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«An Investigation of Generic Structures of Pakistani Doctoral Thesis Acknowledgements Sakander Rofess Muhammad Asim Mahmood Government College ...»

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Journal of Education and Practice www.iiste.org

ISSN 2222-1735 (Paper) ISSN 2222-288X (Online)

Vol.6, No.28, 2015

An Investigation of Generic Structures of Pakistani Doctoral

Thesis Acknowledgements

Sakander Rofess Muhammad Asim Mahmood

Government College University, Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan.


This paper investigates Pakistani doctoral thesis acknowledgements from genre analysis perspective. A corpus of 235 PhD thesis acknowledgements written in English was taken from Pakistani doctoral theses collected from eight different disciplines. HEC Research Repository of Pakistan was used as a data sources. The theses written by Pakistani native PhD students, and submitted to Pakistani HEC recognized universities during the last five years, from 2008 to 2012, were selected for the collection of acknowledgements data. Swales’ (1990) conception of genre analysis in its modified form was followed for the investigation of genre moves. In the initial stages, Hyland’s (2004b) coding scheme was utilized but due to broad socio-cultural differences between Hyland (2004b) and the present study, some other models such as Al-Ali (2010) were also sought for the coding of certain generic components. The analysis revealed seven moves along with certain sub-units or steps. These seven moves and their steps resulted from socio-cultural norms, academic traditions and institutional practices of acknowledgement writing in Pakistan.

Key Words: Genre, Moves Analysis, Acknowledgements, Expressions of Gratitude, Thanking Strategies.

1. Introduction This paper solely focuses on the investigation of genre components of Pakistani PhD thesis acknowledgements.

Like abstract, Introduction and other sections, acknowledgements are an important part of research publications.

Acknowledgements reflect gratitude for some personal, moral, financial, technical, intellectual, and conceptual support provided by some institution, agency, peers, mentors, academics or family members (Cronin, 1995).

Ben-Ari (1987) states that acknowledgements are special textual constructs which are governed by conventions

and that they are different from the main text. He further adds that acknowledgements are:

Formulations that take on an intermediate position between the internal contents of the ethnography and the people and relationships outside it: They are both an introduction to an intellectual product and a reconstruction of the external contributions that have gone towards its realizations. (p.65) Most of the linguists and genre analysts see acknowledgements as neglected “part genre” (Swales, 2004, p.31), “a practice of unrecognized and disregarded value” (Hyland, 2003, pp. 242, 253), and that “its importance to research students has been overlooked in the literature” (Hyland 2004b, p. 306). In the past research on genre, acknowledgements have been a “minor and largely overlooked academic genre” (Giannoni, 2002, p. 9) and long neglected artifact (Cronin et al., 1993).

Acknowledgements, though neglected area in the past, yet it has become an important and essential part of academic writing, especially thesis writing. Acknowledgements provide the student writers an opportunity to express their gratitude to all those who had helped them some way in their academic and research career.

Appropriate expression of personal thanks through rhetorical elements depends on the identity the writers can adopt in different contexts and in different situations. But acknowledgements are not simply personal but most of the time they are context dependent. In different contexts, language users may have different patterns of thoughts and different choice of words to express their thoughts (Kaplan, 1987; Nkemleke, 2006). Thus, writing acknowledgements also involves socio-culture pragmatism. Socio-cultural variations and preferences may affect the realization and arrangement of thanking acts (Cheng, 2012). The socio-cultural influence on language choices and construction of different genres moved us to conduct a research study on doctoral thesis acknowledgements in Pakistan where no such significant study had been conducted before from genre analysis perspective. Therefore, in order to fill this gap, this study explored PhD thesis acknowledgements as a highly significant genre of academic discourse. Generalizing the results it brought out general patterns of acknowledgements followed by average Pakistani students. This study, hence, can prove a great contribution from EAP and ESP point of view as revealing Pakistani way of acknowledging someone or something, expressing gratitude, constructing acknowledgements as a genre in their doctoral research theses, and the type of

–  –  –

language they use in expression of thanks, further enabling the people around the world to encode and decode the messages they send to or receive from Pakistani students, researcher, scholars and academicians.

2. Literature Review The number of studies conducted on PhD acknowledgements from genre analysis perspective is very small. However, some of the important studies have been discussed below to develop our understanding of the generic components of acknowledgement sections. Acknowledgements are an important aspect of academic genres. A genre comprises of a series of goal oriented communicative events formed out of schematic structures and participants of these events share communicative functions (Swales, 1990). Genres are highly structured and conventionalized entity and they have certain constraints like lexis and moves. The members of a community exploit these lexis (language choices) and moves (steps) to achieve a communicative purpose (Bhatia, 1993).

Secondly, genres also tend to reflect and represent an organization of a culture and some social purpose (Bhatia, 1993, 2004; Swales, 1990). Genre analysis, further, offers “explicit and systematic explanation of the ways language functions in social context” (Hyland, 2004a, p. 18). Hyland (2007) advocates genre from a broader contextual view, whereas Paltridge (2001) focuses on a narrower approach i.e. linguistic approach. Both Hyland (2004a) and Paltridge (2001) provide learners with knowledge and skills essential for communication in a specific situation and enable them to gain insight and access to socially charged and powerful form of language.

Hence, for the genre analysis of any academic text, genre analysts have adopted two approaches— the analysis of generic moves (a macro level) and linguistic features (a micro level). A large number of studies have followed macro-level analysis investigating move structures or steps in academic text. Most of them adopted or adapted Swales’ (1990) model in investigating the generic structures or moves of academic text. Giannoni (2002) was the first study analyzing the structure and linguistic features of research article acknowledgements. In his analysis of 100 acknowledgements taken from six disciplines (three dealing with social sciences and three with natural sciences) in English and Italian scholarly journal articles, he mainly focused on the issues like personal involvement and peer-reference, generic complexity and staging, authorial responsibility and pragmatic appropriateness. He compared structures i.e. moves (introductory move and main move) of English acknowledgements with the Italians’. He argued that the focus of English acknowledgements is on “help” which might be a clue to or indication of the “utilitarian” approach of the Anglo-Saxons whereas the Italians focused on the “value” which might be a reference to the “value favoured” (p. 25) understanding of the Italians.Hyland (2004b) found a three-tier (three moves) structure in dissertation acknowledgements which became a model for all the later similar studies on acknowledgement. He investigated 240 M.A and PhD dissertation acknowledgements, taken from six disciplines, written by Chinese Hong Kong students. His objective was to explore the expression of gratitude structured in acknowledgements.

Table: 1 Hyland’s (2004b) Three Tier Structure of Acknowledgements

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Hyland and Tse (2004) investigated lexico-grammatical patterns involving thanking strategies. They found that Chinese students constructed their thanking acts in five different ways i.e. in the form of Nominalizations, Performative verbs, Adjectives, Passives, and Bare-mentions.

Zhao and Jiang (2010) is also the similar type of study following Hyland’s (2004b) model. They investigated 20 M.A and 20 PhD dissertations written by China Chinese-speaking students, collected form language related fields like Applied Linguistics, English Language and Literature. In this study, they compared and contrasted Hong Kong Chinese and China Chinese acknowledgements in terms of their generic structures, thanking expression and the modifier used in the thanking expressions. In spite of the fact that both the groups were Chinese speaking yet there were variations and differences in the organization of acknowledgements. There was “the absence of reflecting and announcing moves, especially step 3.2 of the latter [and] the excessive use of bare mention form and modifiers in thanking acts” (Zhao and Jiang, 2010, p. 108). Modifiers such as hearty or heartfelt, sincere, special in China Chinese acknowledgements resulted from the cultural and academic differences in both the contexts.

Al-Ali (2004, 2010) investigated 100 PhD dissertation acknowledgements written by Arab students in English and Arabic respectively. He identified eight moves structure in Arab acknowledgements. The eight moves identified by him are : 1- Opening, 2- Praising and Thanking Allah, 3- Thanking Supervisors, 4- Acknowledging Access to Resources, 5- Invoking and Blessing, 6- Closing, and 8- Signing Off. He found that Arab students frequently used performative verbs such as Thank, Appreciate, and Acknowledge etc. for the expression of their thanks. He also claimed that Arab students used special textual and contextual components because of their religious beliefs, local academics, socio-cultural norms and conventions. Al-Ali (2010) shows that acknowledgements are not merely a record of assistance and support received from the acknowledgees but it also reveals how the writers see themselves in interaction with their peers in accordance with the preferred cultural specific conventions.

Lasaky (2011) compared PhD acknowledgements written by native English and non-native English-speaking Iranian students of Applied Linguistics. He found that both of the groups followed Hyland’s framework and there was no significant statistical difference in the structure of acknowledgements. However, Lasaky found the step of Thanking Allah in the Iranian English acknowledgements. But in contrast to Hyland (2004b), a separate dedication page was found in both the groups. Moreover, Reflecting Move or Accepting Responsibility Step was missing in the Iranian acknowledgements. Lasaky (2011), in this regard, explains that this missing step in Iranian acknowledgements was due to the socio-cultural reasons as Iranians take writing a dissertation as their duty and there is no place for accountability in their culture.

Cheng and Kuo (2011) investigated 20 master dissertation acknowledgements written by Taiwanese writers.

They found that Taiwanese student writers express their gratitude quite explicitly, using overt thanking expressions. Here, advisors are addressed and appreciated first with more complex strategies than the others.

Cheng (2012) compared native English speakers with Taiwanese and found that difference in acknowledgements’ organization is due to socio-pragmatic perceptions in writing this genre.

To sum up our discussion on the research in acknowledgement genre, we can say that most of the previous studies follow Hyland’s (2004b) three moves’ structure to investigate generic structure and thanking patterns of dissertation acknowledgements. However, the point for further research in this genre is that inadequate knowledge of acknowledgement structures and patterns may lead to improper expression of gratitude reflecting incompetent academic and social identity of the Master and Doctoral students (Hyland, 2004b).

In Pakistan, where no such study has been previously conducted, this study will be a great contribution.

This paper focuses mainly on the identification of genre moves of PhD acknowledgements. This study will enhance the importance and awareness of this genre enabling the students to well organize their acknowledgements. This study will also be helpful for the teachers teaching thesis writing in general and acknowledgement writing in particular.

3. Methodology In present study 235 PhD thesis acknowledgements were explored for the investigation of genre moves.

Acknowledgements were collected from eight different disciplines. These disciplines were Biology (BIO), Chemistry (CHEM), Botany (BOT), Engineering (ENG), Applied Linguistics (APL), Education (EDU), Economics (ECO), and Business Studies (BSS). HEC Research Repository of Pakistan was used as a data source. PhD theses were downloaded from the official site of the Research Repository. In each discipline 30 theses having acknowledgement sections were selected but in the discipline of APL, due to the scarcity of PhDs, Journal of Education and Practice www.iiste.org ISSN 2222-1735 (Paper) ISSN 2222-288X (Online) Vol.6, No.28, 2015 only 25 theses were available. Hence, in eight disciplines, total 235 theses having acknowledgement sections were collected. Acknowledgement pages were separated from the theses and renamed by the last name of the author, the year of publication, and the name of university. In order to turn them into editable form, acknowledgement pages were processed through OCR (Optical Character Reader) and saved in txt format.

Finally, the text files were processed through Sentence Extractor which disintegrated the paragraph forms and separated each sentence of acknowledgement text, and saved in Excel sheet.

The researcher inductively coded each sentence categorizing genre moves and steps. In the initial stages Hyland’s (2004b) coding scheme was used but some of the sentences did not fit into three tier model proposed by Hyland (2004b) because of the broad socio-cultural differences in Chinese and Pakistani acknowledgements.

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