Acquiring a scholar’s voice: Vietnamese students mastering academic vocabulary in thesis writing

Vietnamese students mastering academic vocabulary in thesis writing


  • Sandra Gollin Kies Benedictine University
  • Olga Lambert Benedictine University


Palabras clave:

academic writing, corpus analysis, EFL, vocabulary


We report preliminary results of a study of academic writing by graduate students writing in English in Vietnam, triangulating quantitative and qualitative data to gain insight into students’ perceptions of their writing and their actual performance. The research involves Vietnamese EFL teachers (n = 62) taking a 2-year MA Linguistics (TESOL) program delivered in hybrid mode. The program, jointly taught by an American private university and a large public university in Vietnam, uses an innovative scaffolded thesis model developed by the researchers. In program entry surveys, students mentioned vocabulary most often as a significant challenge for academic writing. In an attempt to quantify the extent of this perceived deficit, we compared the vocabulary that our students used in early and late drafts of their theses against two reference corpora: the graduate level linguistics subcorpus of the BAWE corpus of student academic writing and COCAA 2010-12. Data from the first drafts of the introduction, discussion and conclusion sections shows that the Vietnamese students compared favorably with both native and non-native students in the BAWE subcorpus in terms of lexical density measured as type to token ratio, but their use of both discipline-specific and “core academic” words was slightly more limited, and they relied more on repetition of the most common words in English. Between drafts, the overall length of writing expanded by approximately 17%, and students collectively added 302 word types, including 25 core academic and 11 discipline specific. The study suggests that vocabulary cannot be disentangled completely from other aspects of academic writing such as lexical bundles, syntax, and cohesion, and these require more investigation in advanced students writing in an EFL environment.

Biografía del autor/a

Sandra Gollin Kies, Benedictine University

Sandra Gollin Kies is a Professor of languages and literature at Benedictine University. Her research interests and publications include linguistic analysis of spoken and written genres, academic writing pedagogy and corpus linguistics.

Olga Lambert, Benedictine University

Olga D. Lambert is an Associate Professor in the Department of Languages and Literature at Benedictine University. Her research interests include academic writing pedagogy and relationships between individual learner characteristics and academic performance.


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