Metadiscourse patterns in discourse variation: A comparative corpus-based study of research articles in life sciences

Metadiscourse patterns in discourse variation: A comparative corpus-based study of research articles in life sciences

Disciplinary academic writing as a form of knowledge construction undergoes continuous change over time reflecting processes both inside and outside of academia. Each disciplinary community establishes and shares genre conventions and pragmatic strategies reflecting, to a certain degree, the scientific research it conducts. Modern day’s pressure to publish increases the value of metadiscourse markers as effective tools of making a paper accepted by the disciplinary community. Metadiscourse markers contribute to building a convincing argument by structuring a text, projecting the author’s standpoint, engaging the audience, establishing credibility, etc (Hyland, 2005).

Previous studies have observed variation in patterns of metadiscourse markers both between and within disciplines (McGrath&Kuteeva, 2012, Cao&Hu, 2014, Hyland&Jiang, 2018). Drawing on Hyland’s framework (Hyland, 2018), this paper examines how academic authors with different disciplinary expertise use metadiscourse markers in the introduction and discussion sections of their research writing to mark the epistemic stance and establish a relationship with their audiences. This paper compares three closely related disciplines representative of the genre conventions, narrative tradition and language use in the life sciences – Ecology, Genetics and Immunology – to describe the variation of metadiscourse patterns. To this end, three sub-corpora were compiled of research articles from top-ranking disciplinary journals – 85 papers each (more than 160,000 words each) – published in 2019-2021 and authored by L1 English speakers.

This comparative corpus-based investigation describes the frequency and distribution of metadiscourse markers across the sections of research papers and identifies specific patterns characteristic of each sub-genre. Quantitative and qualitative analyses reveal inter-disciplinary variation and similarities between three academic discursive traditions. The most informative interactional markers exhibiting distinct differences turned out to be self-mention and, predictably, hedges and boosters, whereas for interactive markers interesting correlations were observed for code glosses, evidentials and transition markers, particularly, in introductions.



Cao, F., & Hu, G. (2014). Interactive metadiscourse in research articles: A comparative study of paradigmatic and disciplinary influences. Journal of Pragmatics, 66, 15–31.

Hyland, K. (2005). Stance and engagement: a model of interaction in academic discourse. Discourse Studies, 7(2), 173–192.

Hyland, K. (2018). Metadiscourse: Exploring Interaction in Writing (Bloomsbury Classics in Linguistics). Bloomsbury Academic.

McGrath, L., & Kuteeva, M. (2012). Stance and engagement in pure mathematics research articles: Linking discourse features to disciplinary practices. English for Specific Purposes, 31(3), 161–173.

Hyland, K., & Jiang, F. K. (2018). “In this paper we suggest”: Changing patterns of disciplinary metadiscourse. English for Specific Purposes, 51, 18–30.


Leave a Reply