Here is a scenario, demonstrating how one might use a model text to inform their own writing. Obviously, you do not have to do this exactly, but it might give you ideas for how you can learn to write by following the example of other writings. Sometimes, since your advisor may not be very involved with all of your projects, such a pattern of observation, imitation, and adaptation is the best way to learn how to write a specific kind of text.
A doctoral student, Huiyuan Wang, from Language Education is preparing a literature review for her research. As this is not a course assignment, she has no model texts from her professor. She decided to find a model text online.
Collect Model Texts
She searched on Google Scholar and the university’s online library catalog. She found a model text which was written by a well-known scholar from her field. The main reason she chose this model text is that the literature review in the text has a similar purpose for the literature review in her text and has a form that is familiar and comfortable for her. The model text is “Becoming a Writing Teacher: Using ‘identity’ as an Analytic Lens to Understand EFL Writing Teachers’ Development” by Icy Lee, published in 2013.
Skim the Model Texts and Locate Major Components
As she wanted to know how to write the literature review section, she skimmed the model text and looked for the relevant components of the text. She found the section called “Conceptual Framework”, relevant to what she was looking for. According to Rudestam and Newton (2015), a conceptual framework, also known as a theoretical framework, is “a less-developed form of a theory, [consisting] of statements that link abstract concepts (e.g., motivation, role) to empirical data” (p. 6). Furthermore, they make the notable observation that “if not placed within such a context [of a theoretical framework], the proposed study [and empirical data, etc.] has a ‘So what?’ quality” (p. 6). Finding a study with a similar conceptual framework can be a valuable model for your own writing, as the way that framework is introduced and used throughout the text represents what readers familiar with that framework expect. Without a model, it can be difficult to know how to use a conceptual framework, because it is an abstraction.
Analyze each Component
Below is what Huiyuang Wang analyzed regarding the “Conceptual Framework” section:
In the “Conceptual Framework” section, the first part is about “identity”, which is the main concept that needs to be defined and operationalized in the study. First, Icy Lee analyzed the general characteristics of identity, followed by a specific theorization of identity, namely identity as discourse, practice, and activity, in which the author drew upon different scholars to explain what it means by saying identity as discourse, practice, and activity. So far the author has not conceptualized the concept in the field of second language writing where the author is from. This is followed by the next section where Lee (2013) states that
- “identity” in the study is defined in terms of the ways in which teachers use language to talk about themselves, their roles, and their practices as teachers of writing (i.e., identity in discourse and narrated identity in practice), as well as how they position themselves within the social, political, and historical contexts of their work (i.e., identity in activity). (p. 332)
This is a nice transition from a broad overview and conceptualization of identity to the conceptualization of the concept in the L2 writing field where the author wanted to situate her study. The next section is about research on identity in the field of second language writing to explore what has been studied and what is wanting:
- In L2 writing, research that specifically addresses the identity formation of writing teachers is scarce, though some previous work has been carried out to investigate teachers’ conceptualizations of writing and what the teaching/ learning of writing entails. (Lee, 2013, p. 332)
Lee (2013) further points out that despite the increased research in the ESL context, there is a lack of research in the EFL (English as a foreign language) context to demonstrate the need for the research in this context. Generally speaking, in the conceptual framework section, Icy Lee defined significant terms, overviewed the research in L2 writing related to teacher education as well as the lack of study on L2 writing teacher identity, which is a broad to specific writing process.
- How do you feel about the analysis by the student? Is the analysis clear and detailed?
- What other information can you include in the analysis?
- What conceptual frameworks, also known as theoretical frameworks, have you encountered in your reading? Were there any which stood out to you as valuable for your own analyses?
- How does this analysis inspire you on your analysis of a model text from your field?
This is just a brief analysis to show how you can analyze the functions and structures of a component in a model text. Your analysis can be much more detailed to include information, such as the specific logic of writing in each paragraph, the relationship between each paragraph, as well as the function of each paragraph.
Examine Rhetorical Elements
Here is a brief analysis from Huiyuan Wang:
The tone of the part is academic and formal. Teachers, research, studies, and writing are the main participants mentioned in this section. Active voice is dominantly used. Verbs, such as investigate, define, demonstrate, focus, attempt, and pose, are widely used. The tense most frequently used is present tense. The first person point of view is rarely used, except for once Lee used in the sentence “we have little knowledge about how average EFL teachers working in the school context view writing” (2013, p. 333).
- Participants means the subjects or nouns involved in a text. What are the participants commonly shown in a model text in your field? You can also find a model text and look for the participants specifically in that model text.
- What are the verbs commonly used in your field in a model text in your field? Which is more commonly used- active or passive voice- in your field?
- Is “I” or “we” commonly used in your field?
Explore the use of citation and reference
Huiyuan Wang has difficulty analyzing the intext citations in the model text. Could you help her? Below are several examples of how in-text citation is used:
“therefore, provides a frame or a lens through which we can examine how teachers act, how they understand their work, and how identity is negotiated and shaped through experience (Clarke, 2008; Sachs, 2005) and influenced by contextual factors (Miller, 2009)” (Lee, 2013, p. 332).
“In Cumming’s (2003) more recent interview study, he investigates how highly experienced ESL/EFL writing instructors […]” (Lee, 2013, p. 333).
“Recent studies by Casanave (2009) and Lee (2010) have attempted to address such a gap, suggesting that EFL writing teacher development is affected by the ecology of teaching” (Lee, 2013, p. 333).
- Do you know which documentation style is used? How could you tell?
- What is the purpose of each type of in-text citation?
- What other purposes could you find from the model text?
- How different or similar is it with the citation practice in your field?
Reflect upon the Analysis Process
Writing prompts for the reflection are given:
- What is the author of the model text in writing this literature review?
- What is your purpose for writing your literature review?
- How many sections are included in the model text?
- How many sections will you have for your literature review? Why? Which part might be the most difficult part to write? Why is it the most difficult part? How are you going to prepare to write this section?
Here is Huiyuan Wang’s reflection:
- Did your field ask for exhaustive reading for certain types of writing?
- What is usually the most challenging part of your writing?
- What are some successful strategies you have used to overcome the challenge(s) in your writing?
Reinforcing Transfer Skills Through Independent Practice
One significant criterion in developing transfer abilities, that is, being able to apply knowledge or skills from one context to a similar context, is to make you aware of the usefulness of what you are learning (Larsen-Freeman, 2013). So, you are going to bring in a specific writing assignment from your disciplines. The writing assignments could be about writing a grant proposal, a conference proposal, a lab report, etc. Follow the specific steps mentioned above to practice the metacognitive analysis. What you need to submit is an analysis report and a reflection paper.