Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

Teaching Academic Writing with Rich Feature Analysis

Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

Teaching Academic Writing with Rich Feature Analysis

Article excerpt


Learning to write academic essays, language learners have to move along the mode continuum from the spoken modal point to the written modal point. Rich feature analysis allows learners to identify the lexical and grammatical features that are most relevant for understanding the differences between spoken and written mode. This article models how teachers may use rich feature analysis to illustrate why certain essays are considered weaker in terms of relevant mode-related features. By a comparative analysis of the textual features within and across four sample student essays, the article shows the effectiveness of rich feature analysis in academic writing instruction.

[Keywords] rich feature analysis; mode; academic writing instruction


Systemic functional linguistics sees grammar in relation to social contexts instead of in isolation. Different grammatical choices help realize different kinds of social meanings, and the particular set of meanings construes relevant social contexts. Rich feature analysis focuses on linguistic features that "point to the relation between a text and its context" (Barton, 2004, p. 67). More specifically, rich feature analysis shows how salient linguistic features are repeated within and across texts to create function, meaning and significance that reflect and shape the context of the texts. It is "useful in the analysis of academic discourse, particularly in the analysis of student writing and in the comparison of texts written by inexperienced writers and experienced writers" (Barton, 2004, p. 67). Based on the framework of rich feature analysis proposed by Barton, I use four essays by secondary students, two by inexperienced and the other two by experienced writers, and aim to illustrate why the inexperienced writers' essays are considered weaker in the light of how they make use of the relevant textual features than the more proficient, experienced writers' essays by comparing and contrasting them in terms of rich features. Due to the limited space in this article, only three representative features including the use of conjunctions, nominalization, and personal pronouns are used to the rich feature analysis. The major differences between the two pairs of essays are revealed in those grammatical features that typically occur in written academic language with those of informal spoken language, and these differences help to demonstrate that the grammatical choices of weaker essays fail to realize meanings that would otherwise construe academic contexts.

With the primary concern with mode-related features, this article first investigates the lexical and grammatical features occurring frequently and noticeably within and across two sets of sample essays with representative examples included, highlighting how the features contribute to distinguishing the weaker set from the stronger one in relation to the academic contexts in which they are expected to construe. It verifies the assumption that inexperienced writers write the way they speak. The article concludes by discussing the usefulness of rich feature analysis for writing instruction, and tries to discuss implications for the teaching of academic writing.

Rich Feature Analysis


Differences in the variety and quality of conjunctions are a key feature that defines the relative spokenness or written-ness of the two sets of essays. It has been observed that the frequent use of conjunctions to link clauses is typical of spoken discourse, and a few commonly used conjunctions can construe a wide range of meanings (Schleppegrell, 2004). However, in written discourse, a larger variety of conjunctions can be used to display the explicit semantic relationship between clauses (Schleppegrell, 2004). This difference in the use of conjunctions is determined by the different nature between spoken and written discourse: speech is created at the moment of speaking and develops fluidly, thus it is emergent and dynamic in nature. …

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