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Critical Review of Two Research Articles Term Paper


Summary

Askehave, A. (2007). The impact of marketization on higher education genres – the international student prospectus as a case in point. Discourse Studies, 9(6), 723-742 (qualitative method).

Marketization changes the nature and prospects of higher education. Askenave (2007) suggests that marketization in education means that running schools adopt market practices, which influence and change the nature of discursive practices. The goal of the study is to evaluate the extent to which marketization of education affect discursive practices.

Using the principles of genre and Critical Discourse Analysis, Askenave (2007) analyzes the international student prospectus and the extent, to which it reflects free market values.

First, the author compares the genres and discursive practices in the international student prospectus from four different countries – Australia, Finland, Japan, and Scotland. Second, Askenave (2007) uses the international student prospectus from the University of Sterling and analyzes its language.

The results of Askenave’s (2007) analysis are not surprising. First, the international student prospectus imitates the language and discursive practices of market advertising (Askenave, 2007). Second, higher education facilities use the international student prospectus to promote themselves as the sources of unique experiences and innovative practices for clients (Askenave, 2007).

Universities turn into consumer-driven organizations that do not set any standards and do not ask anything in return (Askenave, 2007).

Given that language and social practices are mutually dependent, the use of promotional language in the international student prospectus may change the long-term nature and professional position of higher education institutions, which will hardly be beneficial for either students or staff (Askenave, 2007).

Cheung, M. (2008). ‘Click here’: The impact of new media on the encoding of persuasive messages in direct marketing. Discourse Studies, 10(2), 161-189 (quantitative method).

The Internet is gradually becoming the principal mode of communication in organizational and business environments. Therefore, the influence of the Internet on persuasive messages and marketing communication needs to be reviewed. Cheung (2008) examines the impact of the Internet on how persuasive messages in sales letters are encoded.

Cheung (2008) analyzes “the extent to which the use of new media influences the overall interactional or social strategy or credibility enhancement and persuasion in the context of sales promotion” (p.161).

The author uses genre analysis to examine persuasive messages in 160 sales letters (80 prints and 80 emails) that were randomly selected from a large database over a six-month period. Cheung (2008) uses the Lingual-Belief Interaction Model as the basic conceptual framework.

Cheung (2008) concludes that texts written for one and the same communicative purpose (e.g. persuasion) display considerable similarities in the discourse structure. Simultaneously, the new media affects the ways in which persuasive messages in sales letters are encoded.

First, any act of persuasion always involves the concepts of text, context, and belief; a persuasive message cannot be successful, unless viewers make a favorable correlation between what they see in the text and what is true in the context (Cheung, 2008).

Second, new media change the structure and presentation of the sales discourse, which is no longer formulaic or standardized (Cheung, 2008). Users of new media must organize persuasive messages in ways that make key information visible (Cheung, 2008). New media add dynamism and interactivity to the existing sales discourse strategies (Cheung, 2008).

Method

Askenave (2007) describes the research method as the genre analysis of text organization and rhetorical moves, which is followed by an in-depth examination of the most important rhetorical features of the student prospectus borrowed from the University of Sterling.

The researcher writes that the genre of international student prospectuses received little professional attention and needs to be examined in more detail (Askenave, 2007). Askenave (2007) writes that, for the purpose of the study, she intends to compare four instances of the international student prospectuses in terms of genre consistency and rhetorical moves.

Askenave (2007) further performs an in-depth analysis of the rhetorical features and moves in one specific international student prospectus. The researcher does not involve any human participants but provides a detailed description of the international student prospectuses and their genres.

The context plays a crucial role in the analysis of student prospectuses, because Askenave (2007) reconsiders genres, text organization, and rhetoric in the context of marketization of higher education practices. International student prospectuses were the only materials used in the research, and a brief analysis of the procedures followed in the conducting of the study was performed.

According to Askenave (2007), Swalesian genre theory was the point of departure in the study. The author defines the key criteria (rhetorical moves) of the scientific analysis but does not explain the procedures used in the examination of the four student prospectuses.

Askenave (2007) considers how lay-out and images, lexico-grammar and move structure work together to assign identities and relations to the university and its students. The author does not acknowledge any ethical difficulties and does not cite anyone in the methodology and analysis section. The researcher provides little detail and makes the task of replicating the study virtually unachievable.

The method answers all research questions, and there is no triangulation of the findings. The four prospectuses are used in a cross-cultural genre analysis, but the criteria by which the author chooses the four prospectuses are unclear. Therefore, the risks of selectivity bias are very high (Patton, 2002).

The study is well designed but the gaps are obvious: Askenave (2007) should have been more detailed in her discussion of the study design, to facilitate its replication. Also, the method of the study lacks empirical justification, which may be due to the lack of previous findings in the context of international student prospectus analysis.

Cheung’s (2008) approach is similar to the one used by Askenave (2007): the author performs genre and rhetorical moves’ analysis of persuasive messages in sales letters. Cheung (2008) assumes that printed sales letters and sales emails belong to one and the same genre, given the similarities in their social function and communicative purpose.

In explaining the study approach, the author extensively relies on theoretical and empirical literature relating to genre analysis, including the works of Upton and Connor (2001), Bhatia (2001), and Swales (1990). The author includes the list of the rhetorical moves but does not discuss any specific procedures to be followed in the study. Cheung (2008) uses quantitative methods of data collection and analysis.

The context plays a very important role: the study is situated in Hong Kong, which serves the gateway and portal for international business in Asia (Cheung, 2008). However, that the study is situated in Hong Kong may limit the reliability and generalizability of the research results, since they may not easily transferable to other cultural and generic contexts.

The study participants are specialist informants from 10 different companies (Cheung, 2008). At the time of the study, all informants were responsible for marketing and sales communication in their companies (Cheung, 2008). The choice of the respondents was justified by the fact that they could share some information about the target viewers for their sales texts (Cheung, 2008).

The author describes the criteria used to select the texts and provides a detailed description of the data collection and analysis procedures. Unfortunately, how Cheung (2008) develops the list of rhetorical moves to be used in the study remains unclear. Nevertheless, the study is easy to replicate and the method answers the research questions. Cheung (2008) describes the data analysis procedure in detail.

Cheung (2008) does not discuss any ethical considerations and concerns, and there is no triangulation of the findings. The study is well designed but the lack of ethical details is one of its major limitations. The study involves human participants, who need the fullest information about the study, its goal and expected outcomes.

However, Cheung (2008) does not mention the importance of informed consent, which makes the results of the study less convincing. Cheung (2008) writes that the subjects could provide valuable information about their experiences of working with sales texts.

Surprisingly or not, no information regarding ethical considerations or informed consent is included. Cheung (2008) actually supports a thesis that there is a serious gap within ethical practices in applied linguistics research (Fox et al, 2006).

Article Critique

Language is an ever changing phenomenon. The rationale for Askenave’s (2007) study is clear: marketization imposes new demands on higher education institutions and changes their professional and educational roles.

Consequentially, higher education institutions, and universities in particular, borrow and adopt free market practices to meet their needs (Askenave, 2007). The researcher justifies the study by the need to explore the influences of marketization on the discursive practices in higher education.

It should be noted, that no comprehensive theoretical framework was used to support the analysis. This is, probably, because the concept and phenomenon of marketization is relatively new.

Askenave (2007) provides a brief insight into previous research of the international student prospectus as a genre which, according to the author, is very sporadic and scarce. Askenave (2007) uses Swalesian genre theory, which treats genre as a set of shared communicative practices and explains the ways in which particular genres can unfold.

What research questions Askenave (2007) seeks to answer is difficult to define. Generally, any study or research project is designed to define problems and provide solutions or strategies that could be effective in helping to solve those problems (Patton, 2002). However, no effective interventions can be developed, unless research questions are clear.

Askenave (2007) suggests that her analysis is a relevant contribution to the debate regarding the changes in higher education practices under the influence of marketization. The research findings contribute to the current knowledge of the international student prospectus as a genre. Yet, Askenave (2007) should have been more specific and detailed in the development of the research goals, questions, and/ or hypotheses.

The article is well-structured. The second part of Askenave’s (2007) article is a case study of the international student prospectus from the University of Sterling in Scotland. According to Perry (2002), case studies are frequently used in applied linguistics research and can shed light on complex linguistic phenomena. Unfortunately, Askenave (2007) provides little information about the methodology.

As a result, replicating Askenave’s study is virtually impossible. Simultaneously, the thoroughness of the author’s analysis cannot be overstated. Askenave (2007) describes the process and results of the genre analysis in detail. This is particularly the case of the international student prospectus from the University of Sterling, which covers most of the article.

Askenave (2007) performs examines the prospectus’s lay-out and design; move structure in the Sterling prospectus is analyzed; the author analyzes its lexical and grammatical structures and experiential meanings. The latter, according to the researcher, play a crucial role in the analysis of the international student prospectus as a genre.

The lack of the ethical angle is one of the main gaps in Askenave’s (2007) research. Failure to obtain informed consent is essentially the same as failure to adopt a ‘participant-centered perspective’ (Fox et al, 2006). The author explores multiple modes and phenomena, creating a multifaceted but confusing picture of the international student prospectus and its generic features.

Finally, it is not clear what criteria the author used when choosing the four international student prospectuses for a cross-cultural genre examination. The research findings contribute to the existing knowledge of the international student prospectus but leave many questions unanswered. The future research must concentrate on the development of effective measures of validity and reliability in applied linguistics studies.

The overall opinion about the article is dubious. On the one hand, the study can serve the starting point in the analysis of the international student prospectus and the changes, which the genre undergoes under the influence of marketization in higher education.

The topic is extremely interesting and valid, since more universities want to borrow free market practices from the corporate world and consumer-driven organizations. On the other hand, the study points out the major inconsistencies and pitfalls in applied linguistics studies. Selectivity bias reduces the validity and reliability of the findings, because the criteria for choosing the target texts are unclear.

The author does not try to operationalize or standardize the research findings (Patton, 2002). No consideration is given to internal and external validity threats. Whether or not the results of the study can be successfully generalized to other international student prospectuses is unclear. Askenave (2007) does not report any research limitations and, therefore, leaves little room for methodological improvements.

These problems warrant the need for further research into the international student prospectus and its generic characteristics. These gaps and inconsistencies are also justified by the fact that the current state of literature about the international student prospectus is relatively scarce (Askenave, 2007).

Therefore, the best method of the student prospectus analysis is yet to be discovered. The article is just another attempt to shed light on a complex linguistic phenomenon.

Unlike Askenave (2007), the methods and results of Cheung’s (2008) study produce a solid scientific impression. One reason for this is that Cheung (2008) employs quantitative methodology, which creates a picture of reliability and validity.

Quantitative methods of research, particularly in applied linguistics, are believed to be more reliable and easily generalizable, compared with the qualitative methods of analysis (Davies & Elder, 2005). Davies and Elder (2005) suggest that qualitative studies in applied linguistics are associated with uncontrollable observations and are difficult to generalize to larger populations.

Certainly, not all qualitative studies are as bad and unprofessional as Davies and Elder (2005) describe them. However, that most quantitative studies lack subjectivity and provide relevant statistical information cannot be denied. Cheung’s (2008) study demonstrates numerous advantages but, unfortunately, is not without limitations.

First and foremost, Cheung (2008) clearly articulates the purpose of study and the main research questions. According to Cheung (2008), the study attempts to examine the differences and similarities between discourse structures in the two corpora. Cheung (2008) tries to relate these differences and similarities to broader, generic considerations. In this study, Cheung (2008) attempts to answer two research questions:

what is the impact of new media on the encoding of persuasive messages in sales emails?; how does the use of new media influence the overall interactional or social strategy or credibility enhancement and persuasion in the context of sales promotion? (p.163)

The research questions and study goals are clear and easy to understand. The method helps to answer these research questions. Cheung (2008) is extremely detailed in the discussion of methods and their relations to the research questions and objectives.

Cheung’s study is beneficial and interesting in the sense that it provides a detailed discussion of the conceptual framework and clearly states the criteria for choosing sales letters and subjects.

According to Cheung (2008), there was no limit set for the text length; furthermore, all letters had to exhibit the features of being a unified textual whole; finally, the researcher selected sales and promotion texts that were presented through one of the two methods – either solely through written text or written text supported by graphical illustrations (Cheung, 2008).

In this way, Cheung (2008) created conditions needed to replicate the study in a different cultural context.

In many instances, the research methodology in Cheung’s (2008) study is similar to that in Askenave (2007). Like Askenave (2007), Cheung (2008) applies to genre moves, which often serve the main strategic elements of rhetorical analysis. However, unlike Askenave (2007), Cheung (2008) creates a clearer theoretical picture of the rhetorical moves and their implications for linguistic research.

Cheung (2008) performs a detailed literature review and evaluates the current theoretical basis. As a result, the author prepares the reader for understanding the theoretical framework, the basic concepts, the results of the study, and their implications for the future research.

The research is detailed and well-organized. All information is presented in a comprehensive and coherent manner. The format of the article follows the basic conventions of scholarly writing, with an introduction, a detailed observation of the conceptual frameworks, theoretical underpinnings, methodology, and results.

Unfortunately, neither Askenave (2007) nor Cheung (2008) provides recommendations for the future research. As a result, both studies look static. They do not fit in the continuity of linguistic changes and their relationship to social practices.

The lack of an ethical dimension is a common problem in both articles. The absence of ethical concerns in Askenave (2007) is quite understandable, since the author does not involve any human subjects. By contrast, Cheung (2008) conducts interviews with 16 corporate specialists, all of them being either directors or managers in marketing and sales.

Another problem is in that the study involved sales and promotional texts coming from 117 companies situated in Hong Kong (Cheung, 2008). Given the specificity of the Korean and Chinese cultural environments, the study results may not be generalizable to other cultural contexts.

Therefore, the future research must examine the generic features and rhetorical moves in sales and promotional texts in other countries/ cultures. Cheung (2008) does not provide any ideas for the future research, although the author’s contribution to the future study of applied linguistics could be of value.

The article produces a dubious impression. On the one hand, the study is extremely interesting and unique. The analysis of the rhetorical moves in sales and promotional texts helps to understand how the emergence of new media re-shapes the discursive landscape in organizational and marketing communications.

On the other hand, the lack of the ethical dimension and directions for the future research create a vision of incompleteness. The study lacks dynamism, implying that research into applied linguistics is static by nature.

When Cheung (2008) concludes that “a sales discourse is still a sales discourse” (p.184), the study ceases to be a relevant contribution to language dynamics but turns into a body of information that is separated from the rest of applied linguistics research.

Conclusion

One question that bothers readers in both studies is how to use their results in practical contexts. There is a persistent impression that both studies produce knowledge for the sake of knowledge – the researchers try to understand how the linguistic world operates and explain various linguistic phenomena (Patton, 2002).

Simultaneously, the questions and phenomena under research can hardly be called “basic”, since the use of language in international student prospectuses (Askenave, 2007) and sales and promotional texts in Hong Kong’s companies (Cheung, 2008) are serious practical problems.

Again, the static nature of both studies is too obvious to ignore. Both researchers explore complex linguistic phenomena but do not provide any practical suggestions. How to use their findings to improve discursive practices remains unclear. The researchers explore the concepts and phenomena in a limited space and time but do not link them to broader linguistic contexts.

Their studies resemble a one-time practice which has little or nothing to do with the future science. Language is a highly dynamic concept. New media, language and cultural forms cause profound shifts in language practices; the latter, in turn, change the meaning and scope of various social practices. The reciprocal link between language and social practice has been abundantly established (Askenave, 2007).

Unfortunately, not all researchers can reconsider their findings in practical terms. Askenave (2007) and Cheung (2008) make an invaluable contribution to applied linguistics research, but the future research must validate their findings in new cultural and media contexts.

References

Askenave, I. (2007). The impact of marketization on higher education genres – the international student prospectus as a case in point. Discourse Studies, 9(6), 723-742.

Cheung, M. (2008). ‘Click here’: The impact of new media on the encoding of persuasive messages in direct marketing. Discourse Studies, 10(2), 161-189.

Davies, A. & Elder, C. (2005). The handbook of applied linguistics. Wiley-Blackwell.

Fox, J., Artemeva, N., Darville, R. & Woods, D. (2006). Juggling through hoops: Implementing ethics policies in applied language studies. Journal of Academic Ethics, 4, 77-99.

Patton, M.Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods. NY: SAGE.

Perry, FL. (2002). Research in applied linguistics. NY: Taylor & Francis.

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