An analysis of the language of attribution in university students’ academic essays
The study reports on challenges related to the use of the language of attribution in academic essay writing by Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) students at Rhodes University, as a microcosm of similar challenges faced by university students elsewhere. The study content-analysed 150 essays written by 50 PGCE students taking the course ‘Language, Learning and Cognition’ which the researcher taught. Key categories analysed were: student preferences for the type and style of incorporating authors’ ideas in own academic essays, appropriateness of attributive words used, punctuation within the language of attribution, tense consistencies, appropriateness of attendant lexico-grammatical collocations, attributive words’ fit with the syntax and grammar of the writer’s ideas, as well as their consonance with the spirit and intent of the citations. Although findings point to gross challenges across all categories of analysis, they were most glaring in the matching of attributive words with the intent of citations and in the use of proper punctuation. Chief among the study’s recommendations is the need for explicit instruction in, and attention to, the language of attribution in university students’ essays by all lecturers and not just those in academic literacy development.
Keywords: academic writing, attributive tags, attributive verbs, author’s voice, citing, direct quotes, essay, essay quality, language of attribution, paraphrases, referencing, tense consistencies.