University of Toronto, Canada
Academic writing has been recognized to be embedded in wider social practices which assume participant relationships and determine how discourse should be structured and negotiated. Various discourse features of academic journal articles have been demonstrated to signal institutional and intertextual constraints (Hyland, 2000). This paper investigates structural elements of abstracts in academic journal articles relating to life science. We attempt to show how factors other than disciplinary interests and beliefs might also affect structural configurations of academic abstracts. We collected 80 instances of abstracts as the research data, including 50 samples from academic journal articles by Taiwanese PhD students of life science and the other 30 by foreign scholars of the same field. We found that the student writers tend to provide less background information in their abstracts. A substantial number of student abstracts present only a series of experimental results plus some concluding statements. The relatively less contextualization of the student abstracts might be due to factors like student writers’ academic immaturity and their English proficiency. Our results might have some implications to the teaching of academic English in a foreign language situation.