On the complexity of academic writing

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Building upon renewed research on the pervasive phrasal or nominal style of academic writing, I investigate the use of phrasal compression and clausal elaboration structures in research articles across six academic disciplines. Results indicate that all disciplines rely on phrasal complexity features to a much greater extent than clausal features. However, these results also show systematic patterns of variation across disciplines, with hard sciences (physics, biology) exhibiting the densest use of phrasal features, followed by social sciences (applied linguistics, political science), and then humanities disciplines (history, philosophy). Furthermore, the patterns for clausal features displayed the opposite trend: most frequent in humanities and least frequent in hard sciences. Keywords: Complexity; clausal elaboration; phrasal compression; disciplinary writing; informational discourse; research articles


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