Science Research Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English
[Hilary Glasman-Deal. London: Imperial College Press, 2010. pp.xii + 257. ¥2,004. ISBN:978-1-84816-310-2.]
Reviewed by Thomas Amundrud, Macquarie University
With more demand for courses in English for Academic Purposes (EAP), that go beyond just layering a thin veneer of content upon an otherwise general curriculum, there is an increasing need for suitable textbooks and student resource guides. Sadly, most class texts in English for the sciences available in Japan do not provide adequate scaffolding to ungraded scientific English, especially since research (e.g., Halliday, 2004; Swales, 2004) in scientific English corpora and grammar shows it to feature passive constructions, nominalizations (or as Halliday (2004) puts it more broadly, grammatical metaphor), and particular uses of modal auxiliaries. A further weakness of currently available texts is that, although there are now a number of academic English writing textbooks, none currently address the specific needs of science writing. While similar to other genres of academic writing, scientific articles nevertheless display key differences in format and structure unfamiliar to language teachers without training in the natural sciences. To this end, Science Research Writing for Non-native Speakers of English is a welcome, if imperfect, option for teachers of EAP science writing courses.
Following the introduction, this book is composed of five chapters explaining how to write the four sections of a scientific article (i.e., introduction, methodology, results, and discussion/conclusion), plus the abstract. It also includes a few appendices, such as lists of common prefixes and abbreviations in scientific writing. Each of the five explanatory chapters follows the same structure. First, the reason for each section of a scientific article is explained, along with an example. This is followed by a grammar and writing skills section, sometimes with exercises, demonstrating characteristic grammatical and discursive features demonstrated in the preceding example. The subsequent section is a genre exploration task, where students examine each section of the example provided for that chapter, and describe what it discursively performs. After this, a key is provided, giving answers to the genre exploration, and providing a breakdown of components for the scientific article section covered. Following these keys, four models from published scientific articles across a variety of disciplines are provided for practice; the author also encourages students to practice with articles chosen from their own fields. Each chapter then provides a collection of common lexical types and items found in the particular article section studied, which are derived from a corpus of 600 native speaker-authored, published scientific research articles. Last, every chapter ends with an imaginary project to practice writing the respective scientific article section (e.g., introduction, methodology, etc.).
Perhaps due to its intended ESL audience, much of this book was far too linguistically complex for the bioenvironmental science graduate students I used it with. Nevertheless, I found it useful to assign for pre-reading the introduction to each section, along with the grammar, the models of key components of scientific article sections, and the corpus-derived vocabulary. With the assistance of a professor in the faculty, I was able to select relevant scientific research articles for students to practice the models provided in the book, and found the models provided to largely fit the actual articles we used. I also found that the grammar and vocabulary taught in the book met many of the findings of Halliday (2004) and Swales (2004), and largely matched the language used in actual bioscience articles as well. In the end, with pairwork encouraged, and dictionaries and L1 permitted, these graduate students, who had some degree of intrinsic motivation, managed to use the elements of the book selected to complete the genre exploration and writing tasks assigned.
Unfortunately, however, this book does not provide many exercises, and the answer key temptingly follows those exercises that it does give. For this reason, teachers may find it necessary to supplement for grammar and vocabulary practice. In addition, this text does not cover referencing and citation, unlike other books for academic writing relevant to science, for example Lester and Lester (2010). It also does not cover summarizing, which is a key requirement for abstract writing.
Despite these points, until there is a similarly thorough scientific writing book that has more grammar and vocabulary exercises, includes scientific citation and reference styles, and is written in a more clear and direct manner that is more accessible to EFL students, Science Research Writing for Non-native Speakers of English may be the best choice around. With judicious supplementation, the diligent language teacher should be able to use this book to construct a course in science writing that will suit your students’ needs.
Halliday, M. (2004). The language of science. London: Continuum.
Lester, J. D. (2010). Writing research papers: A complete guide (13th ed.). New York: Longman.
Swales, J. (2004). Then and now: A reconsideration of the first corpus of scientific English. Iberica, 8, 5-21.