English's Viviana Cortes teaching international students how to write
for their own discipline.
English 101D. It's the academic writing course required of some international
One section in particular has caught the fancy of international graduate
students in disciplines across campus.
English 101D is taught by Viviana Cortes, assistant professor in applied
linguistics. She is just one of several faculty members in the Department
of English that teaches the course.
"Advanced Academic Writing for the International Graduate Student" instructs
students on several academic genres, such as formal letters and memos, conference
abstracts and a research report.
Cortes teaches the course with a somewhat different approach. Her research
is in corpus linguistics and she uses computers to analyze the language
patterns of very large bodies of texts (corpora).
Because of a LASCAC (Liberal Arts and Sciences Computer Advisory Committee)
grant, she was able to take that research and apply it to English 101D.
Each student in her English 101D section now has access to a corpus of recent
articles in their own field.
"The one complaint that we had on the course is that we were teaching
the same basic skills to everyone regardless of their academic discipline,"
said Cortes, who has taught the new corpus-based session since 2004. "I
came up with the idea that we could design the class so that students could
research how to write in their particular discipline."
Cortes has even developed her own set of computer search tools that allows
the students to investigate how to write a research paper in their own particular
"This section of English 101D has raised the students' awareness of
how to write for their own discipline," she said. "Teaching international
students to analyze real examples of academic genres is a very positive
way to help them become aware of the writing conventions and linguistic
choices of their academic communities.
"By the time the class is over, the students have a solid idea on how
researchers in their field write articles. Many students have come to me
and said they have discovered trends in the writing of academic articles
in their disciplines."
The course is currently only offered to non-native speakers but word has
gotten out about English 101D to the entire graduate student community.
"The class is potentially for everybody," she said. "I have
had students from education, physics, plant pathology, and community and
regional planning to mention only a few programs. Many non-international
students have also expressed their interest in the class."
Once the enrollment is finalized each semester, Cortes talks to professors
in the disciplines represented. She finds out what the top journals in those
fields are, particularly those that include what the professors consider
good models of writing.
When the LASCAC grant was in force, Cortes and her assistants established
a database of around 100 articles per discipline. Since the grant has run
out, she will typically use 25 articles from two to three academic journals
for a corpus in a particular field.
Cortes has also learned that not only is writing for varying disciplines
different, but the same holds for different fields within a discipline.
"Some journals are different among inorganic, organic and analytical
chemistry," she said. "The same happens with plant pathology,
plant physiology and biology."
The classroom work has also spilled over into Cortes' own research and others
in the department. The corpora have formed the basis for several master's
theses in the Department of English.
After she gave a presentation at a recent conference, Cortes was besieged
with questions about the course.
"The use of corpora in the classroom is rare," she said. "There are not
many classes like this out there so this is serving as a model for other