How do Chinese students of Spanish use reporting verbs in their master’s thesis? A concordance-based analysis

May 15, 2019 12:00 PM — 12:30 PM
Valencia, Spain


Academic writing is one of the major learning activities for students of higher education. In fact, many universities have included academic writing courses into their curriculum. As a useful and also must-have skill, reporting theories, concepts, experiments from other research, namely citation practice plays a crucial role in the foundation and development of writer’s statements and in the connection and interaction with the academic community. Meanwhile, integrating source text into a claim is complicated and even causes problems for inexpert writers.

By using both quantitative and qualitative methods, previous research has examined citation work in a diverse range of writing settings, such as language backgrounds (native and non-native writers), cross-linguistic comparison (English-Chinese, English-Spanish, English-Czech), group comparison (novice vs. experienced writers), academic genres (research papers, theses), disciplinary variations (medicine, biology, linguistics), and chapter variations (introductions, literature reviews, discussions). Furthermore, some of those studies have built frameworks to categorize reporting verbs according to their process functions, rhetorical functions, semantic differences, and stance types. However, the vast majority of relevant studies have been carried out in English setting; while reporting practices in Spanish context remain an under-researched area, and even less in Spanish as a foreign language (SFL) context.

The aim of the present study was to illustrate the way in which Chinese students of Spanish used reporting verbs in their master’s thesis, by building on the pioneering work of Hyland (2002) and Charles (2006). To this end, we compiled a corpus of 23 theses (over 500,000 words) produced by L1 Chinese MA students and written in Spanish. Concordance was used to search for potential reporting verbs. We then provided a more inclusive coding scheme to categorize them systematically.

The results showed a diverse choice of reporting verbs used by Chinese students of Spanish, although there existed marked individual differences. The most common verbs were proponer, señalar, indicar, creer, and considerar, while many others only occurred once or twice. Integral sentences (the name of the cited author occurs inside the reporting context) were preponderant reporting structures. It was also found that discourse acts were the most favorable process functions (see Hyland 2002), followed by research acts. Additionally, the SFL student writers tended to choose more positive and conclusive verbs (e.g., proponer, definir, afirmar, concluir) when introducing cited sources. Finally, ARGUE verbs had the highest frequency among four semantic categories established by Charles (2006). Apart from the statistical results, we also noticed that some verbs (such as indicar, confirmar, apuntar, mostrar, demostrar, etc.) can be classified into different categories depending on their contexts, which may lead to confusion in the theses.

The study, therefore, suggests that reporting verbs in SFL writing courses should be paid more attention. From a pedagogical perspective, SFL writers should be made aware of the functions and differences (may be subtle) among those reporting verbs in order to understand their conventional usage and use them in a proper way. Moreover, the coding scheme we employed in this research could be applied further to develop teaching materials and learning activities for academic writing courses. Lastly, although confined to SFL context, our research paradigm can provide insights into future work on other languages as well.


Charles, M. (2006). Phraseological patterns in reporting clauses used in citation: A corpus-based study of theses in two disciplines. English for Specific Purposes, 25(3), 310-331. doi: 10.1016/j.esp.2005.05.003

Hyland, K. (2002). Activity and evaluation: Reporting practices in academic writing. In John Flowerdew (Eds.), Academic discourse (pp. 115-130). London, New York: Routledge.

Gang Yao
Gang Yao
PhD student

My research interests include corpus linguistics, Spanish as a Foreign Language, and academic writing.