Applied Linguistics Research Papers

  • Prescriptions for the PGCert(AppLing), PGDip(AppLing) and MA(Applied)

    The MA(Applied) is offered on-campus in Hamilton and may be taken full or part-time. The programme comprises taught papers or equivalents amounting to 120 points. In addition to the core paper APPL501, students are required to take 90 further points from papers listed for the MA(Applied). With the approval of the Programme Convenor of General and Applied Linguistics, students may take APPL591, APPL592 or APPL593 in lieu of taught papers. The requirements for admission to masters level study in Applied Linguistics are set out in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Graduate Handbook.

    Students should note that the use of computers for communication may be an assessed component of both on-campus and distance/block papers.

    Further details of these 500 level papers may be found on the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences website.

    CodePaper TitleOccurrence / Location
    APPL501Research Methods in Applied Linguistics18A (Hamilton)
    The overall aim of this paper is to provide students with a critical awareness of a range of issues and skills associated with carrying out research in the area of applied linguistics.
    APPL504Language AnalysisThis paper will not be taught in 2018.
    This paper will not be taught in 2018.
    APPL505Teaching English for Academic Purposes18B (Hamilton)
    The course will develop students' critical awareness of issues, research and professional knowledge central to the teaching of English for Academic Purposes at pre-sessional, in-sessional and postgraduate levels.
    APPL520Second Language Classroom and Curriculum Issues18A (Hamilton)
    During this paper, students will explore and examine issues related to the concept and application of pedagogic grammar, error analysis, language syllabus design, classroom interaction and the professional development of language teachers.
    APPL530Discourse Analysis and the Language Classroom18B (Hamilton)
    The overall aim of this paper is to provide students with an awareness of a range of issues associated with the analysis and interpretation of text and discourse according to a variety of approaches, as well as an ability to apply a range of analytical approaches and assess the value of these in the field of second language teachin...
    APPL571Research Writing for ESL Graduate StudentsThis paper will not be taught in 2018.
    This paper will not be taught in 2018.
    APPL580Special Topic18A (Hamilton), 18B (Hamilton) & 18Y (Hamilton)
    Students have the opportunity to pursue a topic of interest under the guidance of academic staff.
    APPL581Special Topics in Applied Linguistics18A (Hamilton), 18B (Hamilton) & 18Y (Hamilton)
    Students have the opportunity to pursue a topic of interest under the guidance of academic staff.
    APPL590Directed Study18A (Hamilton), 18B (Hamilton) & 18Y (Hamilton)
    Students have the opportunity to pursue a topic of their own interest under the guidance of academic staff.
    APPL591Dissertation18C (Hamilton)
    A report on the findings of a theoretical or empirical investigation.
    APPL592Dissertation18C (Hamilton)
    A report on the findings of a theoretical or empirical investigation.
    APPL593Applied Linguistics Thesis18C (Hamilton)
    An externally examined piece of written work that reports on the findings of supervised research.
    APPL594Applied Linguistics Thesis18C (Hamilton)
    An externally examined piece of written work that reports on the findings of supervised research.
  • Prescriptions for the PGCert(SLT) and PGDip(SLT)

    The Postgraduate Diploma in Second Language Teaching is available on-campus in Hamilton and for a limited number of papers in NET mode and may be taken full or part-time. The programme comprises 120 points, including APPL551, APPL554 and APPL555. With the approval of the Programme Convenor of General and Applied Linguistics, students may substitute up to two papers at an appropriate level from other subjects.

    Students should note that the use of computers for communication may be an assessed component of papers.

    Further details of these 500 level papers may be found on the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences website.

    CodePaper TitleOccurrence / Location
    APPL551Linguistics for Language Teaching18A (Hamilton)
    The aim of this paper is to provide a course in language analysis so that at the end of the course students should be able to relate fundamental concepts in the areas of morphology, phonology, syntax, etc. to the language classroom.
    APPL552Language Assessment and Evaluation18B (Hamilton)
    The aim of this paper is to enable students to gain a basic understanding of principles and techniques for language assessment and to evaluate the effectiveness of second and foreign language teaching and learning. By the end of the paper, students should be able to demonstrate an understanding of key concepts of language ability a...
    APPL553Social and Psychological Aspects of Language Teaching and Learning18B (Hamilton)
    This paper introduces students to a range of issues associated with social and psychological factors affecting second language teaching and learning.
    APPL554The Language Programme: Design, Materials and Methodology18A (Hamilton)
    The overall aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the major underlying theoretical principles of foreign and second language programme planning, related teaching methodology, and materials design and their practical application for the classroom.
    APPL555Language Teaching: Observation and Practice 118A (Hamilton)
    The overall aim of this paper is to develop practical second/foreign language teaching skills, techniques for evaluating language teaching practice, and self-assessment of language teaching skills as they relate to the second language lesson. The emphasis in this paper will be on overall development of teaching skills and on the pr...
    APPL556Language Teaching: Observation and Practice 218B (Hamilton)
    The overall aim of this paper is to develop practical second/foreign language teaching skills, techniques for evaluating language teaching practice and self-assessment of language teaching skills, as they relate to the second language lesson and to become familiar with the design and evaluation processes of a series of related lang...
    APPL557Reflective Practice in Language TeachingThis paper will not be taught in 2018.
    This paper will not be taught in 2018.
    APPL558Issues in Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL)This paper will not be taught in 2018.
    This paper will not be taught in 2018.
    APPL559Special Topic18A (Hamilton), 18B (Hamilton) & 18Y (Hamilton)
    Students have the opportunity to pursue a topic of interest under the guidance of academic staff.
    APPL561Directed Study18A (Hamilton), 18B (Hamilton) & 18Y (Hamilton)
    No description available.
  • Prescriptions for the MPhil

    The Master of Philosophy is a one year research-based degree in which students undertake a programme of approved and supervised research that leads to a thesis which critically investigates an approved topic of substance and significance, demonstrates expertise in the methods of research and scholarship, displays intellectual independence and makes a substantial original contribution to the subject area concerned, and is of publishable quality.

    CodePaper TitleOccurrence / Location
    APPL800Applied Linguistics MPhil Thesis18C (Hamilton)
    No description available.
  • Prescriptions for the PhD

    The Doctor of Philosophy is a three year research-based degree in which students undertake a programme of approved and supervised research that leads to a thesis which critically investigates an approved topic of substance and significance, demonstrates expertise in the methods of research and scholarship, displays intellectual independence and makes a substantial original contribution to the subject area concerned, and is of publishable quality.

    CodePaper TitleOccurrence / Location
    APPL900Applied Linguistics PhD Thesis18C (Hamilton) & 18C (Online)
    No description available.
  • Starting Applied Linguistics Research:
    a guide for students

    Draft intro to a manual in progress 2012; comments/suggestions welcome
    vivian.cook@ncl.ac.uk  homepage
    Other links: What is applied linguistics?  Presenting applied linguistics research

    Courses in Applied Linguistics are offered in most universities in the English-speaking world and in many universities in other countries, often in departments concerned with linguistics and the teaching of English to people who do not speak it as a first language rather than with modern languages or with initial teacher training. A search for ‘applied linguistics’ in Amazon.com yields 8000 odd book titles and Google finds 1,500,000 web pages. There are applied linguistics associations labelled British, American, Canadian, Japanese, Greek, Irish, Hong Kong, German, Brazilian, Southern African…. and an International Association of Applied Linguistics (AILA) that holds triennial congresses. The Newcastle University Library lists 8 journals of applied linguistics – International Journal of Applied Linguistics, Estonian Papers in Applied Linguistics… Switching to French, there are centres for ‘linguistique appliquée’ in Dakar, Besançon, Brussels, Quebec, Benin, and Paris, and journals such as Revue Française de Linguistique Appliquée and Études de linguistique appliquée. Applied Linguistics is clearly a vast enterprise, pursued across the globe.

    Defining applied linguistics

    But what is it? Applied Linguistics has proved an elusive concept that is seen by people in different ways. Attempts at a definition have proved controversial and unstable. Since its onset people have for instance quarreled over the closeness of applied linguistics to linguistics and over whether particular areas of research come within applied linguistics or not.

    Michael Halliday (1990) stated that ‘A discipline is defined according to its content: what it is that is under investigation’. So what does the discipline of Applied Linguistics investigate? Box 1 gives some examples of the kinds of investigations mounted by applied linguists, references at the end.

    This short list already shows some of the richness and scope of applied linguistics; it could spill on over page after page.

    It is hard to spell out what these activities have in common. At some level they all relate to language as part of everyday life. Language is crucial for policework – just what did the witness say? It is vital to people’s identities – is Indian English a proper variety of its own? Second languages are spoken or learnt by most people in the world – how can we best learn another language? Conversation is the crucial interactive activity for human beings – how do we actually go about it? Classroom learning of second languages is universal – how does it actually happen? So Applied Linguistics deals with language in a practical, concrete sense.

    Such a list also makes it clear that Applied Linguistics draws on approaches to language from many disciplines not just from the linguistics whose name it borrows. Psychology must be involved in the study of language learning strategies; sociology in the interaction of people in conversation; politics in the relationship of languages in the world; education in the classroom learning of languages. Much, probably most, Applied Linguistics does not use language descriptions based on linguistic theories and techniques but takes its categories from psychology or from teaching traditions; one approach to second language acquisition (SLA) draws chiefly on the mathematical modelling of Complexity (Chaos) Theory. An introduction to Applied Linguistics methodology goes so far as to claim ‘The book … will not be concerned with … language data, unless it is submitted to non-linguistic analysis’ (Dornyei, 2007, p. 19). On the other hand some areas such as ‘generative’ SLA use only the latest linguistic thinking, such as cutting-edge syntactic theory. 

    The list could be extended indefinitely to any activity in which language is involved, leaving few aspects of human life outside the remit of Applied Linguistics: at some level questions of physics such as whether light is a wave or a particle come down to our perception of  the world as verbs and nouns. Some people then treat Applied Linguistics as an overall label for anything to do with practical use of language, thus encompassing computer analyses of language data, studies of the structure of poems, fMRI experiments on language in the brain, and many more. Other people regard it primarily as made up of the two related areas second language acquisition research and classroom teaching of second languages. These are the areas that probably figure highest at applied linguistics conferences and in applied linguistics journals. Yet many SLA researchers and teaching methodologists would deny they were applied linguists and communicate with each other through a variety of conferences and journals not overtly labelled as Applied Linguistics. Many applied linguists are not members of Applied Linguistics associations as such but of more specialised associations for second language acquisition research, for materials development or for teaching English as a second or foreign language.

    Over the fifty years or so of the history of the discipline of applied linguistics the list of inclusions has changed. So what does applied linguistics not usually include today that it once did? One abandoned area is children’s acquisition of their first language and the related area of speech therapy, whose practitioners by and large do not see themselves as applied linguists. Another is sociolinguistics which relates itself more to linguistics and to sociology than applied linguistics. A third is psycholinguistics, linking primarily to linguistics and psychology. A fourth is computational linguistics, once a core element. Though some individuals who work in these areas may well see their research as applied linguistics, this is hardly the mainstream view in these disciplines. Yet all of them could be considered the practical use of language in everyday life.

    Box 2 displays some definitions of applied linguistics taken from divers sources written by individuals and organisations.

    The different factors that vary in Applied Linguistics include:

    - language teaching. Undoubtedly, to many, Applied Linguistics is synonymous with language teaching; the subtitle of The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Applied Linguistics indeed reads A Handbook for Language Teaching. The languages that have been involved as target for the students have largely been English or French, for the historical reasons that applied linguistics originated in English-speaking and French-speaking academic centres, whether Georgetown, Edinburgh or Besançon. It has often led to EFL teaching and modern language teaching inhabiting parallel universes; for example in the UK the teaching of modern languages has had by and large little contact with the EFL teaching tradition. In practice Applied Linguistics and TESOL often go hand in glove; probably the majority of students on Applied Linguistics courses around the world are former or prospective teachers of English to non-native speakers and are attending to acquire a better understanding of English teaching. Indeed to some extent the labels Applied Linguistics and TESOL are two names for the same thing: the Newcastle University MA course cannily calls itself MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL. This does not mean of course that all the areas mentioned above are not equally Applied Linguistics, just that the demand by students is for TESOL-related courses. These links to language teaching have not won it favour with many mainstream linguists, who often disdain it as a vocational subject.

    - multidisciplinarity. As we see from the definitions, Applied Linguistics draws on many disciplines – education, sociology, psychology, mathematics, etc. The general attitude is that anything useful in other disciplines should be exploited to help with the distinctive issues of Applied Linguistics; as David Block says, Applied Linguistics is ‘an amalgam of research interests’. Applied Linguistics research overlaps with many other areas. Writers may publish work that is clearly Applied Linguistics in journals or books that are not branded Applied Linguistics. One danger of drawing on other disciplines is that applied linguists are seldom experts in the parent disciplines and so may import ideas for example from psychology or mathematics that are out-of-date or borrow research methods that are not used in quite the same way; ideas that have been shelved in psychology sometimes have an extended half-life in Applied Linguistics. Concepts borrowed from other disciplines require an understanding of what the ideas or techniques were originally set up to do, even if applied linguists use them in different ways for their own purposes.

    -linguistics. Due to its name and its history, many people expect that applied linguistics draws heavily on linguistics. As the above definitions demonstrate, the international association AILA see Linguistics with a capital letter as the heart of Applied Linguistics: ‘applying available theories, methods or results of Linguistics’. The US association AAAL do not mention linguistics by name even if ‘principled approaches to language-related concerns’ implies ‘principles’ may come from linguistics.  Steve McDonough, however, does not mention linguistics in his definition at all: ‘an autonomous, problem-solving disciple, concerned broadly with language’.  Some have distinguished applied linguistics from linguistics applied, the former having no necessary connection to linguistics proper. In much Applied Linguistics today linguistics is very much a distant cousin rather than a parent. Contemporary linguistics theories are seldom invoked by applied linguists, except in the subfield of so-called ‘generative’ SLA. Linguistic tools are used by those applied linguists primarily concerned with describing corpora, conversations and the like as syntactic structures, interaction sequences or whatever. Much of the time though, many applied linguists rely on linguistic categories of earlier days such as the word, the phoneme and ‘structures’ or on the sturdy EFL grammar tradition, in a sense comfortable but well-worn slippers that have historical rather than contemporary connections with linguistics. This is not to say there is anything wrong with these ideas if they are appropriate and if they work and if the researchers involved have deliberately rejected more modern or more technical ideas rather than not knowing about them.
    - second language acquisition. To some, Applied Linguistics is simply another name for SLA research, which was initially driven as a discipline by those in Applied Linguistics and Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) like Robert Lado and Rod Ellis, looking to forward language teaching through a better understanding of classroom learning. Soon, however, SLA research tried to detach itself from language teaching, partly to fit in with its bases in university linguistics departments. People have come into Applied Linguistics from psychology or from linguistics who are interested in it for its own sake rather than for its teaching application; two current trends are for generative SLA, which uses highly abstract current syntactic theory, and for usage-based SLA, which leans heavily on emergentist psychology. The connections with the classroom are at a high level of generality and involve careful argument rather than research being instantly translatable into practical classroom exercises. To some, however, second language acquisition is no more relevant to Applied Linguistics than say first language acquisition.
    - problem-based. Since its early days applied linguistics has taken pride in being a problem-based discipline in a way that linguistics is not; a typical definition of applied linguistics is 'The theoretical and empirical investigation of real-world problems in which language is a central issue’ (Brumfit, 1995, p. 27); the word ‘problem’ appears in the AILA and BAAL quotations. It is far from clear what ‘problem’ means in this context. In scientific discourse all research is based on problems to be solved, witness expressions such as ‘Unsolved problems of science’: the point of all research is to tackle research problems; much linguistics might be said to be about the problem of language and the human mind. Applied Linguistics seems to have in mind a more popular sense of ‘problem’ to mean ‘a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome, harmful, or wrong and needing to be overcome’ (OED).

    Box 4 displays what lay people see as language problems and contrasts it with Hudson’s list of problems collected from BAAL members.

    So in some sense applied linguists see themselves as solving problems for people. But these are not the same problems that lay-people themselves feel concerned about, such as the use of slang, nor the same as the everyday language problems resolved by speech therapists.

    One danger is appearing to label things as problems in the sense of ‘difficulties’ which are simply facts of human existence. The problem of bilingualism? No more a difficulty than monolingualism. The problem of language teaching? No more a problem than any other form of education. It is potentially denigratory to label these as problems except in the scientific sense: we could easily assume there is something intrinsically problematic with bilingualism or language teaching. Interestingly the lay people’s suggestions refer to problems where things go wrong in communication through language whether with lawyers or people who are younger and older and to the prescriptive use of standard language.

    So how is applied linguistics taught in the university MA courses through which most people first encounter it? The four courses summarized in the box below are an arbitrary selection from four continents and cannot be representative since courses vary in so many ways. One choice for example is whether the degree is called Applied Linguistics or TESOL or indeed both combined. (An applied linguist might well find an interesting topic for research in why some courses are MAs ‘of’ Applied Linguistics, some MAs ‘in’ Applied Linguistics.)

    Three of the four courses have linguistics in some form in their core modules; they see part of the applied linguist’s tool-box as a knowledge of theoretical and descriptive areas of linguistics. Three of the courses include a core module on second language acquisition. All of them have compulsory courses in research methods. The majority of their optional modules are aspects of language teaching, particularly testing and CALL; some concern areas of second language acquisition and bilingualism; a few areas of linguistics such as sociolinguistics also figure. So most students attending an Applied Linguistics MA course can expect to find themselves studying linguistics and language teaching.

    But they must also be prepared to carry out research of their own, very often a surprise to those who are primarily concerned with teaching. Applied Linguistics is dynamic in that it involves tackling language through activity of one kind or another. Taught Applied Linguistics MA courses tend to avoid such practical concerns as writing course materials because the product can’t be measured academically and instead insist on a research component. At MA level most courses include a training in research methodology and require the students to carry out a research project for a dissertation, usually in a short space of time. Research training is often a requirement of the university or government for any higher degree and a certain number of students will be taking the course as a first step in a research career.

    Applied Linguistics draws on research theories and methods from areas ranging from first language acquisition to educational psychology to experimental psychology to linguistics to language teaching methodology to testing to … all the disciplines named earlier and doubtless more. The beginning researcher is deluged with conflicting advice and swayed by the need to conform to the models in all these outside disciplines rather than to the distinctive theories and research methods of Applied Linguistics. Most introductory books on Applied Linguistics research borrow say the qualitative/quantitative distinction from social research and the statistics from experimental psychology for people who are neither social researchers nor experimental psychologists and who become frustrated when their research plans for applied linguistics projects do not fit these external frameworks. There is nothing wrong with borrowing ideas and techniques of other disciplines: the life-blood of applied linguistics is made up of such transfusions. There is everything wrong with not treating them as your own, under your own control and not subject to the constraints and standards of the contributing disciplines – you’re not accountable to the blood donor for how you use his or her blood. To take a practical example, students are often baffled by the advice they get from statistics books simply because the books are not concerned with language-related data and are designed for students from other areas. As we will see later, the advice is to get your statistics from a language statistician or a statistics book specially designed for Applied Linguistics such as Larson-Hall (2009)A Guide to Doing Statistics in Second Language Research using SPSS or Hatch and Farhady (1982) Research Design and Statistics for Applied Linguistics.

    From the examples described briefly above we can already see some of the research methods that applied linguists use such as:

     - they observe language in use. They record people using language, like policemen interviewing witnesses or students talking to each other in the classroom. Then they transcribe it into written form using particular conventions, one of which is seen above in Box 1 Example 6, and they analyse it in a host of different ways looking for grammatical mistakes, interaction moves, word frequency and so on. The basis is then observations of language that people have actually spoken or written; either the observations are guided by existing constructs in the researcher’s mind or the constructs emerge from the observations.

    - they carry out experiments. Applied linguists design experiments or tests that focus on one hypothesis about people’s language, language learning or language processing by say looking at how they understand particular syntactic constructions. Often they compare one group with another group that have been treated in some special way, to see for example what the effects of using grammatical explanation might be on students’ progress. This type of research abstracts one single issue out of the whole complexity of the language-using and language-learning situations and examines it in isolation, whether it is syntax, interaction or whatever.

    - they ask people their opinions. They also often design questionnaires and structured interviews that ask people about their motivation and attitudes, the learning strategies they use or what they consider to be language problems. Such evidence is highly relevant in establishing  people’s subjective opinions, but doesn’t necessarily correspond to what objectively happens. People may believe say that they use certain strategies but looking at the actual behaviour shows they may be wide of the mark.

    These are but a small selection of the research methods research designs and methods that make up this rich field of investigation, drawing on psychology, neurology, linguistics, child development, phonology, and a host more.

    Carrying out Applied Linguistics research 

    We will sketch a brief skeleton of the stages of doing Applied Linguistics research.

    Published research always looks as if it took place logically and coherently. The process of research is however nothing like this coherent final report. It involves constant revision, back-tracking and restatement right up to the final moment of submitting the final manuscript of a thesis or paper or of delivering the conference paper. So never regard these stages as finished and done – you will want to go back to them time and again. A simple example is when you come across a new reference while you are writing your conclusions; this may need to be built-in to your account of the background and alluded to in every chapter and even change the wording of the research questions.

    Stage 1 Getting started

    Research is about finding out something in a scientific, checkable way and then communicating what you have found out to other people. The crucial starting point is then to decide what you are interested in finding out. You might look to your own experience: was there something that you found puzzling about your students’ behaviour in the classroom? You might want to solve problems of literacy such as how people learn to read. You might draw on other people’s ideas; for example how do people grasp the structure of sentences using current processing models. Obviously it is important to choose a topic that you will still find interesting after you have spent many hours or years of your life dealing with it. This is not to say that sometimes an area becomes interesting only after you have got into it.

    Research builds on what other people have already done. There is little point in investigating exactly the same thing that someone else has already researched – unless of course you think they are wrong. So it is important to find out all you can about the research area before you commit yourself to a particular topic; you may well find what you have in mind has already been carried out by someone else. Or you may see how what someone else has already done might be used slightly differently to suit your particular interest. Or indeed you may find that you come across new areas of interest that you had never encountered before. Finding out what has been done before does not mean just looking at books and papers through a library but may involve contacting other relevant researchers by email.

    Out of this preliminary work you can start thinking in more detail what you can find out about the topic you have been intrigued by. Often it is better to develop several possibilities at once rather than to commit yourself to one, since some wonderful research ideas turn out to be impossible for reasons that can only emerge late in the process. You need to focus your area of interest into research questions you can ask – specific points that you would like to establish. The wording of these will doubtless change as you progress and they may go up and down in number. But it is important to have a concrete idea of what you want to find out, expressed as a set of tentative research questions. The product of Stage 1 Getting started is then possible research questions specific to your topic.

    Stage 2 Designing research 

    The next stage is to think how you can investigate the questions you are interested in, always remembering that these are still flexible. You might want to record students in a classroom or businessmen on the telephone; you might think of an experiment that tested how fast people understood sentences with particular constructions; you might consider giving questionnaires to people to see how they approach reading.

    Each of these methods yields evidence to answer different kinds of research question. This is why it is important to think of your research question before adopting a research method; choosing a method such as a questionnaire before your decide on your research question is a case of the tail wagging the dog. Recordings of people speaking can yield data about their grammar, their interactions etc. Experiments give scores for right and wrong answers, time how fast people are at answering, see whether they are better under one condition or another, and so on. Questionnaires tell you people’s attitudes and beliefs about their reading. These broad methods yield different types of data, which can be analysed in different ways. Research methods may depend on particular research tools, whether schemes of analysis or descriptive syntax for analysing spoken interaction, computer programs for presenting, scoring and timing experiments, or standardised questionnaires and tests. All of these need either to draw on existing methods or to adapt them; it is time-consuming and often unrewarding to develop and justify a totally new research methodology of your own.

    It is also important to pay attention to the logistics of carrying out the research. Time is a crucial factor; the three months allowed for an MA dissertation need research that can be carried out more or less on one occasion; the three years for a Ph.D. permit research that can collect data over a longer period. The timing with relation to the academic year is vital for any classroom-based research; on the one hand the research has to fit the academic year itself, for example when the students are occupied with examinations, on the other, if something goes wrong, it may be a whole year before another appropriate group of students is available. Size is another factor: some questionnaire designs imply thousands of participants, some case studies a handful of deep interviews: whichever is the case you need to have easy access to the participants. Indeed it is possible to run out of possible participants; for example if you want to study Japanese learning in UK universities, the number of undergraduates studying Japanese is finite. Some methods simply take longer to carry out than others, particularly those involving transcription. And it is also crucial to take into account physical resources such as equipment and availability of supervision, collaboration or technical assistance. Many research designs that look good on paper conceal needs may in practice prove impossible to fulfill. The conclusion of Stage 2 Designing research is then a research proposal spelling out your research design, grounding it in the ideas and methodology of the area you are interested in and describing the logistics of carrying it out, whether intended for yourself or for the eyes of a supervisor or grant-awarding body. It is like a cook working out a new recipe on paper before trying it out.

    Stage 3 Carrying out research

    The first crucial stage is actually getting hold of the data, whether recordings and transcription of the classroom, carrying out the experiment with the participants, or whatever. Depending on the design this may last an afternoon of testing or a year of detailed observation. This is the stage at which unanticipated things usually occur: a recent Ph.D. student found the students he was studying had been split by civil war and the whole university had moved city.  This is the cook buying his vegetables at the market place.

    Then it may necessary to prepare the data for analysis – the cook chopping up his vegetables. This might be a matter of transcribing tapes using your chosen transcription style, sometimes very time-consuming - for first language acquisition one estimate is that every hour of tape-recorded data means 18 hours of transcription work. Or it might be entering scores on a spreadsheet like Excel. Or if you’re using a computer experiment generator it might be simply looking at the file that the program has produced of responses, times etc. usually it is inadvisable to skimp on this stage. Entering as many attributes of the data as possible can save you time if you later have a new idea you want to check out as otherwise you’d be faced with rescoring the original data in some novel way.  

    Stage 4 Analysing and interpreting data

    If the research design has been well-thought out, it will be more or less obvious what has to be done to analyse the data it yields. Spoken data will be transcribed according to a standardised convention and them analysed with the chosen scheme; experimental data will yield scores and totals for all the measures involved; questionnaires will be analysed either numerically or in terms of content. With some rich sources of data, it is important to focus on the actual research questions: a recording of conversation may have so many interesting features that the researcher gets side-tracked. In some research however the side-track may turn into the main road: a Ph.D. that started as a comparison of Piaget and Chomsky ended up as on the mathematical theory of learnability. Some types of data like spoken transcripts are adaptable to different types of analysis after they have been collected; others like experiments are in a pre-set form that doesn’t permit any post hoc change.

    Almost always, analysing data means working with numbers, at least at an arithmetical level, to get totals, averages, percentages and so on. For most research involving numbers, it is also necessary to show in one way or another that the data are not just the result of chance. Hence most applied linguistics methodology concerns itself with statistical probability. The crucial thing for applied linguistics research is to understand what statistics are appropriate for language-related work, which may well differ from those in the contiguous disciplines of education, psychology etc. And to realise that for most people Applied Linguistics statistics are simply a check on how solid the facts are rather than then being in themselves a tool of analysis.

    Inevitably this is the stage at which the computer makes life much easier. Software programs are available stretching from the straightforward Excel spreadsheet to sophisticated statistics packages such as SPSS and R and to specifically linguistic programs such as Varbrul. But it is never safe to treat these as magic black boxes that will do your thinking for you; it’s the analysis that is right for your research that counts.

    This is also the point at which the specific results from the research methods can be compared with the existing research covered in Stage 1: does what you have found out about reading differ from previous researchers? If so, is it due to differences in methodology, participants or what? In short you need to lay out what you have added to the field of research in terms of results, methods, theories or whatever. Simply confirming that, say, people transfer syntactic structures from their first language to their second for the ten thousandth time is not advancing research, unless you have something new to say.

    The product from Stage 3 Analysing and interpreting data is precise answers to the research questions you have set up in Stage 1; you can now prove that the hunch which started you off was correct or not. Actual Applied Linguistics research never seems to yield as exact answers to research questions as researchers hope; anything to do with language is so complex that partial answers are often all we can hope for.

    Stage 5 Presenting research

    Having done the research, you need to communicate it to someone else; a cook has to get someone to eat their new dish. Many will be carrying out research to obtain a qualification, whether an MA or a Ph.D. In this case you need first of all to be au fait with the requirements for your specific institution. Again the computer program for word processing is vital to the actual writing process. It will save a considerable amount of time if you familiarize yourself with the short cuts and useful aids built in to the package. A set of tips for using Word in dissertations is at Word Tips.

    Writing academic prose is itself a special type of activity which normal writing may not have prepared you for and for which there is a long learning curve; you get better by doing it so don’t imagine it will take care of itself in the final stages of research. Indeed each section of the thesis needs to be written in its own way. Presenting the research background requires summarising in a non-repetitious way, not for example starting each paragraph with the name of a researcher or publication – ‘Chomsky (1957) claims that …’. Presenting the results means integrating the facts and figures with readable prose that allows the readers to progress smoothly without having to interpret too much for themselves. The thesis builds up a whodunnit for the reader: here’s the background of characters; here’s the murder; here’s the burning problem of who the murderer is; here are the clues the detective finds; here’s how the detective assessed the evidence; here’s the final denouement in which the murderer stands revealed. You are always providing information that has to build logically in sequence and conform to the structure of research, not revealing your conclusion till all the evidence is in place. This logical sequencing may be quite different from the sequence in which you actually carried out the research.

    Presentation through journal publication is increasingly seen not only as the domain of experienced researchers but also as a necessary part of Ph.D. study. The starting point is deciding which journals are relevant to your topic and who reads them – pure researchers, language teachers, informed general public, etc. Prepare your paper in the general format of the journal, usually better assessed through actual examples of the papers they publish than their mindboggling guidelines. Given the short compass of a journal article, you may only be able to fit in part of your research; some academics have mined their Ph.D. thesis for a dozen articles and two or more books.

    Conference presentation is the other route through for communicating your research, whether in-house meetings, conferences for postgraduate students, or the multi-ring circus of international conference such as TESOL in the USA with up to ten thousand participants. Conferences are an indispensable method of finding out what other research is going on, and indeed finding out why some lines of research have been dropped, and of forming contacts with other people engaged in related activities. Presenting a paper makes you ‘visible’ to other people in the field; sitting in the audience keeps you ‘invisible’.

    Actual presentation is now greatly simplified for the beginner by the universal use of PowerPoint. This means that you can control and time your presentation and practice it intensively in advance; there is little excuse nowadays for a presentation where the speaker runs out of time, shows results on a screen in an unreadably small font and spends fifteen minutes on the background literature and so has to gabble their results in a minute or two. Successful presentation depends on interesting the audience – do not look at the projection screen all the time! – and on giving them something to take away in the form of a proper summary handout, not the printout of the screen that PowerPoint calls a handout. As with thesis writing, practice makes perfect: talking to a large audience from notes become easier the more you do it – some would say many speakers find it too easy.

    Dimensions for Applied Linguisticsresearch

    Is psychology/psycholinguistics involved?

    100%             75%              50%              25%             0% 

    Is sociology/sociolinguistics involved?

    100%             75%              50%              25%             0%

    Is linguistics involved?

    100%             75%              50%              25%             0%

    Is it concerned with language teaching?

    100%             75%              50%             25%              0%

    Is it concerned with specific or general  language issues in the world?

       very specific   fairly specific   both   fairly general   general

     

    Examples used in Box 1

    1. Gibbons  2001

    Example of practical ‘real-world’ application, using syntax of a kind on different types of data:

    Gibbons, J. (2001), ‘Revising the language of New South Wales police procedures: applied linguistics in action’,  Applied Linguistics 22/4. 439-469

    2. Oxford 1990

    Example of strategies SLA research, using a standardised tool SILL:

    Oxford, R. (1990). Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House

    3. Jenkins 2002

    Example of an applied phonology teaching-related piece related to ELF:

    Jenkins, J. (2002), ‘A sociolinguistically based, empirically researched pronunciation syllabus for English as Foreign Language. Applied Linguistics 23/1, 83-103

    4. Oh 2010

    Example of a straight SLA syntax piece:

    Oh. E. (2010), ‘Recovery from first-language transfer: The second language acquisition of English double objects by Korean speakers’, Second Language Research 26(3) 407–4395.

    5 Shin & Nation 2008

    Example of a frequency-based vocabulary study:

    Shin, D-K. & Paul Nation, P. (2008), ‘Beyond single words: the most frequent collocations in spoken English’, ELT Journal, 62(4), 339-348

    6 Firth & Wagner 2007

    Example of an argumentative thinkpiece on ‘social’ lines:

    Firth, A. and Wagner, J. (2007), ,Second/foreign language learning as a social accomplishment: elaborations on a “reconceptualised” SLA', Modern Language Journal, 91: 800-819

    Continuation in Presenting Applied Linguistics Research

     

     

     

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