The Korean Association for the Study of English Language and Linguistics
[ Article ]
Korea Journal of English Language and Linguistics - Vol. 22, No. 0, pp.40-54
ISSN: 1598-1398 (Print) 2586-7474 (Online)
Print publication date 31 Jan 2022
Received 01 Oct 2021 Revised 22 Jan 2022 Accepted 27 Jan 2022

Causality in English Academic Writing: A Case of Research Articles in Applied Linguistics and Physical Chemistry

Sun-Young Oh
Professor, Department of English Language Education, Seoul National University, Tel: 02) 880-7675

© 2022 KASELL All rights reserved
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This study examines how causality is conveyed in English academic writing, with a special focus on the comparison between two contrasting disciplines, i.e., applied linguistics (AL) and physical chemistry (PC). Two academic corpora were compiled with research articles from each discipline, and a total of 135 explicit causative devices were analyzed for their frequency and use in each corpus and compared with the finding from a corpus of general written English (Xuelan and Kennedy 1992, Expressing causation in written English. RELC Journal 23(1), 62-80). The results indicate that frequent representation of the relation of cause and effect is one of the defining characteristics of academic prose, irrespective of disciplines. Another common feature of English academic writing, in contrast to general written English, regarding the expression of causality was the heavy reliance on the nominal category. A careful inspection of the data revealed subtle differences between the two disciplines including some preferred causality markers and their divergent phraseology, which are associated with distinctive epistemic conventions of each discipline. These findings are discussed in terms of the nature of academic writing and of hard versus soft disciplines, with some pedagogical implications drawn for English for academic purposes.


causality, cause, effect, academic writing, corpus, EAP


I would like to thank Ju Young Min for her help with data retrieval and coding and two anonymous reviewers for useful suggestions on an earlier version of this article.


  • Achugar, M. and M. J. Schleppegrell. 2005. Beyond connectors: The construction of cause in history textbooks. Linguistics and Education 16, 298-318. []
  • Altenberg, B. 1984. Causal linking in spoken and written English. Studia Linguistica 38(1), 20-69. []
  • Becher, T. and P. Trowler. 2001. Academic Tribes and Territories. Buckingham: Open University Press.
  • Biber, D. and B. Gray. 2016. Grammatical Complexity in Academic English: Linguistic Change in Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. []
  • Biber, D., S. Conrad and R. Reppen. 1998. Corpus Linguistics: Investigating Language Structure and Use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. []
  • Biber, D., S. Johanson, G. Leech, S. Conrad and E. Finegan. 1999. Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Harlow, UK: Longman.
  • Bridgman, P. 1961 [1927]. The Logic of Modern Physics. New York: Macmillan.
  • Cheng, P. W. and L. R. Novick. 1992. Covariation in natural causal induction. Psychological Review 99(2), 365-382. []
  • Coffin, C. 2004. Learning to write history: The role of causality. Written Communication 21(3), 261-289. []
  • Coffin, C., M. J. Curry, M.J. S. Goodman, A. Hewings, T. Lillis and J. Swann. 2003. Teaching Academic Writing: A Toolkit for Higher Education. London: Routledge.
  • Cortes, V. 2004. Lexical bundles in published and student disciplinary writing: Examples from history and biology. English for Specific Purposes 23, 397-423. []
  • Darian, S. 1996. Cause and effect in a corpus of science textbooks. ESP Malaysia 4, 65-83.
  • Darian, S. 2003. Understanding the Language of Science. Austin, TX: The University of Texas Press.
  • Downing, C. J., R. J. Sternberg and B. H. Ross. 1985. Multicausal inference: Evaluation of evidence in causally complex situations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 114(2), 239-263. []
  • Flowerdew, L. 1998. Integrating ‘expert’ and ‘interlanguage’ computer corpora findings on causality: Discoveries for teachers and students. English for Specific Purposes 17(4), 329-345. []
  • Gilquin, G. and M. Paquot. 2007. Spoken features in learner academic writing: Identification, explanation and solution. In M. Davies, P. Rayson, S. Hunston and P. Danielsson, eds., Proceedings of the Fourth Corpus Linguistics Conference, University of Birmingham, 27-30 July 2007.
  • Greenbaum, S. 1969. Studies in English Adverbial Usage. London: Longman.
  • Halliday, M. A. K. and R. Hasan. 1976. Cohesion in English. London: Longman.
  • Holmes, J. 1982. Expressing doubt and certainty in English. RELC Journal 13(2), 9-28. []
  • Holmes, J. 1983. Speaking English with the appropriate degree of conviction. In C. Brumfit, ed., Learning and Teaching Languages for Communication: Applied Linguistics Perspective, 100-121. London: CILT.
  • Holmes, J. 1988. Doubt and certainty in ESL textbooks. Applied Linguistics 9, 20-44. []
  • Hume, D. 1965. An Abstract of a Treatise of Human Nature. Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books. (Original work published 1740).
  • Hüttner, J. 2008. The genre(s) of student writing: Developing writing models. International Journal of Applied Linguistics 18(2), 146-165. []
  • Hyland, K. 2001. Humble servants of the discipline? Self-mentions in research articles. English for Specific Purposes 20, 207-226. []
  • Hyland, K. 2002. Options of identity in academic writing. ELT Journal 56(4), 351-358. []
  • Hyland, K. 2004. Disciplinary Discourses: Social Interactions in Academic Writing. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
  • Hyland, K. 2005. Metadiscourse: Exploring Interaction in Writing. New York: Continuum.
  • Hyland, K. 2006. Disciplinary differences: Language variation in academic discourses. In K. Hyland and M. Bondi, eds., Academic Discourse Across Disciplines, 17-45. Bern: Peter Lang.
  • Hyland, K. 2015. Genre, discipline and identity. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 19, 32–43. []
  • Kaidan, Z. H., A. Jalilifar and A. Don. 2021. On the significance of disciplinary variation in research articles: Perspectives from nominalization. Cogent Education 8(1), 1890872. []
  • Kelley, H. H. 1973. The process of causal attribution. American Psychologist 28(2), 107-128. []
  • Khoo, C. S. G. 1995. Automatic Identification of Causal Relations in Text and Their Use for Improving Precision in Information Retrieval. Doctoral dissertation, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, USA.
  • Lee, E. 2004. A corpus-based analysis of the Korean EFL learners' use of conjunctive adverbials. English Teaching 59(4), 283-301.
  • Liardét, C. L. 2013. An exploration of Chinese EFL learner’s deployment of grammatical metaphor: Learning to make academically valued meanings. Journal of Second Language Writing 22(2), 161-178. []
  • MacDonald, S. P. 1994. Professional Academic Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
  • Mackie, J. L. 1980. The Cement of the Universe: A Study of Causation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Martin, R. 1992. English Text: System and Structure. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Benjamins. []
  • Martin, R. 2002. Writing history: Construing time and value in discourses of the past. In M. J. Schleppegrell and M. C. Colombi, eds., Developing Advanced Literacy in First and Second Languages: Meaning with Power, 87-118. Mawah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.
  • McEnery, T. and N. Kifle. 2002. Epistemic modality in argumentative essays of second-language writers. In J. Flowerdue, ed., Academic Discourse, 182-195. London: Longman.
  • Mill, J. S. 1973. A system of logic: Ratiocinative and inductive. Book III: Of induction. In J. M. Robsonm, ed., Collected Works of John Stuart Mill (vol. VII). Toronto: University of Toronto Press (Original work published in 1872).
  • Moreno, A. 2003. Matching theoretical descriptions of discourse and practical applications to teaching: The case of causal metatext. English for Specific Purposes 22, 265-295. []
  • Murray, N. and G. Hughes, G. 2008. Writing up Your University Assignments and Research Projects: A Practical Handbook. New York: Open University Press.
  • Oh, S. 2009. Korean college students’ use of English demonstratives in argumentative essays. English Teaching 64(1), 1-29. []
  • Oh, S. and S. Kang. 2013. The effect of English proficiency on Korean undergraduates’ expression of epistemic modality in English argumentative writing. Journal of Asia TEFL 10(4), 97-132.
  • Rescher, N. 1970. Scientific Explanation. New York: Free Press.
  • Ruiying, Y. and Allison, D. 2003. Research articles in applied linguistics: Moving from result to conclusions. English for Specific Purposes 22, 365-385. []
  • Rutherford, W. E. 1970. Some observations concerning subordinate clauses in English. Language 46, 97-115. []
  • Ryshina-Pankova, M. 2010. Toward mastering the discourses of reasoning: Use of grammatical metaphor at advanced levels of foreign language acquisition. The Modern Language Journal 94(2), 181-197. []
  • Van Overwalle, F. J. and F. P. Heylighen. 1995. Relating covariation information to causal dimensions through principles of contrast and invariance. European Journal of Social Psychology 25, 435-455. []
  • Veel, R. and C. Coffin. 1996. Learning to think like an historian: The language of secondary school history. In R. Hasan and G. Williams, eds., Literacy in Society, 191-231. Harlow, Essex: Addison Wesley Longman.
  • White, P. R. and M. Sano, M. 2006. Dialogistic positions and anticipated audiences: A framework for stylistic comparisons. In K. Aijmer and A. Simon-Vandenbergen, eds., Pragmatic Markers in Contrast, 189-214. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
  • Winter, E. 1982. Towards a Contextual Grammar of English. London: George Allen and Unwin.
  • Xuelan, F. and G. Kennedy. 1992. Expressing causation in written English. RELC Journal 23(1), 62-80. []
  • Yoon, H. 2006. A corpus-based analysis of connectors in Korean students’ essay writing. Korean Journal of Applied Linguistics 22(2), 159-178.
  • Zimmerman, F. 1989. English for Science. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.