Saturday, April 25, 2009

Possible Vocabulary Errors in Academic Writing

Keeping in mind that I am looking at advanced users of English, all of whom have passed the English language proficiency requirements to enter the Univeristy of Calgary, here is a chart to go with a post I made a while ago when I was trying to think of all the different possible errors that can be associated with vocabulary in academic writing. I think I have basically narrowed it down to six categories: meaning, appropriacy, derivation, form, omission, and style. Out of those six categories, I think five of them have the greatest impact on the quality of student writing: meaning, appropriacy, derivation, form, and style. I'm thinking of leaving out omission from my final list when I begin to comb through the writing samples in my thesis project. I can then read through each of my writing samples, tagging the samples for five categories of vocabulary error. My plan to then to see if any patterns arise from the samples as a whole, and between the different groups in my corpus (native vs. non-native English speakers, different groups of NNES based on length of residence). I finally think I'm ready to start. Already, I'm fairly sure of what I'm going to find. So far, my NNES papers show are demonstrating a lack of depth of knowledge of vocabulary. The students seem to have a breadth of knowledge that stretches to about 11,000 word families of active vocabulary usage (compared to 17,000 for the native English speakers), but the problems lie in the categories of appropriacy, derivation, and form - in particular choosing the correct part of speech.
I'll keep you posted as to what I find. Enjoy my chart of possible vocabulary errors in academic writing.
P.S. It's May 4th. I just added spelling errors to my chart - I've decided orthography is an important part of vocabulary knowledge as well.

Friday, April 10, 2009

What University Student Corpora Reveal About Vocabulary

One of the best parts of the TESOL Convention this year in Denver was the Doctoral Forum. The Doctoral Forum is a chance for doctoral students from all around the world to spend a day together presenting and getting to know one another and what sorts of doctoral research are going on around the world. This year the Doctoral Forum consisted of two panel discussions, two poster sessions (with a total of almost 60 posters being presented), and a networking session with professor-mentors from a variety of different universities from Temple University Japan, to the University of Texas to my own University of Calgary (my supervisor, Dr. Hetty Roessingh was one of the mentors).

All in all, it was a really great time. I did a poster presentation on my research in progress, and it was a great opportunity for me to focus my thoughts and to pause and think about where I am currently in my thesis research project. This poster is the result of that pause, and I even won second prize for the best poster at the Doctoral Forum. I was really pleased, but I realised that I still have a lot of work to do before I get finished.

Anyway, here is my poster - enjoy!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Lexical Error in Novice Academic Writing

Lately, I have been thinking quite a lot about what can possible go wrong with someone’s vocabulary usage when they are writing an academic essay. I’ve started to keep a running tally of all the errors I can think of, and this is my list so far. I started off by looking at the detailed marking code for the Effective Writing Test (, and I went on from there. I think some of the items in the list might overlap, but I think I’m off to a good start.

Semantic error
A word is used that had the wrong meaning for the context.

Words are used in inappropriate combinations, as in the difference between a torrential rainstorm and a torrential snowstorm*, or highly educated vs. greatly educated*.

Topic constraints
Register constraints
Genre constraints
Certain words can only be used in certain situations, depending on the topic, register and genre.

Inappropriate synonym choice
Synonyms have different connotations. An example of this is the difference between Scott is a famous teacher at the University of Calgary, and Scott is a notorious* teacher at the University of Calgary. (or maybe I am notorious . . . )

Trite language
This involves the use of clich├ęs and overused expressions such as rabbits are not a valid food choice because they are as cute as a button. Another example would be, it’s important to think outside the box when dealing with financial problems.

Excessive jargon
This occurs when overly technical and specialized vocabulary is used when writing for a general audience.

Pretentious word choice
Big words are not necessarily better words. Overly complicated words and language are not better than simple and precise more common words and language.

Immature word choice
This occurs when writing about daddies instead of fathers, bunnies instead of rabbits, and choo-choos instead of trains.

Over repetition
The same words are used over and over again. For example: Completing high school should be mandatory. Mandatory high school classes will keep young people off the streets. If high school becomes mandatory, students will learn more. If school is mandatory, society will benefit. If it is not mandatory, there will continue to be problems. That is why a high school education must be mandatory.

Artificial variation
Too many synonyms are used making the writing seem unnatural. For example, Cats are important pets for senior citizens. Without their kitties, many old people feel lonely. Once arriving in the golden years, a feline companion is a necessity. Without pussy cats, oldsters won’t have the same quality of life. Granny and grandpa can’t do without these mini lions and tigers.

Word form
The wrong part of speech is used. Scott is a success* teacher, instead of Scott is a successful teacher.

Derivational error
This occurs when words are put together incorrectly, usually with inappropriate affixes. for example: After completing my analization* of the problem, I realize there was no solution.

Inaccurate lexical bundling
Some words operate in lexical bundles that are fairly inflexible. For example: on another hand* vs. on the other hand.

Mixed metaphor
This occurs when two different metaphors are combined. For example: We need to stop swimming against the current and follow the herd.

Inappropriate metaphor
This often happens when metaphors are translated from the first language, but they don’t quite work in the second. For example: After making many mistakes the government took a different tunnel.

This occurs when the writing is lacking transitions and connectors.

This happens when a general type of word, such as people, humans, things and stuff, is used in place of a more specific word.

Omnibus words
This occurs when the writer tries to incorrectly bring together many different ideas into a single word such as factor, aspect, situation, or concept.