In putting together this collection of papers, Advances in Written Text Analysis, I have been very conscious of the fact that there is still no satisfactory single-author work, like An Introduction to Discourse Analysis, which can serve both as a student text-book and as a starting point for academic research. To date, teachers planning courses on text analysis have, of necessity, been forced to produce reading lists of difficult-to-find articles and any researchers looking for new approaches to analyse their chosen texts were forced to scour the journal indexes. For both these audiences this collection represents a major advance, although the decisions that I have taken quite deliberately and advisedly mean that the collection has all the advantages and disadvantages of coming from a single ‘school of thought’—it consists solely of papers by present and past Birmingham staff and students, plus three ‘honorary’ colleagues, Michael Halliday, Peter Fries and Greg Myers, who have been frequent and much valued visitors and whose work has proved, over the years, to be a major stimulus.
Although English Language Research at the University of Birmingham is widely known for its work on the analysis of spoken discourse, it has rarely been recognized as a centre for work on written text, despite the fact that, paradoxically, during the 1980s much more staff and research student effort went into analysing written than spoken texts. I suspect this lack of recognition is due, in large part, to the fact that no comprehensive method of analysis emerged to parallel that in the area of spoken discourse, which other researchers could then either adopt or react against. There is, however, by now a substantial body of published research and analysis to which this collection gives easy access for the first time and which offers a series of exciting and compatible approaches to examining the creation, the structure and the nature of written text.
Lying behind the articles in the collection are several shared assumptions: that text analysis is best located within a Systemic view of language; that written text is essentially interactive; that it is imperative, when analysing texts, to be aware of both the purpose and the process of creation; and that any given text is just one of a series of possible textualizations which gains for that reason part of its meaning from what has not been said.