, enlarged range of research methods, the expansion of contexts and populations under study, and … scrutiny of more diverse purposes for learning and teaching writing. (2012: 2)

An important area of L2 writing research is genre studies that emerged in the late 1980s and has now become “a central and remarkably productive concept in second language writing studies” (Hyon 1996; Tardy 2011: 2). Genre studies have shifted the focus of L2 writing research from texts to the interactive relationship between texts and contexts and emphasized the social-rhetorical dimensions of L2 writing.

Genre studies are diversified in theoretical perspectives and pedagogical implementation (Hyon 1996; Tardy 2011). There are three major schools of genre studies in the linguistics field: English for Specific Purposes (ESP) studies, Rhetorical Genre Studies (RGS), and Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) studies (Bawarshi/Reiff 2010; Hyland 2004; Hyon 1996; Johns 2003, 2008, 2011; Paltridge 2013, 2014; Schryer 2011; Swales 1990, 2001, 2012).

The concept of genre in the ESP school, which is of central concern in this book, is grounded in Swales’ seminal work (1981, 1986, 1990). It refers to a conventionalized communicative event that is situated in a specific discourse community for fulfilling a communicative purpose; a genre thus encompasses prototypical discoursal patterns and lexicogrammatical features shaped and shared in a discourse community. ESP researchers apply genre as an analytical tool for teaching L2 learners the specialized use of English in academic or professional contexts (Belcher 2006; Cheng 2006b; Hyon 1996; Paltridge 2013). Various ← 1 | 2 → analytical frameworks have been generated for identifying discoursal structures and lexicogrammatical features of different genres in academic and professional settings (Bhatia 1993, 2004; Cheng 2006b; Flowerdew 2011b; Hyland 2009; Hyon 1996; Swales 1990, 2004). ESP genre researchers also apply these analytical frameworks to develop genre-based pedagogy and to design curriculum materials (Belcher 2006; Cheng, 2006b; Hyon, 1996; Paltridge, 2013). In the EAP (English for academic purposes) branch of ESP studies, genre comprises a fundamental part of teaching and learning academic writing (Belcher 2006, 2013; Hyland/Hamp-Lyons 2002; Hyon 1996; Paltridge 2014; Tardy 2006). EAP refers to teaching L2 learners the academic use of English for facilitating their study in English-medium academic settings (Hyland/Hamp-Lyons 2002). EAP writing classes focus on the teaching and learning of diverse academic genres that L2 students need in English-medium academic communities, such as research articles, conference papers, undergraduate essays, and thesis and dissertations (Hyland 2009, 2011).

Recent ESP and L2 academic writing research has witnessed an increasing focus on genre learning and genre learners (Belcher 2006, 2013; Cheng 2006b, 2011a; Johns 2002; Paltridge 2014; Tardy 2006, 2009). As in Belcher’s words, “ESP became more learning-centred … focusing not just on what people do with language but how they learn it and encouraging learner investment and participation” (2006: 136). More attention has been shifted from genre analysis, pedagogical designs, and material development to how L2 students learn genres to use English for specific purposes (Belcher 2013; Cheng 2006b; Kuteeva 2013; Negretti/Kuteeva 2011; Tardy 2006). The recent decade has seen a growing scholarship of genre learning and genre learners (e.g., Cheng 2006a, 2008a, 2008b, 2011b; Tardy 2006, 2009). These studies have explored diverse resources and strategies that L2 learners can draw on to develop genre knowledge and identified a variety of learner variables that can affect learners’ approach to acquiring genres.

Current directions of genre learning research extend the scope from genre studies to critical studies, cognitive research, and sociocultural learning research. Recent studies have highlighted the intricacies of genre learning regarding learners’ cognitive development and sociocultural ← 2 | 3 → learning activity (Cheng 2006b; Tardy 2006, 2009, 2016). The exploration of genre learning contexts has extended from writing classrooms to disciplinary and professional communities (Johns 2008, 2017; Tardy, 2006). Genre acquisition through participation in community of practice (Lave/Wenger 1991) is also a part of genre learning research (Li 2007; Tardy 2006; Yang/Wang 2012). Cognitive theories, sociocultural learning theories, and critical theories are frequently adopted in recent genre learning research (e.g., Casanave 2010; Dressen 2008; Kwan 2009; Li 2007; Negretti/McGrath 2018; Phan 2009; Yang/Wang, 2012) to provide “descriptions of, and/or making theoretically-based predictions about the multifaceted nature of development of L2 writing capacities” (Manchon 2012: 5).

However, how learners go through a process of genre learning in a specific instructional context remains a less-developed area. Existing studies on instruction-based genre learning have largely focused on the effects of genre-based instructional frameworks on learners’ academic writing performance (Cheng 2008a; Dovey 2010; Han/Hou 2012; Negretti 2017; Yasuda 2011; C. Zhang 2013). Only a few studies have explored the process of how L2 learners responded to genre-based pedagogical designs and how they interacted with instructional contexts for building up their genre knowledge (e.g., Cheng 2006a, 2008a, 2008b, 2011b; Tardy 2009). A learner-focused perspective on the instruction-based genre learning process merits more attention in L2 genre learning research.

The current development of genre learning research has also witnessed a considerable number of studies conducted in English as a foreign language (EFL) contexts (e.g., Huang 2014; Kuteeva 2013; Kwan 2008, 2009; Li 2007; Negretti /McGrath, 2018; Yang/Wang 2012; Yasuda 2011; Yayli 2011). These studies contributed to knowledge about the EFL contexts of genre learning and the characteristics of EFL genre learners. Nonetheless, learners in EFL settings still remain less represented in the field of L2 writing (Belcher 2013; L. Zhang 2013). There is a need for continuing to explore how EFL students learn genres to use English for specific purposes and “to describe and elucidate local contexts” for genre learning research (Belcher 2013; Leki/Cumming/Silva 2008: 201), especially in the EFL context of China, where ESP ← 3 | 4 → has just started to develop in English language teaching (ELT) at colleges and universities.

English for specific purposes has become one of major directions for innovating current English language teaching at Chinese universities, given Chinese students’ rising needs for the specialized use of English (Cai 2004, 2014, 2017; Duan/Gu 2006; Gu 2010). On the one hand, with globalization, international communication via the English language has prevailed almost everywhere in China, including politics, economy, education, science, and technology. This has given rise to substantial need for talents with English proficiency in specialized fields (Cai 2004; Gu 2010). On the other hand, university freshmen’s English proficiency has improved, due to the emphasis on English learning in primary and secondary schools in China over the past two decades. Traditional ELT curricula in universities, which are oriented towards English for general purposes (EGP), cannot fully cater to advanced English learners’ needs for further English language development (Cai 2004, 2017). This new generation of university students in China needs a kind of follow-up English curricula that can further develop their English proficiency for specialized use in different settings, such as academic or occupational settings (Wang 2010; Ye/Yan 2011). In this context, ESP is promoted as a direction for reforming college English teaching, drawing considerable attention from ELT researchers and professionals in China. One focus of current ESP development at Chinese universities is EAP teaching. EAP at Chinese universities arises from both the internationalized development of higher education in China and dominance of the English language in global academia (Cai 2012, 2014; Geng 2014; Hyland/Hamp-Lyons 2002; Li 2006b; Luo/Xiao 2011; Tardy 2009).

Internationalization has become a major impetus for developing tertiary education in China, since National Medium and Long-term Plan for Education Reform and Development (2010–2020) was issued in 2010 by the State Council of China. English-medium courses are increasingly being offered at universities, giving rise to the use of English for college studies. Furthermore, the number of Chinese students going abroad for pursuit of further studies is growing rapidly (Cai 2012, 2014). It is a challenge for Chinese university students to learn effectively in the English-medium courses, to read textbooks and ← 4 | 5 → other pedagogical materials in English, and to write in academic genres, such as essays and study reports. Even Chinese university students who have pursued their studies abroad still have difficulty adapting to the English-medium academic settings (Cai 2012; Cai/Liao 2010). There is an obvious need for Chinese universities to offer EAP courses that can prepare students to use English effectively for their academic purposes (Cai 2014; Cai/Liao 2010; Ma 2011).

Certainly, postgraduate students in Chinese universities need to use English for participation in global specialist research communities (Geng 2014; Luo/Xiao 2011; Zeng et al. 2013), regarding the dominance of English in global academia (Hyland/Hamp-Lyons 2002; Li 2006b; Tardy 2009). It has been reported that Chinese research students still have difficulties reading the literature in English, writing English theses or research articles, and making presentations in international conferences (Li 2006b; Luo/Xiao 2011; Zeng et al. 2013). Current English courses for postgraduate students seem insufficient to meet their emerging needs for using English academically. EAP can provide Chinese research students with opportunities to develop overall academic English skills.

However, EAP is a relatively new pedagogical form in current English language teaching at Chinese universities, in need of further development. A variety of EAP curriculum designs have been proposed to implement EAP in the EFL pedagogical context of Chinese universities (e.g., Cai 2012, 2014; Ji 2017; Ma 2011; Shu/Chen 2009; Ye/Liu 2013). However, it is unknown to what extent these proposals have been applied in current teaching practice and how such EAP pedagogies have been practiced in class, restricted as it is by current curriculum positioning, material development, and teacher education (Cai/Liao 2010; Gu 2010; Ma 2011). Typically, the EAP courses available at current Chinese universities are in English-medium disciplines, such as the Department of English, but are usually on a relatively small scale.

Genre and genre studies have attracted the attention of Chinese ELT researchers (e.g., Han/Hou 2012; Han/Qin 2000; Liu 2012; Qin 2000; Sun/Wang 2015; Zeng 2001; Zhang 2006). These researchers have proposed ways of adopting genre studies to design EAP courses in Chinese universities. However, little is known about the teaching and ← 5 | 6 → learning practice of academic genres in EAP classes, due to the limited application of those pedagogical proposals and few empirical studies (Luo/Xiao 2011). There is a need for more empirical evidence regarding the teaching and learning of academic genres in EAP courses at Chinese universities, to provide for further developing EAP pedagogy to meet Chinese students’ rising need for using English academically.

This book is set against the backdrop of L2 writing research and ESP genre studies and oriented to the current EAP development at Chinese universities. It reports the investigation of Chinese EFL students’ learning of academic genres in EAP courses at Chinese universities, describes and interprets Chinese EFL students’ instruction-based genre learning experience in an EFL pedagogical context, and proposes a tentative model to conceptualize the instruction-based genre learning for Chinese EFL students.

The focused research in this book is an in-depth qualitative study of how students studied the academic genre of thesis in an EAP writing course at a first-tier university in China. The study has addressed three research questions: (a) how do the focal students learn to write a thesis in the community of an EFL academic writing course? (b) what individual factors influence Chinese EFL students’ genre learning in the academic writing course? and (c) what genre knowledge do the students develop through engaging in genre-focused pedagogical tasks in the academic writing course? The first research question focused on the process and community of Chinese EFL students’ genre learning in a specific instructional context. Research Question 2 drew particular attention to individual learner variables in the genre learning process. The third research question attended to Chinese EFL students’ genre knowledge that they developed in the instructional context. This multifaceted study on instruction-based academic genre learning was informed by theories of sociocultural studies, L2 writing studies, and genre studies. Specifically, three theoretical constructs were adopted to form a theoretical framework of this study, including: mediated action (Engestrom 1999; Wertsch 1994), L2 writer characteristics (Leki/Cumming/Silva 2008), and genre knowledge development (Negretti/Kuteeva 2011; Negretti 2017; Tardy 2009). ← 6 | 7 →

This book contributes to knowledge construction of current genre learning research in L2 writing and ESP genre studies. The way students go through the process of learning a genre in an instructional context to develop genre knowledge is still a less researched area in current ESP genre studies. In addition, much remains to be known about actual EFL learners and their development of L2 writing capacities in L2 writing research. The book can help to fill these research gaps by its multifaceted investigation of the process of EFL students’ instruction-based genre learning, their characteristics as genre learners, and their genre knowledge development in the EAP instructional context.

The book also provides an empirical base upon which EAP in Chinese universities can be further developed in pedagogical designs and implementation. EAP is relatively a new pedagogical form in current ELT in Chinese universities. Much remains to be explored as to how to design instructional frameworks and implement EAP practice to meet Chinese university students’ rising need for using English academically and to accord with their characteristics in the learning process. The focused study has been conducted in a local EAP instructional context of a Chinese university and has observed features of Chinese EFL genre learners. Its findings provide valuable pedagogical implications for improving curriculum designs of EAP classes and for promoting EAP implementation in Chinese universities and similar educational contexts.

The book also has value in research on learning English as a foreign language in general. Its insights into the relationships between the instructional context, the learning process, learners’ individual factors, and learners’ knowledge development provide theoretical implications not only for learning English for specific purposes, but also for learning English as a foreign language in general. It can provide a conceptual basis for future research on EFL learning and teaching and L2 students’ development of writing capacities.


VIII, 278
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (July)
Second language academic writing Genre-focused writing instruction Academic genre English for academic purposes Genre learning Genre learners Genre knowledge development
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. VIII, 278 pp., 8 fig. b/w, 30 tables, 1 graphs

Biographical notes

Wei Wang (Author) Maurizio Gotti (Volume editor)

Wei Wang holds a PhD from the University of Sydney. She is currently a lecturer in College English Centre at Fudan University (P. R. China), where she teaches courses in English for academic purposes. Her research interests include second language academic writing and genre-based pedagogy. Her publication has appeared in English for Specific Purposes and University of Sydney Papers in TESOL.


Title: Researching Learning and Learners in Genre-based Academic Writing Instruction