Phrasals reuse in academic writing Exploring the boundaries

A School of Education seminar presented on July 31st, 2013 by Dr John Morley (Visiting from the University of Manchester)

The phraseological aspect of language is now well-established by means of intuitive methods and by corpus based investigations. It seems that speakers and writers are able to draw on a stock of pre-constructed phrases which can be retrieved from memory without needing to be assembled each time. Fixed and semi-fixed phrases have been shown to play an important role in academic writing, and, as a result, novice writers need to learn to develop their use of these phrases effectively. This is particularly important for non-native speakers who typically possess a limited repertoire of these phrasal sequences in English. There is thus a widely accepted need for EAP tutors to teach these phrases and for their students to develop strategies to learn them. One such strategy, suggested by a well-known EAP text-book, is for students to develop their phraseological competence by picking up academic phrases in academic texts and reusing them in their own writing. However, such learning strategies would seem to sit uncomfortably with the kind of guidance given to students by universities:
'Plagiarism refers to the act of “appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit” and is strongly condemned from all sides'. (The University of Manchester, 2008)
There would thus seem to be an important question around whether phrasal reuse is acceptable in academic writing and, if it is, at what point such practice is deemed to be acceptable. This paper reports on a study which set out to establish the boundaries of acceptability for phrasal reuse. Survey and interview methods were used to gauge the views of 45 academic at two UK universities representing a range of discipline areas.

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