"Dinosaur teens were keen on sex": proximity in professional and popular science

by Professor Ken Hyland
Director, Centre for Applied English Studies

Venue: KK605

The view that academic writing as an objective and faceless kind of discourse is now dead and buried.  Instead, we tend to see academic discourse as a persuasive activity involving interactions between writers and readers; a place where academics don’t just give us a view of the world, but negotiate a credible account of themselves and their work by claiming solidarity with readers, evaluating ideas and acknowledging alternative views.  As part of this writers must construct an argument using conventions which establish proximity with readers. I use the term proximity to refer to a writer’s control of language features which display both authority as an expert and a personal position towards issues in a text. Essentially this means that writers have to represent themselves, their material and their readers in ways which meet their readers’ expectations.  In other words, proximity entails taking into account participants’ likely objections, background knowledge, expectations and reading purposes.  In this paper I explore some of the ways this is done in two very different genres: science research papers and popular science articles.   Comparing key features, I show how different language choices are used to construct proximity with very different audiences.

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