Date of Award

Spring 5-7-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Applied Linguistics and English as a Second Language

First Advisor

Viviana Cortes

Second Advisor

Diane Belcher

Third Advisor

Eric Friginal

Fourth Advisor

George Pullman


Research in the area of academic writing has demonstrated that writing varies significantly across disciplines and among genres within disciplines. Two important approaches to studying diversity in disciplinary academic writing have been the genre-based approach and the corpus-based approach. Genre studies have considered the situatedness of writing tasks, including the larger sociocultural context of the discourse community (e.g., Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1995; Bhatia, 2004) as well as the move structure in specific genres like the research article (e.g., Swales, 1990, 2004). Corpus- based studies of disciplinary writing have focused more closely on the linguistic variation across registers, with the re-search article being the most widely studied register (e.g., Cortes, 2004; Gray, 2011). Studies of under-graduate writing in the disciplines have tended to focus on task classification (e.g., Braine, 1989; Horowitz, 1986a), literacy demands (e.g.,Carson, Chase, Gibson, & Hargrove, 1992), or student development (e.g., Carroll, 2002; Leki, 2007). The purpose of the present study is to build on these previous lines of research to explore undergraduate disciplinary writing from multiple perspectives in order to better prepare English language learners for the writing tasks they might encounter in their majors at a US university. Specifically, this exploratory study examines two disciplines: psychology and chemistry. Through writing task classification (following Horowitz, 1986), qualitative interviews with faculty and students in each discipline, and a corpus-based text analysis of course readings and upper-division student writing, the study yielded several important findings. With regard to writing tasks, psychology writing tasks showed more variety than chemistry. In addition, lower division classes had fewer writing assignments than upper division courses, particularly in psychology. The findings also showed a mismatch between the expectations of instructors in each discipline and students’ understanding of such writing expectations. The linguistic analysis of course readings and student writing demonstrated differences in language use both between registers and across disciplines.