Modality and learner academic writing across genres
: an analysis of discourse, socialisation and teacher cognition on a 20-week pre-sessional programme

  • Joe Fagan

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Modality is a complex yet pervasive feature of the English language which is typically difficult for non-native speakers of English to acquire. It is even more so for learners of English who wish to undertake advanced academic study in an English-speaking context, as it requires knowledge of both discipline and genre specific norms and to be able to adapt to reader expectations. This study uses a mixed methods design to analyse the longitudinal development of modality in learner academic writing on a 20-week pre-sessional programme at a UK university. The research triangulates the findings obtained from the analysis of three distinct datasets in order to identify the factors involved in influencing amateur writer output in their assessed written texts. The main focus of the study is an in-depth discourse analysis contrasting expert (successful Masters students) and amateur (pre-sessional) writing in three genres of academic writing within the discipline of Business and Economics. A functional approach is adopted to analyse the expression of modality. This is complemented by an analysis of the teaching material used on the programme and combined with insights on teacher cognition from a series of interviews. The findings show a development in interlanguage, with movement to closer alignment in modal expressions between the types of writers as the programme progresses. However, the findings also show that modality is marginalised as a language item in the teaching materials, in the assessment task types and in the marking criteria, with preference given to rhetorical structures within texts. Tutors also report varying degrees of comfort, expertise and familiarity with regards to modality. The research concludes by making a series of pedagogical recommendations in order to re-direct some of the attention in academic writing instruction back to modality and to integrate it more explicitly and appropriately within the course design.
    Date of Award26 Jun 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorCarol Marley (Supervisor)


    • english for academic purposes (EAP)
    • systemic functional linguistics (SFL)
    • interlanguage
    • materials analysis

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