Date of Award


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

Carmen Pérez-Llantada


Despite the historic prevalence of the research article (RA) genre in the English for Academic Purposes (ESP) literature, work examining the ways that academic research is communicated with broader audiences—sometimes referred to as ‘popularization’ or ‘popular science’ (Gotti, 2014)—is on the rise. Scholars from diverse fields have shown interest in contexts of popular science in part because they represent a meeting point between the general public and academia. However, much of the research examining the language of popular science has adopted a rhetorical rather than linguistic lens (Pérez-Llantada, 2021). In addition, the recent interest in digital multi-modal genres (e.g., Luzón, 2023; Xia, 2023) has left the linguistic features of written discourse comparatively under-examined, and studies adopting corpus approaches have often included texts which are out-of-date, few in number, or under-described with regard to their place under the umbrella of popular science.

This dissertation applies a mixed methods design to a new corpus representative of one variety of popular science writing, namely online science news articles (SNAs). It uses computer programs to compare the linguistic profiles of 400 SNAs with a matching corpus of the 400 RAs. Specifically, this dissertation investigates features of the verb phrase, namely short verb phrase variation, long verb phrase variation, and attribution of knowledge via reporting clauses. These features offer a useful contrast to the current noun-focused approach to grammatical complexity research (see Lan, Liu, & Staples, 2019). To inform interpretation of corpus findings, discourse- based interviews (Conrad, 2014) with seven SNA writers were also employed.

Findings from the linguistic analyses, analyses of the registers’ situational characteristics, and informant interviews highlight the many differences between the registers, differences motivated especially by characteristics of audience, textual layout, and purpose. SNAs are short texts which function to inform and entertain an audience of mixed expertise. As a result, they utilize more verbs overall, as well as features of short and long verb phrases which allow writers to report research activities as stories involving researchers, their beliefs, and their words. Implications relating to contexts of science communication and pedagogical applications are discussed.


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