Textual and language features of students’ written discussion texts

  • Su Hie Ting Faculty of Language and Communication, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak


The study examined textual and language features of discussion texts written by university students. The discussion texts were written by 100 students enrolled in an English for Academic Purposes course at a Malaysian university. The advantages-disadvantages essay was analysed using Feez’s (1998) framework for discussion texts. The results showed that about half of the students were unable to state the issue clearly in the introduction and assess the issue based on foregoing arguments in the conclusion. For the arguments, the topic sentences and supporting details were satisfactory. Analysis of the language features in the student discussion texts revealed that conditional clauses were seldom used to present hypothetical situations to move the arguments forward but connectors were frequently used, particularly “because”. More causal connectors were used than sequential connectors because of the need for reasoning in discussion texts. Shifts in arguments were signaled using adversative connectors but these were used less frequently than additive connectors for connecting similar ideas. The discussion texts were also characterised by the frequent use of modal verbs for hedging and boosting, mainly “can” and “will”. The study shows that while the student texts had the relevant language features of discussions, they sometimes lacked the characteristic textual structure of discussion texts.


Bhatia, V. K. (1991). A genre-based approach to ESP materials. World Englishes, 10(2), 153-166.


Breeze, R. (2006). A contrastive approach to genre-based pedagogies. Retrieved from http://www.unizar.es/aelfe2006/ALEFE06/02.%20didactics/61.pdf

Cahill, D. (2003). The myth of the "turn" in contrastive rhetoric. Written Communication 20(2), 170-194.


Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). Grammar book. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.

Checketts, S. (1999). On the tip of my tongue: Insights into some things English. Subang Jaya, Malaysia: Pelanduk.

Derewianka, B. (1991). Exploring how texts work. Newtown, Australia: Primary English Teaching Association.

Derewianka, B. (2003). Trends and issues in genre-based approaches. RELC Journal, 34(2), 133. Retrieved from http://rel.sagepub.com/cgi/content/ abstract/34/2/133


Feez, S. (1998).Text-based syllabus design. Sydney, Australia: Macquarie University.

Ferrari, L. V. (2002). A sociocognitive approach to modality and conditional constructions in Brazilian Portuguese. Journal of Language and Linguistics, 1(3). Retrieved from http://www.shakespeare.uk.net/journal/1_3/ ferrari1_3.html

Flowerdew, J. (2001). Attitudes of journal editors to nonnative speaker contributions. TESOL Quarterly, 35(1), 121-150.


Freedman, A. (1994). "Do as I say": The relationship between teaching and learning new genres. In A. Freedman & P. Medways (Eds.), Genre and the new rhetoric (pp. 191-210). London, UK: Taylor & Francis.

Gautreau, A. L., Averett, J. B., Trusock, D., McFerren, S. E., Phipps, C., Lynch. M. … Speer, L. W. (1986). Our readers write: What's a practical idea for teaching organization in writing? The English Journal, 75(5), 61-68. Retrieved from http://www. jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/818208.pdf?acceptTC=true


Guinda, C. S. (2003). Contractual role of modality as convergence strategy in technical research articles. RAEL: revista electrónica de lingüística aplicada, 16, 219-233.

Hall, K. M., Sabey, B. L., & McClellan, M. (2005). Expository text comprehension: Helping primary-grade teachers use expository texts to full advantage. Reading Psychology, 26(3), 211-234. doi:10.1080/02702710590962550


Helms-Park, R., & Stapleton, P. (2003). Questioning the importance of individualized voice in undergraduate L2 argumentative writing: An empirical study with pedagogical implications. Journal of Second Language Writing, 12, 245-265.


Hidi, S., & Baird, W. (1988). Strategies for increasing text-based interest and students' recall of expository texts. Reading Research Quarterly, 23(4), 465-483.


Hyland, K. (2001). Bringing in the reader: Addressee features in academic articles. Written Communication, 18(4), 549-574.


James, J. E., Chua, F. D., & Lim, P. L. P. (2007). Applying a socio-cognitive model to the teaching of expository writing: A pedagogy for shaping student thinking and genre practice. Proceedings of the Redesigning Pedagogy: Culture, Knowledge and Understanding Conference, Singapore.

Jenkins, H. H., & Pico, M. L. (2007). SFL and argumentative essays in ESOL. In B. Leila & T. B. Sardinha (Eds.), Proceedings of the 33rd International Systemic Functional Congress, PUCSP, São Paulo, Brazil. Retrieved from http://www.pucsp.br/isfc

Kamimura, T., & Oi, K. (1998). Argumentative strategies in American and Japanese English. World Englishes, 17(3), 307-323.


Kay, H., & Dudley-Evans, T. (1998). Genre: What teachers think. ELT Journal, 52(4), 308-314.


Lee, S. H. (2005). The use of interactional resources in argumentative/persuasive essays (APEs) by tertiary ESL students: A critical perspective. In T. Lé & M. Short (Eds.), Proceedings of the International Conference on Critical Discourse Analysis: Theory into research (pp. 379-403). Launceston, Tasmania, Australia: University Tasmania.

Lee, S. H. (2006). The use of interpersonal resources in argumentative/persuasive essays by East-Asian ESL and Australian tertiary students. Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Sydney, Australia.

Liu, L. (2005). Rhetorical education through writing instruction across cultures: A comparative analysis of select online instructional materials on argumentative writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 14(1), 1-18.


Martin, J. R., Peters, P., Clyne, M., Borel de Bitche, R., Eagleson, R., Maclean, R., Nelson, J., & Smith, J. (1983). On analysis of exposition. In R. Hasan (Ed.), Discourse on discourse: Workshop report from the Macquarie Workshop on Discourse Analysis, Occasional Papers Number 7 (pp. 61-92). Wollongong, N. S. W.: Applied Linguistic Association of Australia.

Nair-Venugopal, S. (2003). Malaysian English, normativity, and workplace interactions. World Englishes, 22(1), 15-19.


Neff-van Aertselaer, J. A., & Dafouz-Milne, E. (2008). Argumentation patterns in different languages: An analysis of metadiscourse markers in English and Spanish texts. In M. Pütz & J. A. Neff-van Aertselaer (Eds.), Developing contrastive pragmatics: Interlanguage and cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 87-102). Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gruyter.

Neff, J., Dafouz, E., Herrera, H., Martinez, F., Rica, J. P., Diez, M., Prieto, R., & Sancho, C. (2003). Contrasting learner corpora: The use of modal and reporting verbs in the expression of writer stance. In S. Granger & S. Petch-Tyson (Eds.), Extending the scope of corpus-based research: New applications, new challenges (pp. 211-230). Amsterdam: Rodopi.


Thompson, G. (2001). Interaction in academic writing: Learning to argue with the reader. Applied Linguistics, 22(1), 58-78.


Ting, S. H., Campbell, Y. M., Law, L., & Hong, H. H. (2013). Explanations without a purpose? Genre-based instruction and academic writing. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 7(1), A26-A39.

Ting, S. H., Raslie, H., & Jee, L. J. (2011). Case study on persuasiveness of argument texts written by proficient and less proficient Malaysian undergraduates. Malaysian Journal of Learning and Instruction, 8, 71-92.


Ting, S. H., & Tee, F. P. F. (2009, April). Organisational and grammatical features of explanations written by Biology undergraduates. Paper presented at the 4th International Conference on English Language Learning Conference (ELT-CON 2009), Georgetown, Malaysia.

Weaver, C. A., III, & Bryant, D. S. (1995). Monitoring of comprehension: The role of text difficulty in metamemory for narrative and expository text. Memory & Cognition, 23, 12-22.


Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Warchal, K. (2010). Moulding interpersonal relations through conditional clauses: Consensus- building strategies in written academic discourse. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 9(2), 140-150.


Wolfe, M. B. W. (2005). Memory for narrative and expository text: Independent influences of semantic associations and text organization. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 31(2), 359-364.


How to Cite
Ting, S. H. (2013). Textual and language features of students’ written discussion texts. Issues in Language Studies, 2(2). https://doi.org/10.33736/ils.1671.2013