Using the data-driven learning approach to facilitate the research writing of postgraduate students
John Flowerdew

     Universities around the world now face the growing challenges of remaining competitive in the international research arena. As a result, many doctoral (and even some Masters) students worldwide are now under pressure to publish internationally (e.g. Li, 2002). As users of English as an additional language, novice researchers often face linguistic difficulties or other disadvantages in getting their research published (Belcher, 2007; Curry, & Lillis, 2004; Flowerdew, 1999, 2000, 2001). However, support for research writing is still very often inadequate (Li & Flowerdew, 2009; Kwan, 2010). In this talk, I will focus on using a corpus-based approach to facilitate the research writing of post-graduate students.

     I will begin by briefly introducing the concept of corpus-based approaches to writing (referred to as data-driven learning (DDL) (Johns, 1994)), which is an approach in which students use data-bases of language and search software (referred to as concordancers) to identify the most typical ways that expert writers write and then incorporate these findings into their own writing. I will provide an example task to show how this works. I will then review some of the literature on DDL, and highlight some of the key findings, with particular reference to DDL for research writing. I will then describe a project I have been leading during which half-day workshops have been delivered to over 500 PhD students from a great variety of disciplines across six Hong Kong government funded universities in order to help them improve research writing by using corpora. Hands-on activities and discussion in these workshops were designed to show the participants how they could solve lexical, grammatical, and discourse level problems with their writing using online free corpora such as the British National Corpus and off-line software (AntConc) with the discipline-specific corpora built by one of the project team members. I will show how students were guided step-by-step to start creating a corpus of their own using high-quality research articles in their own research domains. I will conclude by arguing that intensive introductory workshops can be an effective way of teaching post-graduate students to learn to write for publication purposes independently using the data-driven learning approach.