Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


This thesis is concerned with the quality of argument in lengthy academic texts. The aim of the research reported in this thesis is to better understand the ways arguments in undergraduate dissertations are constructed through the employment of a range of linguistic resources. It investigates two dissertations written by student writers who, while from very different linguistic background and educational contexts, are both neophyte participants in an increasingly global higher education market. In this research, argument refers to “a mode of thinking and composition or ‘metagenre’” (Andrews, 2005), by which undergraduate student writers create and organise meanings in the dissertations. The research is particularly interested in the textual and the interpersonal zones in academic texts where novice writers must learn in constructing effective arguments that embody the organisation of the texts as unified whole, the staging of meanings to achieve texts’ communicative purposes, and the enactment of the writers’ engagement with others in the literature as they take up their positions in the discourse community.

The research is underpinned primarily by comprehensive theoretical frameworks of the model of “language as social semiotic” (SFL) (Halliday, 1994, 2004). Particularly, the research draws on the Periodicity framework (Halliday, 1985b; Martin & Rose, 2007), the genre theories (Swales, 1990; Martin, 1992; Martin & Rose, 2008), and the Appraisal framework (Martin, 2000a; Martin & White, 2005) to conduct in-depth linguistic analyses on the linguistic resources utilised to construct the arguments, focusing on three-key text features: Periodicity, genre and Engagement. A complementary theory of the model of “the layout of argument” by Toulmin (1958, 2003) is utilised to assess the organisation of the elements of arguments laid out across stretches of the dissertations.

This research is descriptive in nature; in which, the in-depth linguistic analysis is conducted to investigate the phenomena emerging in both texts with a view to noticing the similarities and differences in the ways the two student writers manage these tasks. It analyses an Honours dissertation from an Australian university and a dissertation written by an Indonesian student writer studying English as a foreign language (EFL) in an English department at an Indonesian university. Three-stage analyses are conducted in the top-down manner suggested by the three-key text features. Firstly, Periodicity analysis explores each dissertation to see how each student writer organises meanings as unified whole hierarchically and construct the macro-argument effectively. Secondly, genre analysis examines three selected chapters from each dissertation to see how writers stage meanings to achieve their communicative purposes in the meso-level of argument. Thirdly, analysis on Engagement in the sentence level (i.e. micro-level of argument) is conducted to samples from each text those that potentially show how the writers engage with readers and other writers in the field.

The research uncovers that the two writers employ linguistic resources to organise meanings to construct arguments in both similar and different ways. The Periodicity analysis reveals that both writers structure their texts at the macro-level of arguments according to conventional ways of organising dissertations. This suggests commonality in modelling practices across the students’ institutions. However, genre analysis and Appraisal analysis show important differences that emerged in how students structure their texts at the meso-level (at chapter, section and paragraph levels), and in how the writers accomplish negotiation by their employment of evaluative language at the microlevel of sentence and below. The arguments within these levels are differently organised that might influence their soundness (quality). These practices indicate the dissimilarities the way each discourse community employs linguistic resources in academic setting, and the academic discourse practices within communities where each student writer participated in.

The thesis contributes to the understanding of how arguments are constructed across lengthy texts through (i) choices in the ways meanings are hierarchically organised at various levels of texts, and (ii) in the ways meanings are staged to achieve the texts’ communicative purposes, together with (iii) how writers engage with others in respect to other voices in the discourse within the academic context. The research extends existing explanations of text development and its relations to genre staging. This staging is verified by the evaluative linguistic analysis in which the staging is signposted. Pedagogically, the findings of the research contribute to the advancement of the teaching of argument in academic genre in EFL educational context. More specifically, a more nuanced approach to pedagogy is necessary in the Indonesian tertiary context.