Scholarly article on topic 'Analysis of Reporting Verbs in Master's Theses'

Analysis of Reporting Verbs in Master's Theses Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Nor Azma Manan, Noorizah Mohd Noor

Abstract Reporting verbs are one of the crucial components in academic writing. Most of the researches have focused on analyzing the reporting verbs in doctoral theses, students’ assignments, research articles, and journals; however few have focused on Master's theses. Thus, the purpose of this research is to investigate (1) which reporting verbs are mostly used by Masters students in their theses, (2) the frequency of the reporting verbs used, and (3) the impact(s) of the reporting verbs employed in the theses. Hyland's (2000) framework is used as a guideline in this document analysis. Six theses completed in 2012 were selected randomly, and they were written by local, Malaysian students who did their Masters in the ELS programme of UKM. A checklist was used as the instrument to identify the groups and the functions of the reporting verbs. The findings showed that Masters students were more familiar with the reporting verbs from the research acts category, as compared to cognition acts and discourse acts. The findings also revealed that the verbs found from the research acts category are the most widely used, while states from the discourse acts category are the most frequently repeated reporting verbs found in Masters theses. The suggestion to consider is to equip the Masters students with the knowledge of using reporting verbs in a Research Methodology course, instead of the structure and the content of the research itself. Our findings are then used to indicate the areas that we need to focus on in academic writing courses.

Academic research paper on topic "Analysis of Reporting Verbs in Master's Theses"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 134 (2014) 140 - 145

ICLALIS 2013

Analysis of reporting verbs in Master's theses

Nor Azma Manana*, Noorizah Mohd Noorb

aNor Azma Manan, Temerloh Community College, 28400 Mentakab, Malaysia bNoorizah Mohd Noor, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 43600 Bangi, Malaysia

Abstract

Reporting verbs are one of the crucial components in academic writing. Most of the researches have focused on analyzing the reporting verbs in doctoral theses, students' assignments, research articles, and journals; however few have focused on Master's theses. Thus, the purpose of this research is to investigate (1) which reporting verbs are mostly used by Masters students in their theses, (2) the frequency of the reporting verbs used, and (3) the impact(s) of the reporting verbs employed in the theses. Hyland's (2000) framework is used as a guideline in this document analysis. Six theses completed in 2012 were selected randomly, and they were written by local, Malaysian students who did their Masters in the ELS programme of UKM. A checklist was used as the instrument to identify the groups and the functions of the reporting verbs. The findings showed that Masters students were more familiar with the reporting verbs from the research acts category, as compared to cognition acts and discourse acts. The findings also revealed that the verbs found from the research acts category are the most widely used, while states from the discourse acts category are the most frequently repeated reporting verbs found in Masters theses. The suggestion to consider is to equip the Masters students with the knowledge of using reporting verbs in a Research Methodology course, instead of the structure and the content of the research itself. Our findings are then used to indicate the areas that we need to focus on in academic writing courses.

© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This isan openaccessarticleunder the CCBY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under the responsibility of the Organizing Committee of ICLALIS 2013.

Keywords:Academic writing; reporting verbs; Master's theses; Research Methodology.

1. Introduction

Writing at tertiary level is not the same as producing a piece of written work during secondary level. It requires certain conventions, special techniques, and a specific style of writing which is a daunting task and may give a "traumatic experience" for most of the students (Cullip & Carrol, 2003). Some of the written texts that the

* Corresponding author: Nor Azma Manan Tel.: +0127059735; fax: +092701551. E-mail address: gemthreeofive@yahoo.com

1877-0428 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under the responsibility of the Organizing Committee of ICLALIS 2013. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.04.232

students have to produce at university level are research reports, research papers, thesis, or dissertations depending on the institutions. Producing a thesis, particularly, requires the students to construct and arrange all the ideas carefully in order to make the points run smoothly. Through observations and experiences, it can be seen that this is the most critical moment for the students to choose the most suitable words and produce coherent sentences, thus conveying the meaning to the readers.

In general, thesis is a student's work that concerns the research on a certain issue or topic that the students are interested in. Usually it is produced in the form of a book and is kept by the students, library, and the university itself for future references. Some universities demand the final year students of a college to produce a thesis as partial fulfillment of the requirements at their degree program. The types of theses may revolve around empirical theses, literary analyses and book reviews.

There are different sections in a thesis, which are Introduction (Chapter 1), Literature Review (Chapter 2), Methodology (Chapter 3), Findings and Discussion (Chapter 4) and Conclusion (Chapter 5). Above all chapters, citations are generally found in a literature review (Soler- Monreal & Gil- Salom, 2011). This particular section provides an overview of one's research, presents the historical background of the research, discusses the related theories and concepts, shows the related research in which one intends to indicate gaps as well as clarifies the terminologies and definitions parallel with the context of the research (Ridley, 2008). The gap can be said as the less focused area where the research that is conducted will add new knowledge to the existing one. In every chapter, students can include their own voice into their writing; however, it must be supported with the "established" statements, in which citations are used to strengthen their own ideas.

Reporting verbs allow the writer to show his/her responsibility towards the statement made (Charles, 2006). By using reporting verbs, the writer is able to use the most appropriate words to relate to the source which they have found convincing and suitable to support their claim. This will directly contribute to the recognition from other members from the discipline itself. Bloch (2010, p. 221) mentioned that non- native English speakers (NNES) always have the difficulty in choosing the reporting verbs that can "satisfy both the syntactic requirements of their sentences and, perhaps more importantly, to express their attitudes towards the claims". In this case, they may lack comprehension in terms of the subtleties of the appropriate reporting verbs to be used to convey their message.

A numbers of studies on reporting verbs have been conducted. Some of the studies that are to be highlighted are Charles (2006) who conducted a study on the construction of stance in reporting clauses, in which she compared theses in social science and material science. Zhang (2008) also studied the reporting verbs of citations in eight disciplines (social sciences: psychology, philosophy, economics, history; and physical sciences: biology, physics, electronic engineering, chemistry), while Bloch (2010) did a concordance-based study on the use of reporting verbs as rhetorical devices in academic papers. Few samples of written works and articles are taken from students' assignments as well as Science, a journal that contains articles from physical and biological sciences, engineering and social sciences. However, it is hard to find the research done in the Malaysian context related to reporting verbs. From here, it can be seen that more research in reporting verbs, particularly in English Language Studies (ELS) needs to be done. This is important as much previous research has focused on other fields and less attention has been paid to the Malaysian setting. Realizing the need to minimize the gap, it is the interest of this present study to analyze the reporting verbs in Master's theses of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) specifically in English Language Studies.

2. Statement of the problem

UKM students are required to produce a thesis as a requirement of their degree, be it Bachelor's, Master's or Doctoral degrees. They are taught in a Research Methodology subject according to their levels where they will learn about all the necessary elements needed for conducting research, including how to cite previous studies. As a whole, it can be said that UKM students have been exposed to the vital elements needed in conducting a study. However, based on the observations, the use of reporting verbs in citations need to be further exposed to the UKM students, particularly Master's students in the field of ELS. This is because the careful choice of reporting verbs is regarded as a fundamental part in increasing the credibility of the research itself. This is supported by Hyland and Milton (1999, p. 147) who claimed that the appropriate use of reporting verbs will provide "maximum interpersonal and persuasive

effect". Through observation, it is obvious that Master's students are not aware of how to use reporting verbs appropriately although in reality reporting verbs are one of the most important grammatical items in writing statements for academic writing (Hyland, 1998). Nevertheless, the power of reporting verbs are not fully utilized by Master's students in UKM. It can be seen that they do not know which reporting verbs are most suitable for a particular statement, thus inhibiting their expressions in making claims. Their theses show that they use the same reporting verbs repeatedly and they are free to choose whichever reporting verbs that they like regardless of the impact of the reporting verbs used (Bloch 2010). In fact, there are lists of reporting verbs that serve the same functions for the writers to use to vary their writing. Different reporting verbs, such as 'claimed', 'stated', 'hypothesized', and 'proved' serve different functions, and hence, they have different effects on their theses. This condition will somehow give different interpretations to the readers on the writers' attitude and their regards towards the statements made in their theses. This situation is consistent with Pecorari's (2008) finding that students are not able to decide which reporting verbs are the most suitable for reporting certain claims. They often choose the unnecessary reporting verbs which may lead to huge consequences towards their sentences. Bloch (2010) argued that "even if the student can make grammatically correct choices, the rhetorical impact of their claims may suffer if the reporting verb is not appropriate." Clearly, this is a serious issue in academic writing about which Hyland (1998, p. 70) found that one of the major problems that non-native English speakers (NNES) faced when producing academic writing is that they must hold the "definite and self- assured" stance without the sense of "fuzziness". This shows that they do not dare to go beyond their boundary by using "rare" reporting verbs which they seldom use but opt to use the "usual" ones. There are a number of reporting verbs that can be utilized in writing the claims, which carry their own effects on the statements concerned. Master's students do not manipulate the lists of reporting verbs which may be caused by the "lack of vocabulary development" that indirectly reveals the writer's "lack of understanding" about the "appropriate rhetorical strategies" in making claims from the writer's point of view (Bloch 2010, p. 220). Myers (1996) claimed that this problem may also result from the lack of teacher's emphasis in using reporting verbs during an academic writing class. Thus, these evidences show that the problem in using reporting verbs is one of the critical issues that need to be resolved.

There are also gaps in this area as there is a lack of studies on reporting verbs done locally. Most of the studies were done abroad and they focused on international settings. Less attention has been given to ELS as a discipline as many studies have focused on social science (Zhang, 2008), chemistry (Gooden, 2001) and other areas. Most studies have also focused on Doctoral theses (Gooden, 2001, Soler- Monreal & Gil- Salom, 2011), students' assignments (Ting & Mah, 2012) as well as journal articles (Bloch, 2010, Loi, 2012) but less attention has been given to Master's theses. Therefore, these problems have led to the need to conduct this study, which aims to analyze how Master's students in the ELS program of UKM use reporting verbs in writing their theses.

3. Research questions

In conducting this study, four main research questions are listed as follows:

(1) How do Master's students in the ELS program of UKM use reporting verbs in their thesis?

(2) Which group of reporting verbs do most of them use in their theses?

(3) What are the frequencies and the possible functions of the reporting verbs used?

(4) What are the impacts of the reporting verbs used on their theses?

4. Methodology

4.1 Selection of texts

In this study, only the Literature Review section of six theses produced by the ELS Master's students of UKM was chosen. The researchers chose the Literature Review section because reporting verbs are usually found in the section concerned (Soler- Monreal & Gil- Salom, 2011). There is also a lack of local studies that focus on how Malaysian students use reporting verbs. The Master's students were determined by their local names and their theses were completed in 2012, with the ELS program written on the cover of their thesis. In addition to the selection criteria, the theses were empirical in nature, not related to the literary analysis, and they use English as a medium of interaction. Empirical theses were selected due to the abundance of theses produced based on the empirical study.

Meanwhile, ELS theses were preferred because ELS is one of the subfields of Applied Linguistics which is "relatively under-researched" and may be "of particular interest for pedagogic reasons" (Yang & Allison, 2003, p. 366).

4.2 Instrument for data analysis

In regard to our data collection procedure, we used a checklist to analyze the use of reporting verbs in Master's theses of UKM. The checklist is the most suitable instruments in this study as it is able to guide the researcher about the important aspects or characteristics that should be focused on (Gay, 1996). The checklist was used to identify the groups and the functions of reporting verbs (Hyland, 2000). The researcher divided the categories of reporting verbs into three categories, which are research acts, cognition acts, and discourse acts based on the indicator given by Hyland (2000). A mark was then made to indicate which categories of reporting verbs a sentence belongs to. Finally, the researcher calculated the total number of occurrences and recorded it in the form of percentage.

4.3 Data analysis

The researcher gathered the theses completed in the ELS program in 2012.Three theses from each semester were selected, thus involving six theses. Random sampling was used and local students were selected. Next, the researcher photocopied the literature review section and identified the category of reporting verbs. After that, the researcher marked them in the checklist and later looked at the reporting verbs with the three groups which are research acts, cognition acts, discourse acts. The researcher also highlighted with different colours. The frequency of occurrence was counted manually and then the percentage was calculated by using SPSS. Finally, the researcher marked them in the checklist. In order to verify the analysis, the researcher sought some assistance from the experts by showing how the analysis had been done.

5. Results and discussion

From the six theses studied, it can be clearly seen that the reporting verbs from research acts category had the highest percentage, which is 44.8% as compared to cognition acts (30.2%). Discourse acts category had the lowest percentage which is 25.0%. In research acts, the most frequent reporting verbs used by Master's students was found (34 occurrences). For cognition acts, the most frequently repeated reporting verb was suggest (20 occurrences) while the most common reporting verb used in the discourse acts category was states (36 occurrences).

The high percentage for research acts reporting verbs (which are the verbs related to statement of findings and research procedures) showed that Master's students from the ELS program of UKM employed the reporting verbs from the research acts category more frequently compared to those from cognition acts and discourse acts. This showed that these reporting verbs are more common to them and they were more exposed to the verbs. Thus, the research acts category can be considered as a lower level of reporting verbs as compared to cognition acts and discourse acts. In reporting the statements from previous researchers, it can be said that the students were merely reporting the findings gained from the previous researchers and the procedures conducted in the research. There was a lack of critical thinking involved in using the research acts reporting verbs as the students did not try to synthesize, compare, and criticize what the previous research had done but simply reported and wrote the statements used by previous researchers. This indicated that most of the students were trying to be natural, rather than supporting or commenting on past researchers' claims.

Cognition acts, which were related to mental verbs, can be considered as a higher level of reporting verbs as it required the students to think critically about what previous researchers had done. It is observed that the students had limited vocabulary related to cognition acts to be written in their theses. The same occurred to discourse acts, which are verbal words. For these two categories, the students had to think deeply about the most suitable words to be used to resemble the verbal and mental verbs. By using the higher level of reporting verbs in the theses, the readers were expected to get impressed with their work, and the writers could make the theses more interesting, and further enhance the acceptability of the theses themselves.

6. Conclusion

This study examined how the Master's students from the ELS program in UKM used the reporting verbs in their theses. It also investigated the group of reporting verbs that most of the students used in their theses, the frequency and the possible purposes of reporting verbs used and also the effects of the reporting verbs used in their theses. The findings showed that the Master's students were more familiar with the reporting verbs from the research acts category, as compared to those related to cognition acts and discourse acts. The findings also revealed that found from research acts category is the most widely used (34 occurrences). However, states from the discourse acts category was the most repeatedly used reporting verbs found in Master's theses (36 occurrences), while suggest was the most common reporting verbs used from cognition acts category (20 occurrences).

Albeit limited in scope, the findings of this study have some implications for English for Academic Purposes course. Our findings may help the instructor equip his or her Master's students with the ability to use the reporting verbs appropriately in writing up their theses before they move to a higher level of study, such as PhD. It is also hoped that the study will enhance the students' understanding about the important elements in research writing, especially in using reporting verbs. In addition, it may as well assist the instructor or the students to structure their theses, and hence adding it to the existing information that they have had. The data presented in this study, which focused on Master's students in a local setting, may be able to provide practical information for teaching novice researchers in the university in order to help them acquire adequate knowledge and obtain recognition from the international community. This study has also given some information on how to help university students, particularly Master's students and novice researchers, use the right reporting verbs to produce impactful theses. This is because having the linguistic proficiency alone is inadequate and it has to be substantiated with the knowledge of reporting verbs as well. Knowing the linguistic features will help Master's students and novice researchers to produce clear, coherent, and effective theses.

Acknowledgements

This paper took about a few months from conception to completion. It involved countless cycles of exploration, inquiry, doubt, confusion and uncertainty. After all, praise to the Almighty God for His perseverance and the strengths given for me to complete this paper. This paper would never have come to fruition without the support of the individuals, and it is worth acknowledging their efforts. First and foremost, I am highly indebted to the guidance and patience of my supervisor, Dr. Noorizah Mohd Noor, who consistently gave me precious advice, motivation, and intellectual help to complete this paper. I would also like to express my gratitude to UKM for the funds given. Let me also thank my beloved parents, family and fellow friends for their moral support throughout the difficult moments. Without all of them, I am not sure whether I could endure all these challenging episodes.

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