Academic Collocations : STUDY and RESEARCH

A simple task with potential for further exploration and exploitation:

Ask students to brainstorm which words they might expect to see immediately before and after RESEARCH and STUDY.  Can they identify which are verbs, adjectives, and nouns?

Brainstorming done, give the students the selection below, extracted from data provided very kindly by Pearson (see here for more on their Academic Collocations List).  Can they find all of their own suggestions?  Can they find “better” versions of what they might have been trying to communicate?  Are there any surprises within the lists?

academic adj research n
basic adj research n
carry out v research n
comparative adj research n
conduct v research n
considerable adj research n
current adj research n
earlier adj research n
educational adj research n
empirical adj research n
existing adj research n
experimental adj research n
extensive adj research n
field n research n
further adj research n
future adj research n
initial adj research n
little adj research n
original adj research n
past adj research n
previous adj research n
primary adj research n
publish v research n
published adj research n
qualitative adj research n
quantitative adj research n
recent adj research n
scholarly adj research n
scientific adj research n
traditional adj research n
undertake v research n


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Tools for analysing vocabulary within texts

Various online tools can tell you a thing or two about the vocabulary used in a particular text.  To provide a concrete example of how these work, I’m using a piece from the Economist on the legacy of the Bretton Woods Agreements.

Wordle clouds seem to be everywhere these days, and perhaps it’s not surprising when you consider how neat yet simple a tool Wordle is.  Copy and paste text and Wordle processes it, removing common function words, and counting the frequency of lexical items.  It then produces a visual “cloud” of words, each sized according to their frequency within the text.  Designs can be randomised or tweaked until they meet the user’s approval, after which they can be printed to PDF, saved and linked to, or embedded in a website, like this:

Wordle: bretton woods

As well as being very pretty, Wordle clouds have a nice application in class: students can be shown a cloud in order to predict content before reading, and if any prominent words are completely unknown, they can be checked and discussed prior to any sight of the original text. Continue reading “Tools for analysing vocabulary within texts”

Academic writing is…

I recently blogged whimsically about metaphors, the post kickstarted by some thoughts on an EAP sequence on the subject. Here I am simply to summarise some metaphors for academic writing (or writing from sources to be more exact) that I have encountered in my work:

AN ESSAY IS A CONTAINER : The essay contains ideas.  If it only contains opinions without support, it’s empty.  It’s also important not to over-fill it.  (more here – but personally I find this metaphor links the sense of direction and purpose essential to effective academic writing)

AN ESSAY IS A JOURNEY : The writer needs to guide their reader to a destination worth visiting.  If the writer begins by establishing what the destination is, why it is worth visiting, and what route will be taken, the reader is genuinely guided and will persist with the journey. Without this guidance, the reader may become lost and unmotivated.

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Who’s in the room? Metaphors I teach by

My daughter opened her bedroom door this morning, and with it a world of opportunities. She’d snatched at the handle before but never quite managed to turn it. Happy and fearful in equal measure at her achievement, she turned to me and reached for my hand before taking a step out into the dark hallway, like the world’s cutest bunny about to set foot on the first sheet of white snow of the winter.

So, a doorway into a world of opportunities. “A metaphor. Things are looking up” to borrow words (and another metaphor) from Spooner in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land. I read No Man’s Land at secondary school (and loved it, not least for the brilliant swearing) but didn’t begin to understand it until much more recently. I also learned about metaphors at secondary school, and have also only recently begun to give them more thought.

At school I learned the difference between a metaphor and a simile. A metaphor is when you say that X is Y; a simile is when you say that X is like Y. My daughter opening up a world of opportunities is a metaphor, but when I compare her to a cautious yet excited rabbit, I’m using simile. This distinction is useful if we want to point out the shortcomings of others, since nothing could make us feel more intelligent than smugly telling a friend or colleague “that’s not a metaphor — it’s a simile”. If we want to try to be even smarter, though, linguistic analysis provides a further distinction between a metaphor and a metonym. A common example of a metonym would be when Wall Street is used to refer to US financial markets (a place representing what goes on within it) or when we are told potentially bizarre pieces of information like “I’m parked in the multi-storey”. Rather than respond with “No, you’re not, you’re sitting here in Café Rouge with me” we understand that the speaker is using the controller of an object (“I”) as a representative of the object itself (“my car”). Here we are in the realm of metonymy, because in context, there is a salient link between the driver and the car. Suggesting that the traffic outside Café Rouge is crawling past would also be metonymic (since movement is a property of traffic and crawling is a slow form of movement), but to suggest that our lunch hour was crawling by with all my tedious talk of semantics would be a fully-fledged metaphor, since physical movement is not a property of time. Now, if like me you’re ever-so-slightly confused about the difference between metaphor and metonym, you can perhaps stop acting like a smartarse because you know that neither of them is a simile.

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