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Rhetorical functions in academic writing: Indicating a gap


According to Cooley & Lewkowicz (2003, ch. 2), there are 5 main reasons for referring to the work of others:

  1. .to acknowledge the work and ideas of others in order not to be accused of plagiarism;
  2. to show your familiarity with the subject/context;
  3. to discuss/evaluate/analyse other researchers - show your support for/refute other researchers’ work;
  4. to support your own ideas/points of view and give authority to your statements;
  5. to create a research space by showing what has already been done and what has not been done.

5. Creating a research space

One way to indicate what research needs doing or what question still need answering - and therefore to prepare for the current piece of work -  is to indicate a gap in current knowedge (Swales, 1981).


Bradfield and Crockett (1995) concluded that there is little evidence to suggest that employees' attitudes bear any simple or appreciable relationship to performance on the job. However, by contrast, Herzberg et al (1957) provided a quite different conclusion: there is frequent evidence to suggest that positive job attitudes are favourable to increased productivity. Facing these contradictory opinions, the relationship between job satisfaction and job performance will be examined in detail.

During the past 10 years, the availability of computers in educational institutions has increased dramatically (James, 1999). Progress in computer development has been made to the point that powerful, inexpensive computers with large capacities are available in many classrooms and libraries for student use. Many students also have purchased and are purchasing computers for their own use at home. Most studies seem to agree that the microcomputer will continue to hold an important role in education in the future. For example, James (1999) and Smith (2000) suggest large increases in the numbers of computers both in educational institutions and the home in the near future. As far as education is concerned, Shaw (2001) identified three main uses of computers: the object of a course, an administrative tool, and a means of providing instruction. Fish and Cheam (2002) cite four uses of computers as a means of providing instruction: exercise, tutorial, simulation and problem solving. A wide range of computer programmes are now therefore available in all these areas for individual and classroom use.

However, even though many studies have reported an increased use of computers in education, there has been very little research reported on the effectiveness of such use.The purpose of the present study is therefore to ascertain the effectiveness of using computer-assisted instruction as compared to traditional classroom instruction in an EAP writing class.

Recently, a debate has begun over whether in-class laptops aid or hinder learning. While some research demonstrates that laptops can be an important learning tool, anecdotal evidence suggests more and more faculty are banning laptops from their classrooms because of perceptions that they distract students and detract from learning.

Workers in a wide variety of jobs are paid based on performance, which is commonly seen as enhancing effort and productivity relative to non-contingent pay schemes. However, psychological research suggests that excessive rewards can, in some cases, result in a decline in performance.


A common way to indicate a gap is to use a "negative" subject. Negative subjects are chosen because they signal immediately to the reader that the previous text has come to an end. Note the following uses of little and few:

A useful alternative is to use a contrastive statement.

More examples

However little information


few studies


The research
The previous research


tended to focus on
concentrated on
been devoted to


rather than on 
as opposed to


These studies 
Most studies




the research
considerable research
the previous research


tended to focus on
concentrated on
been devoted to


rather less attention has been paid to


these studies 
most studies



Plus negative words: little, few, inadequate, lack, insufficient, hardly.


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