Jessica Fox, Magda Tigchelaar

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This study presents a partial replication of the Academic Formulas List (AFL) project (Ellis, Simpson-Vlach & Maynard 2008). The objective of the present study was to identify a corpus derived, pedagogically useful list of formulaic sequences for technical writing in engineering, called the Engineering Academic Formulas List (EAFL) by triangulating corpus metrics with engineering instructors’ insights.

This list of formulas was created using the following criteria: (1) highly frequent, recurrent formulas that were extracted from a 1 million word corpus of published engineering research articles, which (2) occurred significantly more often in the engineering corpus than a corpus of 1.5 million words of general academic discourse, and (3) appeared in a wide range of engineering subfields and publications. Approximately 765 formulas fit these criteria (e.g., a function of the). Next, to determine which of these formulas were most pedagogically useful, 12 graduate level engineering teaching assistants rated whether the formulas extracted from the expert texts were worth teaching to newcomers to the engineering disciplinary discourse community (Hyland 2004, 2015) on a Likert scale from 1 (disagree) to 6 (agree). The highest ranked formulas were compiled into a final list of 99 formulas and categorized according to their discursive function: referential expressions (e.g., at room temperature), stance expressions (e.g., assumed to be) and discourse organizing expressions (e.g., results indicate that) (Biber et al 2004). A correlation analysis reveals associations between the highest ranked formulas, their frequency in the corpus and their mutual information scores.

These findings contribute to engineering-specific writing instruction and learning by providing a list of pedagogically useful formulas. Further, they provide a contribution to the English for Specific Purposes movement with a methodology that can easily be replicated to create lists of other discipline-specific vocabulary. We conclude this report with pedagogical recommendations and future research directions.

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