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Journal of English for Academic Purposes 30 (2017) 26e37
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Journal of English for Academic Purposes
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Scaffolding the writing development of the Argument genre
in history: The case of two novice writers
Thomas D. Mitchell 1, Silvia Pessoa*, 1
Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, P.O. Box 24866, Doha, Qatar
a r t i c l e i n f o
a b s t r a c t
Article history:
Received 30 June 2016
Received in revised form 10 August 2017
Accepted 5 October 2017
We document the writing development of the Argument genre among two multilingual
novice writers of academic English after they participated in a literacy intervention in a
university-level history class at an English-medium university in the Middle East. We
designed three writing workshops based on our previous research to target specific linguistic features of the Argument genre that were challenging for students. We draw on
Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), which provides systematic tools for examining academic writing development, to analyze two students' essays across a semester. Our
analysis shows how students who enter university with limited academic writing experiences can benefit from explicit instruction and how writing develops differently, even
among students with similar skill sets. These findings support the importance of explicit
disciplinary instruction (De La Paz, 2005; Monte-Sano, 2010) with an explicit focus on
language (Coffin, 2006b) and contribute to the limited research on language-based writing
interventions to improve student writing, particularly at the university level. Detailed
qualitative analysis of these students' writing sheds light on the intricacies of writing
development, which can help teachers anticipate and mitigate potential challenges.
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Writing development
Argument genre
Writing intervention
1. Introduction
The ability to write effective arguments in history courses is important because students often must display their learning
by writing arguments about primary and secondary sources (de Oliveira, 2011). However, many students, particularly those
with limited experiences with advanced academic literacy practices, face challenges when writing arguments in history
(Miller, Mitchell, & Pessoa, 2014, 2016; De La Paz, 2005; De La Paz, Ferreti, Wissinger, Yee, & MacArthur, 2012; de Oliveira,
2011; Monte-Sano, 2008; Schleppegrell, 2005, 2006).
Given these challenges, there is growing research on supporting student writing of history arguments. This research
emphasizes the importance of explicit disciplinary instruction to help students effectively structure their arguments and use
evidence from historical texts (De La Paz et al., 2012; Monte-Sano & Budano, 2012; Monte-Sano, 2010, 2008). Although these
studies have contributed significantly to the teaching and learning of history, their focus on language is limited. Researchers
working within Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) have developed interventions to enhance disciplinary literacy development in history based on close linguistic analysis, but these interventions focus more on reading than writing (e.g., Achugar
* Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: (T.D. Mitchell), (S. Pessoa).
Mailing Address: Qatar Office SMC 1070, 5032 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA, 15289, USA.
1475-1585/© 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
T.D. Mitchell, S. Pessoa / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 30 (2017) 26e37
& Carpenter, 2012, 2014; Coffin, 2006a, 2006b; Schleppegrell, 2005; de Oliveira, 2011). The few studies that have examined
history writing provide rich descriptions of the linguistic features of student writing, but have focused less on how interventions affect student writing development (see Coffin, 2006a, 2006b; Schleppegrell, 2005; de Oliveira, 2011), particularly at the university level.
This paper examines how two students with limited experience writing academic English (hereafter novice writers)
developed in meeting expectations of the Argument genre after they participated in a literacy intervention in a universitylevel history class in an English-medium university in the Middle East. The intervention involved three writing workshops
we2 designed to target specific linguistic features of Argument that were known challenges (Miller et al., 2014, 2016) for
students in the course. We qualitatively analyzed their development of these linguistic features across a 14-week semester.
Our intervention and analysis are grounded in SFL because it offers a framework to conceptualize the Argument genre with
a detailed account of its linguistic and generic elements, and because it provides tools for studying writing development in
school genres (Coffin, 2006a; Schleppegrell, 2004). From an SFL perspective, genre is a “staged, goal-oriented, social process’’
(Martin, 1992, p. 505), and the social purpose of Argument is to put forward a point of view with supporting evidence that an
audience finds persuasive (Coffin, 2006a; Schleppegrell, 2004). SFL-based genre instruction, which makes language choices
explicit to scaffold students' production of different genres, has improved student writing, particularly for L2 writers (Dreyfus,
Humphrey, Mahboob, & Martin, 2016; Humphrey & Macnaught, 2016).
From an SFL perspective, disciplinary writing development may be understood as “a shift from commonsense ways of
knowing to new forms of knowledge that are distinct and distinctive for educational knowledge” (Byrnes, 2006, p. 4). Through
qualitative analysis, writing development can be tracked by documenting the lexico-grammatical and discourse semantic
features that learners produce longitudinally, features that may be either general to academic writing or specific to disciplinary genres (e.g. Christie & Derewianka, 2008). Achugar and Carpenter (2014) argue that “it is important to document
academic language development in qualitative ways that capture the complexity of development considering constellations
of linguistic features and how they function to serve discipline specific ways of making meaning” (p. 60). In our study, we
provide detailed linguistic analysis to shed light on the intricacies of writing development, which can help teachers anticipate
and mitigate potential challenges. Our longitudinal analysis shows how novice writers can benefit from explicit instruction
and how writing develops differently, even among students who share similar skill sets. Given the increasing number of
linguistically and culturally diverse students in higher education, this paper offers a model for collaboration between language specialists and disciplinary faculty to scaffold student writing development.
1.1. Challenges writing history arguments
To write an effective history argument, students must incorporate complex interrelationships among ideas, make evaluations of information and perspectives, and attend to the possibility of multiple interpretations of historical events. Students
must use historical documents to “integrat[e] content as interpreted evidence for an argument” (Young & Leinhardt, 1998, p.
25), thereby showing “capacity for critical thinking” (De La Paz et al., 2012, p. 413). Students must craft organizational patterns
strategically and show how evidence and claims connect.
These demands create significant challenges for students. Research shows that explicit writing instruction in history
improves teaching and student writing development (De La Paz et al., 2012; Monte-Sano, 2008). However, such quantitative
research has limited focus on language and only provides broad descriptions of student writing development. To meet the
challenge of writing history arguments, students need to use language effectively. Thus, we need to understand the particular
linguistic resources of history arguments and students' challenges controlling them as their writing develops. For this, we
turn to SFL-based studies of history arguments.
1.2. SFL and the study of history arguments
SFL history research describes the stages of the Argument genre: an optional background section to orient the reader to the
historical context, a thesis where a central argument is set forth and the overall structure is introduced with nominal expressions, supporting arguments with effective topic sentences, and finally a reinforcement of the thesis (Coffin, 2006a).
Within these stages, writers of effective arguments control particular linguistic resources to acknowledge the tentativeness of
historical interpretations, evaluate information, and guide the reader towards accepting their perspective (Coffin, 2006a;
Eggins, Wignell, & Martin, 1993).
However, novice writers often have little explicit awareness of valued features of argumentative writing. As a result, they
may respond with emergent arguments (Schleppegrell, 2006), inconsistent arguments (Miller et al., 2014), or non-argument
genres (Miller et al., 2016). Despite the need to scaffold student writing of history arguments, most SFL-based literacy interventions have focused on reading (e.g., Achugar & Carpenter, 2012). Research focused on writing has described the linguistic features of arguments and students' challenges writing this genre (e.g, Coffin, 2006a), with less attention to
We are writing faculty with training in linguistics who support disciplinary writing at our institution. We have a collaborative relationship with the
history professor (we have collected and analyzed data from his classes since 2009), and he invited us to deliver the workshops.
T.D. Mitchell, S. Pessoa / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 30 (2017) 26e37
descriptions of writing interventions and their impact on student writing, particularly at the university level. The present
study provides a detailed account of this relationship.
2. Materials and methods
2.1. The course and the intervention
Our study took place at a branch campus of an American English-medium university in the Middle East where the majority
of the students have English as an additional language. Arabic is the official language of the country, but English is widely
used. 61 of the 121 incoming first-year students in 2015 were enrolled in the history course under study. 61% of the students
from this incoming class are female; 40% are local nationals; 38% are non-national residents, the majority of whom are from
the Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh; the rest are international students. Most of these first-year students speak
Arabic at home (67%), while some speak English (11%), Urdu (11%), or other languages (11%). The national and non-national
residents were educated locally in Arabic-medium public schools, English-medium private schools, or schools that follow the
curriculum of another country (e.g., the Indian educational system).
For several years, we have collected and analyzed student writing from a course that introduces history as a discipline and
focuses on reading, writing, and research skills. The course is taught in English by an American professor who has been at the
institution for 13 years. The students write six short (1-2 pages) argumentative essays in response to the professor's prompt
about an assigned reading (students choose from 3 to 5 prompts for each reading; see Appendix A for all prompts for selected
readings). Students write prior to discussing the readings in class and have the option to send drafts to the professor for
feedback. Students are to produce a well-structured essay that has a clearly stated argumentative thesis with supporting
arguments. The professor's rubric explicitly values argumentative, analytical writing and discourages writing that is
“narrative” and “chiefly descriptive.” The categories Argument and Evidence are worth 60% and include features such as
“clearly stated thesis statement,” “consistent organization,” “explanation […] of how evidence presented is relevant to the
thesis,” and “relevance of the argument to the [prompt].” In our previous work, we have documented students' challenges
with meeting these expectations.
More recently, we have used our knowledge of these challenges to scaffold student writing through three interactive
writing workshops (see sample materials: Appendices B-F) that make valued features of argumentation explicit (Pessoa,
Mitchell, & Reilly, forthcoming). Before each workshop, students analyzed sample texts with guiding questions. We began
each workshop with a discussion of their homework analysis, during which we introduced metalanguage for the features of
the essays they had noticed. We then gave the students sets of new sample materials to analyze in small groups, each followed
by whole-class discussions about their findings. After each workshop, we provided a “take-aways” handout summarizing the
most important points of what had been covered.
The first workshop focused on answering the writing prompt with an argumentative thesis and following the stages of
argumentation. Based on our previous research (Miller et al., 2016), we emphasized the importance of making an evaluative
claim about the source text rather than just reproducing information from it, and remaining consistent throughout the stages.
We provided students with sample prompts and pairs of thesis statements to highlight the difference between argumentative
and non-argumentative thesis statements (see Appendix B). For example, we asked them to analyze the difference between
claiming that the “Babylonian social structure was essentially ruled by the class system,” followed by supporting claims that
were indicative of the different statuses, treatments, and punishments based on social class, compared to a proposition
stating that “Ancient Babylonia was divided into three classes,” followed by stages that corresponded to the three social
classes, but with no overarching characterization of the social structure. We explicitly showed students how ignoring key
words (e.g., how compelling; to what degree) in a prompt might lead to a non-argumentative thesis, and how such words were
inviting an evaluation that would facilitate the crafting of a defendable claim. To emphasize the importance of consistency
throughout the stages, we asked students to analyze sample introductions and conclusions that had contradictory assertions,
and a sample introduction that previewed content that appeared in a different order in the supporting argument paragraphs.
We then showed them a color-coded sample paper that had strong structure and consistency across stages.
The second workshop focused on Engagement resources from the SFL-based Appraisal framework (Martin & White, 2005)
to help students effectively bring different voices into their argument and align the reader to their position (See Appendices
D-F). Based on the homework text analysis, we led a discussion that explicated how multi-voiced (heteroglossic) resources are
needed to present information as an interpretation that needs to be argued for, while writing that presents information as
factual relies mainly on single-voiced (monoglossic) resources. For example, we compared (1) “The treatment of women in
Babylonia was unfair” to (2) “By analyzing Hammurabi's Code, it becomes clear that the treatment of women in Babylon was
unfair.” In (1), the writer presents the information as factual with a verb in the simple past tense, projecting no anticipated
disagreement from the reader. In (2), the writer expands the dialogic space by referencing the source text and then narrows
the dialogic space with a Pronounce move (it becomes clear), a move indicating that other interpretations of Hammurabi's
code might exist while simultaneously aligning the reader to the writer's position (and away from alternative
We also introduced resources that allow writers to expand dialogic space by acknowledging quoted material with
Attribute moves (According to Hammurabi's Code), followed by Endorse moves (this shows that) that narrow the dialogic space
by explaining how the quote relates to the writer's argument, thereby bringing the reader closer to the writer's perspective.
T.D. Mitchell, S. Pessoa / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 30 (2017) 26e37
These resources allow students to analyze their selected evidence, formulate reasons to explain why they chose certain quotes,
and assert how the evidence supports their claims. We asked students to use the newly introduced metalanguage to compare
the effectiveness of quote incorporation in sample essays. We asked them to analyze sample essays for the use of counter (but;
just; only) and concede-counter moves (although this … that) that allow writers to demonstrate awareness of different perspectives while aligning the reader to their established position (Appendix E).
In the third workshop, we provided an overview of the material from the first two workshops. We then used new materials
to review and practice with Engagement resources in more detail.
Workshop 1 was delivered in early September 2015 after students submitted their first essay, which we used as baseline
data. Workshop 2 was delivered in late September 2015 after the students wrote the second essay, and Workshop 3 took place
in mid October 2015 after the students wrote the third essay. We delivered the first two workshops during the 1-h class
period, and the 61 students in the course attended these in three separate sessions of about 20 students in each. The third
workshop was optional, delivered outside of class time, and attended by nine students. In this paper, we focus on the writing
development of two novice students who attended all three workshops, students whose first essay did not meet genre
2.2. The participants
Our two focal students are Amal and Hain, both business administration majors who found the academic literacy demands
of the first semester particularly challenging. Amal, a Qatari female student, attended a public school in Qatar that had
transitioned from a more English-medium curriculum to a more Arabic-medium curriculum. Hain is a Korean male student
who was educated in Korean. After they completed the course, we conducted half-hour interviews with them about their
experiences writing argumentative history essays. We explore insights from the interviews in section 4. Based on these
interviews, our own experiences teaching both Amal and Hain in our first-year English courses, and our analysis of their
writing, we refer to these students as novice writers of academic English.3
2.3. The analysis
Both authors analyzed the six essays4 produced by each student and discussed discrepancies until agreement was reached.
Our analysis is grounded in an adapted version of the 3 3 framework (see Table 1), which is a professional learning ‘toolkit’
developed by Humphrey, Martin, Dreyfus, and Mahboob (2010) to assist instructors in describing key linguistic features of
particular academic genres by considering how the three metafunctions of language interact. In SFL, these metafunctions are:
ideational (including resources for representing and expanding specialized and formal knowledge of the discipline area),
interpersonal (including resources for convincing the reader in critical yet authoritative ways) and textual (including resources
for organizing clearly scaffolded abstract texts). The 3 3 describes the linguistic resources needed to meet genre expectations according to each of these metafunctions, from the level of the whole text, to its paragraphs, to its clauses and
sentences. Although all three metafunctions operate simultaneously and inter-relatedly in any stretch of language, considering them separately has analytical value.
Table 1 displays an abridged version of our 3 3 highlighting the specific features of the 3 3 framework that we taught in
our three workshops and that are the focus of our analysis. Workshop 1 addressed key resources of each metafunction, so our
analysis of writing development from Essay 1 to Essay 2 focused on the following aspects of the 3 3:
Ideational. How effectively did students maintain a consistent argument grounded in knowledge from the source text? Did
they create an analytical framework comprising an overarching claim and sub-claims? How effectively did they use nominal
expressions in the introduction and hyper-Themes to group related topics?
Interpersonal. How effectively did students realize an argumentative stance by answering the prompt with a defendable
overarching claim that clearly presents a point of view, evaluating information, and using the source text as evidence?
Textual. How effectively did students create a well-organized text that included the stages of Argument in the expected
order? Did students preview sub-claims in the introduction, place sub-claims in the beginning of paragraphs with cohesive
ties to the preview, and reiterate the points in the conclusion?
Workshops 2 and 3 focused on interpersonal meanings, so our analysis of writing development after Essay 2 focused on
additional aspects of the 3 3: How effectively did students create patterns of engagement to guide the reader toward the
overarching claim by, for example, acknowledging a source text (According to the author) and quoting from it, and then
explaining the quotes as it relate to the writer's argument (this shows that)? Did students use concede-counter moves to show
awareness of a different perspective while aligning the reader, counter moves to reveal a strategic positioning of the reader,
and justification moves to signal reasons for claims?
Per institutional policy, we were not able to obtain admissions test scores for these students.
We analyzed all six essays written by the students but here we report on the first five. We excluded essay 6 because it is not an accurate indication of
the students' writing abilities at the end of the semester. Essay 6 is due the last week of the semester when students have many responsibilities competing
for their time. Over multiple years analyzing essays from the same course, we have found that even the strongest students turn in substantially weaker
writing for essay 6 (including semesters when we did not conduct workshops). The professor confirmed this is a yearly trend.
T.D. Mitchell, S. Pessoa / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 30 (2017) 26e37
Table 1
Abridged 3 3 Framework for the analysis of arguments in history.
Whole text
i. The text uses a clear analytical framework
(overarching claim with sub-claims) to
present information according to demands
of prompt.
ii. Related topics are grouped as distinct
supporting claims.
i.The text includes and controls external
i. The text answers the prompt with a
voices (e.g., the source text) to develop
defendable overarching proposition that
points, include evidence, and show how the
shows interpretations of history as
evidence supports the claims.
tentative (not factual) and as something
ii.Patterns of engagement develop the
that has to be argued for.
writer's stance within and across
ii. The proposition is reinforced, justified,
and defended to persuade the reader that a paragraphs o guide the reader towards the
overarching claim.
position is valid.
iii. The text moves its points or positions
forward across the stages using the source
text as evidence for claims.
iv. The text consistently guides the reader
towards the overarching claim.
i. The text is grounded in accurate and
relevant knowledge from the source text.
ii. The answer to the prompt is consistent
from beginning to end.
i. The text previews the claims to be
discussed in the introduction, includes
supporting arguments in the body
paragraphs, reiterates the points in the
Sentences & Clause
i. Nominal expressions are used in the
introduction and in the hyper-Themes
(topic sentences) to create a taxonomy for
the sub-claims.
i. The text uses modality to set up or argue
claims and to show interpretations of
history as tentative.
ii. The text uses expanding resources
(attribute) to bring in the source text. (e.g.,
The author argues … According to the author)
iii. The text uses contracting resources such
endorsement: to show how the cited
supports the claims, and to draw and
conclusions (e.g., This means/This shows
that/This evidence is indicative of …)
concede-counter moves: to show awareness of a different perspective and bring
the reader
towards the writer's perspective (although
counter moves: to reveal an imagined
position of the reader and align the
reader to the writer (e.g., even, just, only,
justification: to provide reasons for
claims (e.g.,
this obstacle is important because …)
i. The language and order of sub-claims in
the body paragraphs matches the preview
in the introduction.
ii. Sub-claims are placed at the beginning of
the paragraphs.
Note: Adapted from Humphrey et al. (2010) and Dreyfus et al. (2016).
We marked the essays for the incorporation of these features and then analyzed their use qualitatively. Qualitative analysis
of student writing allows for the study of how resources are being used and how they are woven together beyond their mere
presence or absence in student writing. Due to space constraints, we provide three texts from each student, with excerpts for
each students' Essay 1 and Essay 2, and the full text of what they wrote for Essay 5. Paragraphs in these essays are marked P1
(for Paragraph #1), P2 (for Paragraph #2), etc.
3. The focal students' writing development
The first workshop focused on key resources of each metafunction: answering the prompt with a defendable overarching
proposition that shows interpretations of history as tentative (interpersonal); answering the prompt consistently throughout
the essay (ideational); and following the stages of argumentation (textual). Both students' use of these resources was ineffective in Essay 1, but showed significant improvement in Essay 2 after the workshop. The second and third workshops used
Martin and White’s (2005) Engagement framework to focus on interpersonal resources. Both students' use of these resources
in Essay 5 (written 3 weeks after workshop 3) improved significantly but still had room to develop.
3.1. Hain, essay 1
Hain's Essay 1 responds to a prompt about Hammurabi's Code, a set of laws in ancient Babylonia. While the essay has some
strengths, he does not write an argument.
Prompt: What can we infer from this document about the ancient Babylonian economy?
P1 Babylonian was consisted of elaborated economy, regarding protecting private property, treating debt with currency,
and intervened economy by state for public goods.
P2 Firstly, what I can infer is about that private property protection from the document […].
T.D. Mitchell, S. Pessoa / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 30 (2017) 26e37
P3 Second thing that we can conjecture is regarding debt. By code number 115, 117 and 151, they told many case about
debt. How could be the debt appeared and disappeared, and relationship between moneylender and debtor. By this phenomenon, in that era, emerging debt had caused to bring financial institutions such as bank. Additionally, when we look at the
law 24, 198, 201, there are some mentions about mina. Mina indicates units of currency at that time.
P4 Finally, this era, indeed, government had intervened many aspects of lives […].
P5 In conclusion, inferring from hammurabi's code tells us that the Babylonian economy had animated with using money,
private property protection. These can be summarized the economy was under the state control.
Hain incorporates some valued linguistic resources, but with mixed effectiveness. Regarding his control of resources of the
textual metafunction, he effectively previews the content of his essay in the Thesis stage (P1: debt; property; state intervention) and returns to these points in the same order with cohesive ties in the hyper-Themes of P2, P3, and P4. Regarding his
control of ideational resources, he is aware of the need to ground his essay in knowledge from the source text, as evidenced by
his reference to “the document” in the first sentence of P2 and to specific laws in P3 (“By code number …”; “When we look at
the law …”).
Despite these strengths, the essay exhibits significant shortcomings in meeting genre expectations. Most importantly, he
does not include and defending an overarching claim, a vital interpersonal resource. While it is possible to interpret his use of
the word “elaborated” in the first paragraph as an attempt to characterize an overarching claim about the economy, it is
unclear exactly what he means by this evaluation, and he never returns to it or any similar term in the rest of the paper to
persuade the reader of its validity. Furthermore, Hain has difficulty controlling ideational resources in the Reiteration stage
(P5), as it is not completely consistent with his Thesis; he seemingly subsumes his first two points under the third, suggesting
that his overall claim is that the economy was under state control, yet at no point in P2-P4 had he used language to suggest
that the content of these paragraphs was in support of such a claim. Thus, it is hard to classify this essay as an argument, as it
reads more like a description of three separate points that are not tied together by an overarching claim (see Miller, Mitchell,
& Pessoa, 2016).
While Hain grounds his essay in knowledge from the source text by making reference to the laws, he does not control
interpersonal resources effectively. Instead of providing direct citations, he just mentions several laws and describes their
content. While Hain does use some interpersonal resources to create a dialog with the reader, for example, in P3 (“we can
conjecture”; “when we look at”), in much of the paragraph he relies on monoglossic resources, presenting information via the
use of non-modalized verbs (“told”; “had caused”; “are”; “indicates”). Furthermore, he does not appear to be actually
conjecturing about debt, given that the laws he references explicitly discuss debt and he does not make claims beyond what
the laws state. Taken together with the essay's lack of an overarching claim, it is clear that with these sparing uses of
interpersonal resources Hain is not strategically guiding the reader towards a position.
3.2. Hain, essay 2
In Essay 2, Hain responds to a chapter from historian William H. McNeill's Plagues and Peoples. He makes notable improvements by effectively controlling the resources targeted in the first workshop.
Prompt: Based on this text, to what degree did disease influence the development of Indian civilization, particularly in
P1 Plague and disease had strongly influenced the development of Indian civilization and religion. Disease led to many
aspects of people's life, especially the social structure through the caste system and the rising of religions.
P2 Firstly, disease had an effect to caste system which is the part of Indian civilization. Ancient Indian development which
had developed from Indus river valley absorbed close wild area. In this process, forest folk who had dwelled in isolation area
transmitted their many diseases to non-forest folk group. As a result of intrusive Aryans who were fragile to local Indian
infections, they constructed a social circle that prevented from forest folk who had local diseases. And Aryans had absorbed
forest folk as a lower class. This influenced to caste system of India, “The caste organization of Indian society may have partly
been a response to the kind of epidemiological standoff that arose when intrusive Aryans, who had probably learned to …” (p.
P3 Secondly, disease was strongly influential to religion […].
P4 Disease had contributed to the build Indian religions' characteristic which was transcendentalism […].
P5 In conclusion, plagues and diseases powerfully influenced the development of Indian civilization and religions.
Hain effectively answers the prompt with an argumentative thesis that has an evaluation of degree (P1: “plague and
disease strongly influenced”), and he returns to this evaluation with a consistent Reinforcement stage (P5: “powerfully
influenced”). He provides a structure for the essay with a preview in P1 (“social structure through the caste system and …
religions”) and follows through with it in the hyper-Themes that are clearly related to the overarching claim (P2: “caste
system”; P3: “religion”; P4: “Indian religions”), though he only reiterates the evaluation strongly in one of the three. Thus,
Hain makes strong improvements by crafting a defendable overarching claim (interpersonal metafunction), following a clear
organization for his essay (textual metafunction), and answering the prompt consistently throughout (ideational
Despite these improvements, Hain could be more effective in his control of interpersonal resources to bring the reader
towards his position (resources that had not yet been covered in a workshop). Though he incorporates a direct citation in each
of the three supporting Argument paragraphs, he ends two of these with a quotation. Rather than expanding the dialogic
T.D. Mitchell, S. Pessoa / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 30 (2017) 26e37
space by bringing in the external voice of the author, then narrowing the dialogic space by asserting how the citation supports
his overall claim, he ends the paragraph with an expanding move, a characteristic of lower-graded essays in the course (Miller
et al., 2014). With the exception of the heteroglossia represented by the citation in P2, the entire paragraph is monoglossic, as
Hain relies nearly exclusively on non-modalized verbs that present information as factual. The paragraph is characterized by
causal relationships (“had an effect”; “had developed”; “transmitted”; “prevented”; influenced”), and therefore more closely
resembles the language of a Causal Explanation than an Argument (Coffin, 2006a). Because Hain relies on such language and
neglects to consistently tie back to the evaluation presented in the Thesis (“strongly”), the reader is left with the impression
that Hain is merely re-presenting information from the source text rather than crafting support for his own interpretation of
how the evidence indicates a strong degree of influence.
3.3. Hain, essay 5
In Essay 5, Hain is asked to compare information from two readings, the Analects and English translations from Domat's Le
droit public, suite des lois civiles dans leur ordre naturel. Hain again writes an effectively organized and consistent text that
supports an overarching claim, and he makes significant improvements in controlling some interpersonal resources targeted
in the second and third workshops.
Prompt: What similarities can you draw between the political ideas of Domat and Confucius? Support you answer with
evidence from both texts.
P1 The similarities of political ideas between Domat and Confucius are about the importance of obeying to the kings and
doing their duties according to their rank.
P2 Both Domat and Confucius strongly advocate obedience to the king. By obeying to their ruler, people could maintain the
order and sustain peace. “Since this obedience is necessary to maintain the order and peace that should unite the head and
members composing the body of the state, it constitutes a universal duty for all subjects in all cases to obey the orders of the
prince …” (p. 3). This shows Domat's political idea that by obeying to king could bring the social order. He believed that each
person has own function by defined a rank so that different functions from the each rank can be beneficial to king. Confucius
thought that the young should obey to elders which can be substituted to their king in his context. “If, when their elders have
any troublesome affairs, the young take the toil of them.” (p. 1). This means that the young should support their elders and
being obedience to them because that is following filial piety. The concept of filial piety is a kind of obedience to their elders.
The elders could be parents, senior citizens, and king. But his intention was to obey to their king by using filial piety idea. So,
both authors similarly have political idea in terms of obedience to king.
P3 Both philosophers believe that people have duties according to the rank. Both philosophers believe that people have
duties according to the rank. According to Domat, he believed that each person has been assigned their duties by rank from
God. So, by following duties, every member can form their society with respect to each other. “., so He prescribes for each one
in particular the duties proper to his condition and status, according to his rank in the body of which he is a member. This
includes the functions and duties of each member with respect to other individuals and with respect to the body as a whole”
(p. 2). This shows that Because God allocated the duties and functions to people by rank, they should follow for the reason that
those things are beneficial to each person's life because they have a different functions so that can form harmony. Also,
Confucius asserted about the duties according to their rank. He mentioned that “The filial piety nowadays means the support
of one's parents” (p. 1). It means that the filial piety is the duty for young people, and the young is kinds of the rank in their
society. In his mind, the age is a kind of rank. So, people should implement duty based on their rank.
P4 In conclusion, Domat and Confucius have quite similar political ideas in terms of obedience to the king and duties based
on their rank. They believed that obeying to the king and following duties based on the rank would be beneficial to their ruler.
Hain provides an overarching claim5 that clearly answers the prompt (similarities of political ideas) and a structure for his
essay in P1 (importance of obeying; duties according to rank). He follows this structure with cohesive ties in the hyperThemes of the supporting paragraphs (P2: “obedience to the king”; P3: “duties according to rank”). In the Reinforcement
stage, Hain provides a consistent reiteration of the Thesis and adds an evaluation (“quite similar”). Thus, as in his second essay,
at the whole-text level he effectively controls the key interpersonal, ideational, and textual resources targeted in Workshop 1.
Hain's essay exhibits some clear improvements in his control of the interpersonal resources targeted in Workshop 2,
particularly with incorporating the external voices of the source texts to develop points, include evidence, and show how the
evidence supports his claims. The most important improvement is that he follows each quote with an Endorse move (e.g., this
means; this shows) to explain how the cited material relates his claim. He uses valued Attribute moves (“According to Domat”)
and mental process verbs (“Confucius thought”) to introduce all but one of the quotations. The paragraph structure of the
Supporting Argument stages is also improved in Essay 5. This is particularly the case in P2, where Hain makes a claim in the
hyper-Theme, provides evidence from both texts to support the claim, and then restates the same claim in the hyper-New to
As we have argued in Miller et al., (2016), all prompts (and source texts) in this course were not equally well suited to the uptake of Argument, and the
prompt that Hain selected for Essay 5 is not particularly strong in this regard. However, the prompt directly addresses the student and asks about similarities in political ideas (not just any similarity), and thereby creates space for the student to do interpretative work. It is possible to write an argumentative
comparison essay (particularly from primary source texts like the ones in question) and Hain takes some important steps in this direction: he adds an
evaluation in the conclusion to frame his overarching claim in terms of degree, and he generates labels, based on his interpretation of the texts, to
characterize the two supporting arguments.
T.D. Mitchell, S. Pessoa / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 30 (2017) 26e37
close the paragraph. The hyper-New sentences in P2 and P3 are preceded by the consequential connector so, indicating that
he is using a valued Justification move to draw a conclusion from the evidence he has presented; this is a linguistic choice that
reflects argumentative reasoning, one that he had not made use of in previous essays.
Despite these strengths, the essay could still be improved. Hain does not effectively control some ideational resources, as
there is substantial overlap between the content of the two supporting paragraphs: the concepts of “functions and rank” and
“filial piety” appear in both. Furthermore, while Hain includes more modalized verbs and a Counter move (P2: But), he is not
consistently making use of interpersonal resources in a way that reveals an anticipated position of the reader; for example, he
does not use resources such as concede-counter moves, resources other students in this course were able to incorporate by
Essay 5.
Overall, Hain was able to incorporate some of the features of argumentative writing that were targeted in the workshops.
He progressed from not writing an argument, to providing a clear argumentative response to the prompt with consistent
stages, to incorporating the source text effectively using Attribute and Endorse moves. In the analysis that follows, we see that
Amal started the semester similarly, but progressed differently.
3.4. Amal, essay 1
Amal's Essay 1 is also a response to Hammurabi's Code, and like Hain, she did not write an argument.
Prompt: [undeclared].
P1 Hammurabi ruled his empire back in the Babylonian captivity, and was one of the well-known kings. For the sake of his
kingdom to have a fair set of laws and to be a righteous king, a code that included 282 laws was listed. Hammurabi's code was
a complete set of laws that covered a lot of things, such as theft and marriage. One of the oldest code of laws but not the first.
P2 According to Hammurabi's code, the politician system was all about fairness. “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”
Is what Hammurabi believe is fair and that is what the politician system is based upon. At that time, people were divided into
classes which some were higher than others in positions. For example, the lowest class was slaves. And there was also other
classes like farmers, nobles and merchants. Some worked as farmers and some in trading products. Farmers and merchants
were mentioned in a small number of laws. For instance, law number 104. “If a merchant give an agent corn, wool, oil, or any
other goods to transport, the agent shall give a receipt for the amount, and compensate the merchant therefor. Then he shall
obtain a receipt form the merchant for the money that he gives the merchant.”
P3 Women and men both had rights […].
P4 Hammurabi's politician system was supposed to be mainly fair. He divided people into classes. Their economic was
focused on farming and trading. And men had more rights than women.
Amal's Essay 1 suggests that she did not understand how to meet the asssignment expectations. Students were to select
one of four prompts that asked what Hammurabi's Code indicates about the political system, the social structure, the
economy, and the treatment of women, respectively. Amal's P1 provides background information about the source text with
no identifiable overarching argumentative claim and no clear preview. P2 includes a series of statements about the political
system, social classes, and farmers and merchants. P3 discusses the treatment of women. It is not until Amal's summary in P4
that the reader understands that she has been providing an answer to each of the four prompts, having addressed the first
three in P2 and the fourth in P3. Thus, Amal is ineffective in controlling some of the most important linguistic resources for
meeting assignment expectations, such as answering the prompt with a defendable claim (interpersonal), moving through
clear stages to answer the prompt (ideational), and including supporting arguments that are previewed and reiterated
With regard to interpersonal resources that would be the focus of the second and third workshops, Amal shows awareness
of the need to reference the source text and include direct citations. However, she ends P2 with a quotation (an Expanding
move), neglecting to use an Endorse move to narrow the dialogic space and highlight how the outside voice supports her
position. Apart from sentences that mention Hammurabi or the laws, Amal relies heavily on non-modalized verbs (monoglossic resources) that, for example, present information about social classes as factual, not as claims to be supported.
3.5. Amal, essay 2
Amal's Essay 2 is a response to McNeill's Plagues and Peoples, where she demonstrates noticeable improvement in controlling the interpersonal, ideational, and textual resources targeted in the first workshop.
Prompt: How convincing do you find McNeill's argument that disease in Southern China slowed down immigration from
China's north?
P1 Southern China, compared to northern China has a suitable climate for farming, because southern china growing
season is longer […] But due to south china's climate the diseases risks are high, such as having a humid weather increases the
number of parasites. As a result, these parasites affects the farmers themselves and I find this a very convincing reason to slow
down the immigration from China's north to south.
P2 The epidemic diseases outbreaks in south slowed the immigration, since crops and farming there is risky […] What the
immigrants wants is no longer that effective, which makes it convincing that diseases slows down the immigration to China's
T.D. Mitchell, S. Pessoa / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 30 (2017) 26e37
P3 Diseases did not only effect the farming and the food, but also farmers. Of course, an epidemic outbreak is critical and
immigrants coming from the north will be facing the danger of getting infected. One of the ways that diseases occurs is also
the fact that Chinese farmers work was practically in standing water which is dangerous. For example, Malaria appear in
north from time to time but not as a modern health problem like in south China. This is because north China's cold and dry
climate which reduces the numbers of diseases. Moreover, immigrants from north did not have natural resistance at all. In
result, the chances of getting diseases is quite high and adult males die young. All in all, this means that diseases will slow the
immigrants because they will face and get effected by them.
P4 […] Because of those reasons and evidences, I find it convincing that diseases slows down the immigration to disease in
southern China slowed down immigration from China's north.
In Essay 2, Amal successfully answers the prompt with an argumentative thesis that is phrased in terms of degree (P1:
“very convincing”), provides information that is grounded in accurate knowledge from the source text in P2 and P3, and gives
a consistent Reiteration (P4: “I find it convincing”). She creates cohesive ties between P1 and the hyper-Themes of P2 (risky
conditions for farming) and P3 (parasites affecting farmers). Thus, she has a defendable overarching claim that answers the
prompt (interpersonal metafunction), answers the prompt consistently from beginning to end (ideational metafunction), and
follows a clear organization (textual metafunction). It is also notable that she closes both Supporting Argument stages with a
sentence that ties the content of the paragraph back to the overarching claim (P2: “which makes it convincing”; P3: “which
means”), emphasizing the key evaluative word convincing in P2.
However, there are important ways that she could have controlled some linguistic resources more effectively. With regard
to ideational resources, she does not effectively group related topics as distinct supporting claims: despite the distinction she
draws between the content of P2 and P3 in the hyper-Themes, there is a lot of overlap in their content, as both deal with the
effects of disease on farmers (caused by parasites in P2 and mosquitoes in P3). While her essay focuses on information from
the source text, she only mentions McNeill or the source text once (with a direct citation in P2), rather than repeatedly
demonstrating that the content is grounded in the source text. With regard to interpersonal resources, Amal does not evaluate
McNeill's text as an historical argument that is based on tentative evidence. Aside from asserting that she finds the reasons
convincing, she does not call attention to the types of evidence McNeill used to make his claims (such as his inferences about
ancient disease patterns based on contemporary ones and his analysis of ancient travel literature). Thus, she provides an
account of his tentative claims (which are based on circumstantial evidence) as if they were factual; she displays that she
understood the content but does not evaluate its reliability.
3.6. Amal, essay 5
In Essay 5, Amal responds to George Orwell's essay, “Shooting an Elephant.” She again effectively responds to the prompt
with a defendable overarching claim supported by relevant source text information. Her control of textual resources to create
a tightly organized text is not as effective as Essay 2, but she significantly improves her control of some sophisticated
interpersonal resources targeted in the second and third workshops; she clearly uses these resources to reveal how she
anticipates the reader's perspective and guide the reader towards her position.
Prompt: What do you think is the most important lesson about the nature of European imperialism that Orwell is trying to
tell us in his story about shooting an elephant in Burma?
P1 I believe that the most important lessons that the author Orwell is trying to them clear for us to understand them,
is that the imperialism is not only a list of advantages, but imperialists faced problems that time. At some times, they
have to make decisions and act in behavior that they do not want and destroy their own freedom, in order to save their
P2 Even though imperialism is taking over a country which is an advantage for the imperialists, but according to George
Orwell (1936) in his story “Shooting an elephant” the imperialists do not only have advantages, they actually face some
problems. One of these problems learned by this story is that imperialist sometimes are forced to have an immoral behavior
that they do not really want to have. When the author was an imperialist in Burma, he was called to do something about an
elephant that is destroying the bazaar. And as soon as he arrived to the incident location, they started cheering for him as he is
going to shoot the elephant. Additionally, they were concerned about the imperialist shooting the elephant more than the fact
that the elephant is destroying their properties. The author did not actually want to shoot the elephant though, he stated that
“It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never
shot an elephant and never wanted to.” He felt that killing an animal is a crime and he never thought about doing so. But since
the people were cheering for him, he had to do something that he wouldn't usually do just to save the reputation of white
men. And he finally shot the elephant 5 times and it caused him to die after 30 min.
P3 This also led to another problem which is that imperialists had no freedom, they were almost controlled. They could not
do whatever they want, they had to think of the British reputation. In any situation, they are ready to laugh at them, make fun
of them and make them seem so weak anytime. Hence, the author disliked the situation that he is in. “I perceived in this
moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing
dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress
the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him” the author describes how foolish they
become, when they have to destroy their freedom just to avoid looking weak and in order to “impress” them.
T.D. Mitchell, S. Pessoa / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 30 (2017) 26e37
P4 Finally, the author is trying to tell us that at that time in Burma, imperialists were not having that easy time. Consequently, they were facing hardships like acting the way they do not want, make decisions in some situations that they would
not usually make and destroy their own freedom for the sake of their reputation.
In P1, Amal answers the prompt with a relevant argumentative thesis (interpersonal metafunction), that “imperialists
faced problems” despite the apparent advantages of imperialism. She provides reasons for this claim as a preview P1's final
sentence, and the rest of the essay essentially follows this preview (textual metafunction). All of the information in the essay
is relevant to supporting the thesis (ideational metafunction). Thus, as in her second essay, she is mostly effective controlling
these key interpersonal, ideational, and textual resources (from Workshop 1) at the whole-text level.
Amal's most significant improvements in Essay 5 are evident in how she effectively controls other interpersonal resources,
resources she had not used in previous essays. Particularly notable are her uses of concede-counter moves and counterexpectational adjuncts to align the reader to her position. The hyper-Theme of P2 (which is essentially a restatement of
the thesis) is phrased as a concede-counter. According to Martin and White (2005), with this move the concession “validates
the reader's contrary viewpoint by acknowledging that it is understandable … [before showing that] the usual or expected
implications do not arise from the conceded proposition” (pp. 125e126). Amal shows awareness that a reader might think
imperialists are in an advantageous position because of their power, and then counters that they “actually” (i.e., unexpectedly) face problems. Her use of actually, a counter-expectational adjunct, does extra work to align the reader, since these
resources “project on to the addressee particular beliefs or expectations,” and often “construe the writer as … just as surprised
by this ‘exceptional’ case as it is assumed the reader will be” (p. 121), thereby aligning the reader to the writer's position. In the
penultimate sentence of the paragraph, she makes effective use of the counter-expectational adjunct just in a similar way: she
establishes that acting in a way that one does not want to in order to save a group's reputation is an exceptionally undesirable
case that illustrates the problems faced by imperialists. She repeats this move in the final sentence of P3 (“just to avoid looking
weak”), again projecting a consistent anticipated position onto the reader.
However, Amal's control of textual and ideational resources could have been stronger. P2's hyper-Theme, rather than reestablishing one of the previewed supporting claims, is essentially the same as the thesis. While P3's hyper-Theme suggests
that it will explore “another” problem, there is substantial overlap between the two paragraphs' content. Both supporting
paragraphs have to do with behavior and reputation; while these nominal expressions are used to distinguish supporting
claims in P1, these terms are both integral to each supporting paragraph, which harms the overall structure.
The analysis of Amal's essays shows that she progressed from a complete lack of awareness of how to respond to the
assignment expectations of argumentative writing in response to a single prompt, to providing a clear argumentative thesis,
to creating a clear structure for her essay in the Thesis stage and incorporating some valued interpersonal resources to align
the reader to her position. Although she used these resources effectively in Essay 5, she still could improve in creating distinct
supporting Argument stages.
4. Discussion
We have shown how two novice student writers of academic English made improvements in meeting genre expectations
after they participated in writing workshops. We highlighted intricacies in how they incorporated workshop materials to
underscore differences in their writing development. These students' first essays did not meet the expectations of the
assignment or the Argument genre. After the workshops, they increasingly met genre expectations and wrote arguments by
Essay 3. Other factors might have impacted their writing development, including their recurrent practice writing these essays,
feedback and grades from the professor on each assignment, practice reading and writing in other courses such as the firstyear writing courses that we teach, and the tutoring resources at the university. Nevertheless, our analysis shows specific
ways the students progressed in incorporating targeted linguistic features from the workshops. Thus, our study provides
further support for the importance of discipline-specific literacy interventions (De La Paz, 2005; Monte-Sano, 2010),
emphasizing the role of explicit focus on language in scaffolding student writing development (Coffin, 2006b; Humphrey &
Macnaught, 2016).
In post-intervention interviews with Hain and Amal, we learned that they found the workshops helpful. Hain even used
some of the metalanguage introduced in the workshops:
I learned that whenever I quote, I need to explain with this shows, this implies, this indicates. This was really impressive for
me. I hadn't thought about that I needed to explain the quotes. I didn't know how to quote. In terms of skills, I wasn't very
good at writing the structure. I understood that we had to open to the audience and then go narrow.
Similarly, Amal indicated that “the workshops were very good and they [helped me] improve my writing a lot.” She reflected about her first essay:
The professor commented about my draft that it was more like narrative and I didn't understand what he meant about
writing in a more argumentative way. After the workshop, the first one was about how to answer [the prompt], I understood
that I should write my opinion [in response to the prompt]. And we need to get evidence from the text.
Given that Hain and Amal were able to remember metalanguage and other specific workshop content in interviews
conducted 7 weeks after the final workshop, it appears that they valued the workshops and made conscious efforts to apply
the material.
While they both made progress, their writing developed differently, as did their incorporation of the workshops' targeted
resources. Hain significantly improved his control of textual resources to organize his essays and interpersonal resources to
T.D. Mitchell, S. Pessoa / Journal of English for Academic Purposes 30 (2017) 26e37
incorporate the source text. Yet his overall use of interpersonal was not as sophisticated as other more experienced student
writers in the class or as Amal in her Essay 5. In that essay, Amal effectively used counter and concede-counter moves, which
are indicative of strong argumentative reasoning and an awareness of the need to align the reader to her perspective.
However, she was less effective controlling textual resources to create a strong organization.
A closer look at Hain's experience provides possible insights into his developmental trajectory. Hain indicated it is
important to have:
The thesis on the top, and the body paragraphs should start with the topic sentence, explanation, and quotation from the
text, and as you and [author] said, I need to explain the quotation with this shows, this indicates. I always try to explain after
quoting, and then summarize this paragraph. And the other paragraphs, the same process as this paragraph. The last part is
conclusion, two or three sentences to summarize the thesis.
Hain’s comments show that he focused intensively on writing organized essays that clearly incorporate the source texts
(textual metafunction). He reported that “thesis and topic sentences are not so difficult” for him, but he found that “finding
the evidence for my supporting claim is difficult, lots of text, I need to find the appropriate evidence, this is the point of the
history class.” Critical reading was challenging for Hain, and this perhaps limited his inclusion of more sophisticated interpersonal resources such as concede-counter moves.
Our detailed SFL analysis can be useful for understanding students' potential challenges meeting genre expectations,
which may be helpful for scaffolding and assessing student writing development. Although Hain was unable write deeply
about the source texts, he eventually produced texts that formally and linguistically adhered to the most important genre
expectations. With more attention to critical reading, he might be able to incorporate deeper knowledge with greater sophistication due to his ability to control these key resources. Amal effectively structured Essay 2 but somewhat regressed in
that area in Essay 5, perhaps because she was trying out new types of argumentative reasoning. This points to the non-linear
nature of writing development and the setbacks that may occur. Overall, the linguistic analysis in this paper can help teachers
develop an awareness of patterns of writing development.
5. Conclusion
Our work with the history professor provides a model of collaboration that can be useful in meeting the needs of the
increasing number of linguistically and culturally diverse students in higher education. This process of collaboration requires
investment, commitment, evaluation, and continued refinement of materials and methods.
The starting point for such collaborations is having a disciplinary faculty member interested in addressing student needs
through a focus on language. Then, the language specialists must become familiar with the particular demands and challenges of the professor's writing assignments, and of the discipline's linguistic and genre demands. This familiarity can be
achieved by: analyzing course materials and student writing (e.g., comparing high- and low-graded essays to identify valued
features); conducting think-aloud protocols with the professor about student writing; and reviewing the available academic
literature. This data and background knowledge forms the basis for the development of the materials for an intervention.
After implementing an intervention, it is important to sustain an iterative process of data collection, analysis, and reimplementation to continue refining the materials.
Based on what we learned from this process, we are improving our materials and devising new ways to scaffold student
learning beyond limited in-class sessions. We developed a new rubric based on our 3 3 that is accessible to the professor
and accounts for what his rubric explicitly values. We supplemented this rubric with a version for students that explains
important linguistic resources for each category and paired it with annotated sample essays that illustrate successful and
unsuccessful language use. In future workshops, we will spend more time addressing areas that recent students have found
most challenging (e.g., strategies for paragraph development, with a focus on the patterning of interpersonal resources to
maintain an effective argumentative stance). We are also documenting teacher development to refine our collaborative
This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
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Silvia Pessoa is an Associate Teaching Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar where she teaches academic writing and sociolinguistics.
She is interested in second language writing development and supporting writing in the disciplines. Her work has appeared in Linguistics and Education and
the Journal of Second Language Writing.
Thomas D. Mitchell is an Assistant Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar where he teaches academic writing and style. His area of
research is academic writing development and writing in the disciplines. He has published in Linguistics and Education and the Journal of Second Language
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