MA students all pass with Distinction!

Myself, Róisín, and Gillian were delighted to find out last week that we all passed our MA Language and Linguistics degrees with Distinction. Our degree programme included taking a wide range of modules, followed by two terms spent researching and writing a 25,000 word dissertation. All three of us used this opportunity to conduct pilot or exploratory studies in preparation for our PhD studies, which we are excited to be commencing now! You can see the titles and abstracts of our dissertations below:

Abi Hawtin

Methodological issues in the compilation of written corpora: an exploratory study for Written BNC2014

The Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) at Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press have made an agreement to collaborate on the creation of a new, publicly accessible corpus of contemporary British English. The corpus will be called BNC2014, and will have two sub-sections: Spoken BNC2014 and Written BNC2014. BNC2014 aims to be an updated version of BNC1994 which, despite its age, is still used as a proxy for present day English. This dissertation is an exploratory study for Written BNC2014. I aim to address several methodological issues which will arise in the construction of Written BNC2014: balance and representativeness, copyright, and e-language. These issues will be explored, and decisions will be reached about how these issues will be dealt with when construction of the corpus begins.

Róisín Knight

Constructing a corpus of children’s writing for researching creative writing assessment: Methodological issues

In my upcoming PhD project, I wish to explore applications of corpus stylistics to Key Stage 3 creative writing assessment in the UK secondary National Curriculum. In order to carry out this research, it is necessary to have access to a corpus of Key Stage 3 students’ writing that has been marked using the National Curriculum criteria. Prior to this MA project, no corpus fulfilled all of these criteria.

This dissertation explores the methodological issues surrounding the construction of such a corpus by achieving three aims. Firstly, all of the design decisions required to construct the corpus are made, and justified. These decisions relate to the three main aspects of the corpus construction: corpus design; transcription; metadata, textual markup and annotation. Secondly, the methodological problems relating to these design decisions are discussed. It is argued that, although several problems exist, the majority can be overcome or mitigated in some way. The impact of problems that cannot be overcome is fairly limited. Thirdly, these design decisions are implemented, through undertaking the construction of the corpus, so far as was possible within the limited time restraints of the project.

Gillian Smith

Using Corpus Methods to Identify Scaffolding in Special Education Needs (SEN) Classrooms

Much research addresses teaching methods in Special Education Needs (SEN) classrooms, where language interventions are vital in providing children with developmental language disorders with language and social skills. Research in this field, however, is often limited by its use of small-scale samples and manual analysis. This study aims to address this problem, through applying a corpus-based method to the study of one teaching method, scaffolding, in SEN classrooms. Not only does this provide a large and therefore more representative sample of language use in SEN classrooms, the main body of this dissertation attempts to clarify and demonstrate that corpus methods may be used to search for scaffolding features within the corpus. This study, therefore, presents a systematic and objective way of searching for the linguistic features of scaffolding, namely questions, predictions and repetitions, within a large body of data. In most cases, this was challenging, however, as definitions of features are vague in psychological and educational literature. Hence, I focus on first clarifying linguistic specifications of these features in teacher language, before identifying how these may be searched for within a corpus. This study demonstrates that corpus-based methods can provide new ways of assessing language use in the SEN classroom, allowing systematic, objective searches for teaching methods in a larger body of data.

CL2015 – Presenting for the First Time at an International Conference

In July 2015 I was lucky enough to give a presentation at the Corpus Linguistics 2015 conference at Lancaster University. This was my first time presenting at an international conference, and I was nervous but very excited. I thought I would use this blog post to elaborate on my experience of presenting at a conference for the first time, and hopefully give some advice to people who may be worrying about giving their first conference presentation (or to see how my experience compares to those of you who are already well practiced at this)!

All the way back in January 2015 I put together my abstract to submit to the conference. This was quite a tricky process as the abstracts for CL2015 were required to be 750-1500 words in length. This meant that more than a simple summary was needed, but that I also couldn’t go into a great amount of detail about my method or results. After many re-drafts I managed to find a balance between the two, and with crossed fingers and toes I submitted my abstract. Crossing my fingers must have worked (or maybe it was all the re-drafting…) because I was delighted to find out that I had been accepted to present at the conference! The feedback from the reviewers was mostly positive, but, even when reviewers suggest lots of changes, it’s important to see this as a way to make your work even better rather than as negative feedback.

After the elation of being accepted had worn off, I had a sudden realisation of “Oh my God, I actually have to stand up and talk about corpus linguistics in front of a whole room of actual professional corpus linguists!” However, after lots of practice in front of my PhD supervisors and fellow students who would be presenting at the conference I began to feel more confident. That was until the first day of the conference arrived and I found out that I would be presenting in one of the biggest lecture theatres in the university!

After a few moments of worry about whether anyone would be able to hear me, or whether anyone would even come, I thought “Well, there’s no point being nervous, you’ve practiced as much as you can, let’s just enjoy it!” And, as is usually the case when you’ve spent a long time worrying about everything that could go wrong, everything went absolutely fine. I had a good sized audience, my presentation worked, and I managed to answer all of the questions put to me. Something I found very helpful whilst presenting was to have a set of cue cards with very short bullet point notes on for each slide – I barely looked at them, but it was reassuring to know that they were there in case I completely froze up! The only thing that didn’t go quite to plan was my timing; I was a couple of minutes short of the allotted 20 minutes for presenting. However, over the course of the conference I learnt that this is vastly preferable to being over the time limit. Giving a presentation which is too long makes you seem unrehearsed and leaves you with no time for questions or comments. It can also ruin the timings for all of the other presenters following you, so make sure you rehearse with a stopwatch beforehand!

I received some lovely feedback after the presentation both in person and on Twitter. This allowed me to meet lots of other people at the conference with similar research interests to mine, and gave me lots of ideas for future research.

Overall, presenting at CL2015 was a very enjoyable and extremely valuable experience. It taught me that, with the right amount of preparation, giving a presentation to experts in your field is not something to worry about, but rather an opportunity to showcase your work and help it progress. My top tips for those of you worrying about presenting at a conference would be:

1) Don’t rush your abstract, you won’t get the chance to worry about presenting if your abstract doesn’t showcase why your work is important and interesting.

2) Practice with friends, colleagues, anyone who will listen! And time yourself with a stopwatch – you don’t want to be the one that the chair has to use the scary ‘STOP TALKING NOW’ sign on!

3) Use cue cards if it makes you feel more confident. However, DON’T write a script – this will make you seem over-rehearsed and you won’t be as interesting to listen to.

4) Put your Twitter handle on your presentation slides so that you can network and people can give you feedback online as well as in person.

5) See presenting as a valuable chance to have your work evaluated by experts in your field, and enjoy it!

Do my experiences of presenting at a conference for the first time match yours? Have you found these tips helpful? Let us know @corpussocialsci!