As a discipline, the field of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) has a history of approximately fifty years, during which its scope of practice, body of literature, and community organizations have been constantly evolving and expanding. As we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, it is important to acknowledge the continually developing nature of the field, its increasingly diverse national contexts of practice, the heterogeneity of its functional roles (in different contexts), and its growing knowledge base, which has largely focused on curriculum and pedagogy but in recent years has included a focus on the practitioner. Although EAP had its origins in contexts that could be described in terms of Kachru’s (1994) model as ‘inner-circle’ countries (or by practitioners perpetuating ‘inner-circle’ academic identities and trajectories), it is now the case that it has expanded across borders, with centres and local discourse communities well beyond its ‘inner-circle’ origins. However, as EAP continues to grow across different regions, I propose that the ongoing progress and future direction of the field will rely on its progressive development in three areas, consideration of which is the focus of this paper:
the EAP knowledge base as a basis for future research and practice;
EAP practitioner formation, including pathways into the field, initial teacher training and ongoing development; and
EAP discourse communities, their associative relations, and collectivities.
Probably the most widely-used definition of EAP is that of Flowerdew and Peacock (2001) which states that EAP is ‘the teaching of English with the specific aim of helping learners to study, conduct research or teach in that language’ (p. 8). In this definition, EAP is described in terms of the end goals of its students. However, when considering the process of EAP teaching and learning as part of a contrastive definition (Ding & Bruce, 2017), I propose that EAP differs from the related field of TESOL in four respects. These are:
its concern with literacy rather than overall proficiency development;
a central focus on developing discourse competence;
consideration of the academic rather than more general social uses of language; and
a commitment to the academy rather than to wider society.
EAP, therefore, is concerned with language as it is embedded in the practices, discourses, and texts of the academic world, a world that EAP students aspire to enter, or which they are already trying to navigate. However, it needs to be emphasized that the focus of EAP is not just on language as the linguistic trace of a discourse process, but rather it is the whole discourse process, including the language, that is under consideration in EAP courses. This discourse process will include such influences on language use as context-related knowledge, practices and expectations (including ideology), disciplinary epistemologies, and the conventionalized genres used in disciplinary communication, both through writing and speaking.
On the basis of this definition of the field of EAP with its focus on both discourse process and outcome, I propose that the overall goal of EAP courses is students’ development of discourse competence to communicate and participate in the previously mentioned academic activities of study, teaching, and research. For students, the complexity of working towards this educational goal cannot be underestimated, and neither can that of the practitioner’s task of understanding, operationalizing, and teaching this complexity. The following discussion, therefore, attempts to address the pedagogic challenge in proposing the three areas for research and ongoing development in EAP, specifically the knowledge base of the field, practitioner formation, and discourse community. Underpinning this discussion is the idea of contemporary EAP as a geographically diverse and heterogeneous field in a state of continuous development.
The EAP knowledge base
In using the term knowledge base of EAP, I refer to the totality of the theoretical, research-informed, and practice-based knowledge drawn upon in the planning, delivery, and assessment of EAP courses. I propose that the knowledge base of EAP effectively resides in two repositories: one is the rapidly developing literature of the field, manifested principally in journal article and book publications; the other is in the dynamic practice knowledge of practitioners, shaped by such contingencies as prior experience in TESOL (or some other academic discipline), their transition into EAP, and their access to ongoing professional development activities, including EAP community organized events such as conferences, seminars, and research-training events.
One of the issues in EAP has been a recognition that these two repositories have, at times, not been closely connected, and that the theory and research domain, although embedded within certain theoretical and methodological approaches, has become somewhat estranged from actual practice despite the claims of researchers that their contributions inform EAP practice. In this brief discussion of the EAP knowledge base, I wish to raise three fundamental issues that I suggest need to be addressed to ensure the future development, dissemination, and growth of EAP knowledge. The first issue is a re-emphasis on the importance of needs analysis as a basis for EAP practice. The second is the need to counter the narrowing of the EAP knowledge base around certain research orthodoxies or traditions, and the third is a response to the second, the need to broaden the EAP knowledge base in terms of the range of theoretical and research approaches that it draws upon.
The importance of needs analysis
Most research articles published in the area of EAP or ESP usually contain the claim that they address a certain issue or meet student need in a particular way. However, some dispute the claims of researchers about the relevance of their studies to practice, and have issued calls for making closer connections between research and the needs that it claims to meet. For example, Swales (2019) expresses ‘some personal disappointment with studies of genre in the leading ESP/EAP journals that fade away before offering well-articulated pedagogical applications’ (p. 78). Similarly, Cheng (2019) states: ‘ESP [and EAP] genre scholars should, if their studies are truly motivated by pedagogical needs to begin with, describe the pedagogical needs, lacks, or wants that drive their studies’ (p. 44). Cheng goes on to cite and critique a range of vague justificatory claims from published studies about how they inform EAP or address problems or issues in EAP. Cheng rightly observes that, with the rapid growth of new research studies in the field, any new contribution usually contains one or more claims about how the study informs or contributes to practice. It is probably fair to suggest that the claim of a research-practice link has become a standardized feature of the research article genre in the EAP field. However, it is equally likely that such claims are often not justified by reference to a particular needs analysis or previous research that has identified the particular claimed need.
In effect the issue here is the need to revisit a fundamental element of the field, specifically the idea that EAP is a needs-driven academic activity, and to reconsider the process of needs analysis established by Hutchinson and Waters (1987) with their conceptualization of the present situation analysis and the target situation analysis. All definitions of EAP assert that it is a student-centred, needs-driven academic activity. The notion of teaching and learning being centred on and addressing student need has been central to the field. However, with the burgeoning growth of new EAP research, two trends have emerged. The first is a decline in studies that investigate student needs directly; the second is continued justificatory claims accompanying new studies that their findings still meet some area of student need. To respond to this issue and return to a focus on student need, researchers should revisit and further develop well-tried pathways for carrying out needs analyses. For example, pioneers in EAP, Hutchinson and Waters (1987) provide sets of enquiry questions for needs analyses that can be updated and adapted according to context. I provided some ideas about this a decade ago in my own book (Bruce, 2011, pp. 36-45). Furthermore, to respond to these questions, Hyland (2006, p. 78) outlines data collection methods that can be used to gather information about the different aspects of student need.
My argument here is twofold. The first is that there needs to be a greater focus on research that directly investigates student need, through both present and target situation needs analyses. The second is, that like Cheng, I would argue that there needs to be a stronger grounding of studies in other areas (such as of texts, discourse, or pedagogies) by providing explications of the investigated and documented needs that such studies claim to address.
Moving beyond research orthodoxies
In terms of advancing the knowledge base of EAP, I suggest that another important issue to be addressed and countered is the emergence of what I term research orthodoxies. This refers to streams of research that take on a life of their own and become somewhat disconnected from actual practice. I suggest that this problem has arisen as a result of the rapidly increasing volume of publications in the field, and that it presents two threats to the knowledge base of EAP. The first is that research orthodoxies lead to a loss of breadth of research enquiry in what is a highly complex and multifaceted field. The second is that there is limited practical applicability of some of the research being produced.
A principal reason for the emergence of such research orthodoxies is that the research publishing world tends to operate in a spiral of narrowing focus. It is usually the case that, when new journals emerge, they claim to be interested in publishing research on a broad range of topics within their particular field when compared with existing publications. However, the reality is that the claimed scope of interest of academic journals (in terms of the range of types of research) often tends to be broader than that the actual research areas for which they accept submissions for publication. The reason for this is that, over time, the focus of journals tends to narrow and reify around the particular research interests of their editorial boards and their regular reviewers. Evidence for this tendency is discernible in recent studies of the bibliometrics of journals in the EAP and ESP fields (Hyland & Jiang, in-press; Liu & Hu, 2020; Riazi et al., 2020).
Also contributing to this narrowing process, researchers themselves, when deciding whether or not to submit their research reports to a particular journal, often look to that journal’s metrics for the most cited and most downloaded articles for guidance as to whether their own work is suitable to send to that publication. From this type of information, submitters discern the core research interests of journals, select one that is closest to their own area of research interest, and submit accordingly. The result of these two processes is a narrowing circle of interest and publication, which, in the case of applied journals in fields such as EAP, can result in a loss of relevance and applicability to practice.
Preferred research orthodoxies that have emerged in the EAP field that have spawned large numbers of similar research studies have included Swalesean genre analysis (specifically move analyses), the selective use of certain elements of systemic functional linguistic theory in research studies, and corpus studies of single linguistic or citational features. Each of these approaches has provided, and will continue to provide, a framework for much valuable research. However, as part of this narrowing process, their overuse has meant that they have become circumscribed in terms of what they cover and, more importantly, what they do not cover in relation to the larger enterprise of EAP teaching and learning.
If the overall goal of EAP is, as I have suggested, the development of discourse competence in relation to the processing and creation of academic texts, then thought needs to be given to all of the knowledge areas that contribute to this highly complex goal, along with the most appropriate ways of investigating these knowledge areas, including relevant theories and research methodologies. Among those of us in gatekeeping roles, such as journal editors and reviewers, it is important to acknowledge the complexity inherent in EAP theory and practice and to be willing to affirm that complexity in the range of research deemed relevant and suitable for publication.
Approaches to knowledge
Following my comments in the previous section, I propose that the complexity of EAP (that arises from its teaching and learning goals) suggests that the knowledge base that informs the field needs to be able to meet that complexity. In discussing the knowledge base of EAP, I refer to three concepts mentioned in the first editorial of the Journal of English for Academic Purposes (JEAP), where Hyland and Hamp-Lyons suggest that EAP instruction should be grounded in ‘an understanding of the cognitive, social and linguistic demands of specific academic disciplines’ [emphasis added] (2002, p. 2). Here, I continue to advocate that the theories of knowledge and research on which EAP draws should relate to these three areas - the social, cognitive, and linguistic dimensions of disciplinary discourse knowledge and pedagogy. However, building on this earlier proposal of the founding JEAP editors, I suggest that we take a broadening approach to the knowledge base of EAP that, while including specific discipline-related ‘demands’ on instruction, also includes consideration of a wider range of types of knowledge that relate both directly and indirectly to the contexts, processes, and outcomes of that instruction. Here I am tackling a very large topic, and my discussion is only briefly illustrative and refers to a small number of landmark works of literature.
Firstly, in relation to the social dimension of the EAP knowledge base, EAP researchers have at times drawn upon social theories that relate to language, most notably systemic functional linguistics through its theory of register, which has underpinned many studies in EAP and ESP journals. However, the focus of such studies has principally been on textual analyses. Similarly, ethnography has been combined with textual studies in the way that Swales (1998) terms textography. Also, occasionally, ideas from other social theories, such as Goffman’s approach to symbolic interactionism, have found their way into EAP studies (e.g., Flowerdew, 2008). However, overall it is probably fair to say that social theories have not been drawn upon extensively in EAP theory and research although consideration of them is the focus of a future edited publication (Ding & Evans, forthcoming). Here I suggest that there is potential in EAP knowledge development and research for further explorations in two areas that could draw upon the concepts of social theories. The first is the wider political and social contexts of EAP programmes and the second is aspects of social knowledge more directly related to actual EAP practice, which has been the object of some EAP research activity.
In relation to the first area of the wider context of EAP, there is potential for future studies to examine the broader societal and political influences on knowledge building and practice in the field. To date, issues, such as the effects of ideology through political and social movements on the roles of universities and the resultant positioning of EAP within universities, have received only limited research scrutiny (e.g., Hadley, 2015). Similarly, the roles of academic publishing, metrics, associations, and all of the related elements of academic hierarchy and their effects on EAP have been left relatively untouched. The use of theories - such as critical theory and critical realism, and methodologies such as critical ethnography - while framing research in other areas of education, have been little used by EAP researchers, but may provide a basis for future explorations in this first area.
By contrast, in the second area of EAP practice, there has been more research activity that has drawn upon social theories. This area has, for example, seen advocacy of the use of ethnography to inform the teaching of writing (e.g., Paltridge et al., 2016), as well as the use of Bourdieu’s concept of habitus in considering language-teacher knowledge and knowledge development (Hedgcock & Lee, 2017). Using systemic functional linguistic theory and building on Bernstein’s codes, Maton’s (2013) legitimation code theory, as an approach to knowledge and knowledge building, has also been embraced by some EAP researchers in recent studies (e.g., Monbec, 2018; Cowley-Haselden, 2020). While the social dimensions of language and disciplinary discourses have always been acknowledged in EAP, it seems that there is still considerable scope for their continued investigation, especially in the diverse and expanding contexts of EAP practice.
The area of the cognitive aspects of knowledge and knowledge development have at times been acknowledged in EAP. The concepts of cohesion and coherence are so often mentioned in relation to academic texts (and their discursive interpretations) that they are not really interrogated or currently seen as worthy of investigation, or considered to be a ‘retro’ area of investigation that was more characteristic of EAP and ESP studies in the 1970s and 80s. In relation to the cognitive dimension, I focus here specifically on coherence in writing, which I see as an under-investigated area although one that is central to the development of discourse competence in academic writing.
Cohesion is a property of texts referring to all of the ways in which linguistic elements connect together integratively to construct texts, about which Halliday and Hasan’s (1976) important work Cohesion in English has provided a basis for developing investigatory insights. The authors identify the linguistic elements of cohesion as ‘reference, substitution, ellipsis, conjunction and lexical cohesion’ (p. 303). Much has been made of elements of grammatical (or conjunctive) cohesion although perhaps less attention has been paid to lexical cohesion, which would seem to be important since Hoey (1991) claims that the majority of cohesive devices in academic texts are lexical rather than grammatical.
However, while cohesion is a property of texts, coherence is a property of the mind; that is, coherence relates to the interpretation of texts and their discursive meanings and intentions. In EAP and ESP research publications considerably less attention has been given to theories of coherence in text. I suggest that an element often missing in the teaching of academic reading and writing is this lack of focus on coherence relations within texts (Knott & Sanders, 1998). Taxonomies of coherence relations that could be considered are: Crombie’s (1985) interpropositional relations; Mann and Thompson’s (1988) rhetorical structure theory; and Kehler’s (2002) work on discourse coherence. My particular view has always been that the devices that promote the coherence or ‘ease of reading’ of texts will differ among texts according to the overall rhetorical purpose of a text or textual segment. I suggest that groups of coherence relations will tend to be related to and characteristic of the type of larger textual whole within which they occur. For examples of the linking of clusters of coherence relations to certain text types and genres, see the section ‘EAP and Textual Grammar’ in my book (Bruce, 2011, pp. 84-100). Overall, the cognitive dimension related to achieving coherence in academic writing is a major challenge for all writers (EAL and others) and I suggest that there is still considerable scope for research that further develops knowledge of both how this is achieved and how this may be taught.
Inseparable from matters related to cohesion and coherence is the linguistic dimension of academic texts, which is the third of Hyland and Hamp-Lyons’ EAP research areas. In a call for new directions in EAP research, Swales (2019) suggests that ‘more attention could be given to a) syntactic and phraseological patterns and uses, and b) to local cohesive elements that will increase the ‘flow’ of student texts’ (p. 78). As examples of issues for further research in this area, he points to unexamined or under-examined hypotheses about the functional use of three linguistic features that contribute to the coherence of texts. The first is Tarone et al’s (1981) hypothesis of the functional use of active and passive verbs as part of the ‘syntax of voice’ (in methodology sections of research-reporting articles). The second is the use and avoidance of negation in certain types of writing, such as abstracts, and the third is parentheticals and the extent to which they can be described as Hyland’s (2005) code gloss category of metadiscourse devices. Another area that I have considered under-explored is the differing reference systems in texts that fulfil different types of rhetorical purpose, such as the use of article reference in data-reporting. In arguing for a renewed focus on linguistic features in texts, Swales (2019) points to studies published in such journals as Discourse and Communication and System as providing useful insights in this area of applied linguistic knowledge as it informs EAP. As a result, I argue that there is still a considerable amount of work to be done in this area by EAP researchers themselves, work that could further contribute to the EAP knowledge base.
EAP practitioner formation
In this brief discussion of the practitioner, I use the term ‘formation’ as a broadly inclusive term to account for the development of EAP practitioners through the five areas of: initial teacher training; experiential practice; ongoing professional development activities; scholarship; and research. Because of its multifaceted nature, it is important to conceptualize the ‘formation’ of the EAP practitioner in a holistic and ongoing way; it should be seen as a continuous, conscious, and reflexive process. In this section, I wish to make two main points: the first is to emphasize this idea of the ongoing nature of practitioner formation and the second is to emphasize the importance of the contributory inputs to practitioner formation of the five previously mentioned areas. In the third and final part of the paper on community, I will suggest that the support and validation of many aspects of these activities involve participation in EAP communities, be they face-to-face, virtual, or through publication.
The first point is that practitioner formation is ongoing. EAP practitioners are always acquiring and developing new knowledge since EAP as a field has a rapidly growing knowledge base, and especially since the field has expanded globally and it is practised in diverse contexts. As Campion (2016) expresses it in the title of her journal article: ‘the learning never ends’. UK-based case studies emphasize the importance of practice-based learning in the field of EAP (e.g., Alexander, 2010; Campion, 2016; Elsted, 2012; Martin, 2014). Part of this ongoing process is understanding and appropriating the extensive knowledge base of the field, which was discussed in the previous section, especially since most practitioners enter the field with qualifications in other areas of language teaching or applied linguistics that may not have included a specific focus on EAP. The case-study research on how this knowledge has been acquired emphasizes both its complexity and the idea of its gradual and incremental appropriation through participation in the field. What also emerges is the importance of the mentoring role of experienced practitioners as an important source of this knowledge for newcomers.
In addition to proposing the ongoing nature of EAP practitioner formation, my second point here is to emphasize the multiplicity of sources of the theoretical, research, and practice-related knowledge needed by EAP teachers. The first source of teacher formation and knowledge development is initial teacher education (ITE). The literature shows that EAP practitioners enter the field through different pathways, often (but not exclusively) through some kind of post-degree, language-teacher training. This may involve a certificate or diploma awarded by an examining board within which there is usually some kind of supervised teaching practicum. University postgraduate diplomas in second language teaching or applied linguistics can also fulfil this role. These qualifications usually include the key knowledge areas of pedagogic approaches to language analysis, assessment literacy, knowledge of second language acquisition, pedagogy, practicum experience, and materials development. These knowledge areas provide a basis for practice in EAP as a branch of language teaching, but as much of the research indicates, they do not provide important knowledge about learner needs, disciplinary language, discourse and texts (including disciplinary assignment genres), and approaches to meeting the more complex requirements of teaching academic language. Given the lack of a systematic focus on EAP in most language-teacher training programmes, I would argue that there is now a case for its inclusion in ITE in language teaching and that there is also a need for more specialized language-teacher education that is focused more centrally on EAP practitioner development.
The second area of EAP practitioner formation is experiential practice. The idea of learning through practice emerges in case-study research that has examined practitioners’ pathways into the field and their experiences. In particular, the role of mentoring of newcomers by supportive, experienced practitioners has been reported as important in the development of practice knowledge. However, mentoring activities, both informal and formal, are a little explored area in the EAP research literature. Professional development activities, the third aspect of practitioner formation, are intimately related to experiential practice and can also be seen as part of the mentoring process. The fourth and fifth inputs into practitioner formation are scholarship and research respectively. I would argue that both are also closely connected to professional development. In our book (Ding & Bruce, 2017), we defined scholarship as ‘activities relating to developing and refining one’s overall knowledge of practice in EAP’ and research as ‘a planned, systematic investigation that aims to inform one specialised aspect of the knowledge base on which the field of EAP draws’ (p. 111). There can, of course, be considerable overlap with activities that span both definitions, and the aim of both is to inform the field of EAP. A key element for both activities is the dissemination and communication of knowledge to peers and, in the case of research, peer review. Here though, I would like to emphasize that actually undertaking scholarship or research activities has a developmental function, and their communication contributes to the whole area of professional development. As I emphasized in the previous section, research in EAP needs to be solidly needs-based, applied, and appliable so that there can be useful uptake of the findings by practitioners in their actual practice. Reporting and receiving knowledge from scholarship and research are usually achieved through participation in some kind of disciplinary community, such as associations with their own conferences, symposia, and research-reporting journals, and it is the aspect of communities and community participation that is the focus of the next and final section of this paper.
Discourse community involvement
The third area essential to the development of the field of EAP is that of the roles and activities of its organizations, the actual realizations of EAP discourse communities in different contexts. Although the British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes (BALEAP) is the oldest and most prominent of the EAP associations, they are now found in several countries and regions including, for example, the Norwegian Forum for EAP (NFEAP) and the China English for Academic Purposes Association (CEAPA). In our 2017 book (Ding & Bruce), we provided a chapter discussing the roles and contributions of EAP associations. Drawing on the literature in this area, the proposed benefits of disciplinary associations for their members are claimed to include: a sense of community and belonging; collegiality and continuity; opportunities for networking; professional development; and a forum for debate (p. 282). Here I wish to emphasize the potential contributions of EAP associations for development of the knowledge base of the field, for practitioner formation, and for developing a collective voice for articulating and raising awareness of current issues, innovations, and concerns within a community, and EAP more widely.
In contributing to the knowledge base of the field, EAP associations and organizations have an important role to play. Current theory and research in the field is more or less accessible to most practitioners through print and online media, although the capacity of such media for enabling social interactions around knowledge tend to be more limited. For example, exchanges among practitioners on discussion lists tend to be minimal and are often related to organizational issues, such as announcing conferences or new publications and the occasional discussion thread. Beyond such virtual interactions, I suggest that exposure to knowledge areas beyond a practitioner’s own particular area of interest (including scholarship and cross-fertilization of ideas) requires physical participation and social interaction within the events of the discourse community.
In terms of the formation of EAP practitioners, the regular meetings and conferences of EAP associations provide opportunities for professional development through sharing practice knowledge and for the dissemination of the findings of the scholarship and research activities of members, which may lead to publication through refereed proceedings or an association’s journal. A frequent consequence of such encounters is the opportunity to interact with senior members of the community, valuable feedback-giving, the co-construction of understandings, and forming of positions in relation to debated issues. Similarly, research collaborations across institutions and regions are facilitated by physical meetings at such events.
A further important role of associations is that of acting on behalf of their members by making representations to government agencies concerning wider issues that relate closely to the field. Such issues may include government and university policies relating to international students, the role of private businesses in EAP, the conditions of work, and the standards and required qualifications of practitioners. In our 2017 book (Ding & Bruce), we argued for greater understanding of the power of corporate agency (Archer, 2000) as a basis for the actions of an organization on behalf of its members, such as a voice to agencies of government (such as ministries of education). ‘Corporate agency’ refers to the collective unified action taken by groups united by common interest, which according to Archer (2000) has ‘capacities for articulating shared interests, organizing for collective action, generating social movements and exercising corporate influence in decision-making’ (p. 266).
For the development and consolidation of EAP, as a relatively new field, its associations have important roles to play. They provide a framework and a focus for individual practitioner development. They are catalysts for scholarship and research and, importantly, they potentially provide the means of developing a collective voice to outside organizations and government ministries.
This paper has been a reflective overview of the areas of focus for the future development of global EAP, an EAP across borders that has now escaped the confines of its ‘inner-circle’ origins. As I have argued, the educational goals of EAP are complex and multi-facetted. Needs, and responses to needs, will vary across contexts. While informed by key theoretical principles and research, EAP will increasingly be (and should be) diverse and heterogeneous in both research and practice to address the varied needs of different contexts. Given these trends, it is important that conditions are created for the knowledge base to develop in its breadth, depth, and applicability, that practitioner development is central, and that EAP community organizations create and support conditions for this type of growth and development.