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The Role Of Voice And Gender In Argumentative Second Language Academic

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Linguistics is the study of language that includes analyzing language forms and contexts as well. My study is concerned with finding and describing the relation between authorial presence ‘voice’ in second language writing (SLW) in undergraduate students both males and females. Because applied linguistics is my area of interest, I will apply the results of this study to second language writing (SLW) to investigate the role of ‘voice’ in argumentative writing in a relation to overall quality of academic writing. The Thanaweya Amma (High School) along with Higher Education systems in Egypt have become increasingly competitive, and this is so true in Egypt where most of the public universities set a very high scale for admission. Most of these public universities have different departments with many prerequisites for internal admission procedures. Tanta University is my targeted public university to investigate. In particular, I will be analyzing selected data from undergraduate students in English department. Due to the fact of the systematic way of teaching and learning English (memorization/centralized system) in high schools, students are not accustomed to express themselves or in other words to use their own ‘voices’ when they write. Consequently, students tend to express their selves in their fresh year of college to show their own ‘voices’ freely with no constraints in their writings. This study examines how these students build voice and self-reference in their argumentative essays. The study is a call for a more inclusive and balanced view of voice in students’ academic writings considering important factors as sex/gender of the second language writers and the overall quality of academic writing.

Why argumentative writing as a sample of academic genres

In academic writing especially argumentative we do not just say what we think (what we argue for) and that is it, but we take care to design a text for particular readers so that our writing could meet the rhetorical expectations and information needed for those readers. “The arguments we make, the positions we take and the ways we try to connect and fit in with others, all contribute to the presentation of ourselves and so influence how others respond to us” (Hyland et al., 2012, p. 135).

Text-oriented Voice in Academic Writing

For Matsuda, a ‘voice’ is not a group of particular textual features, but it is the reader’s idea that came from specific mixture of ways in which both discursive (e.g. sentence structures, organization, word choice, argumentative strategies) and non-discursive tools (e.g. presentational) are used by the writer (Matsuda, 2001, P.40). Some researchers explored the notion that voice is constructed not only by writers but also by readers. In this study the responses of readers comprised an interesting mix of references to style (e.g. conciseness, syntax), knowledge (e.g. use of terms, breadth of knowledge) and rhetorical strategies to describe the idea they had about the writer (Matsuda & Tardy, 2007, P.243). Actually, textual coherence can be done by organizing the information in the text, but it is increased by the use of meta-discourse, which can help to show the voice of authority. Meta-discourse is used to make the structure of the text clear and it can also be used to explain the interpersonal aspects of the communication between both the writers and the readers. Indeed ‘meta-discourse’ works as an umbrella term for a variety of linguistic features that relates a text to its context by guiding the readers ‘to connect, organize and interpret material in a way preferred by the writer’ (Hyland, Guinda, & Sancho Guinda, 2012, P.125).

Voice is responsible for creating a detailed image of the writer in the mind of the reader. In argumentative essays, the evaluator’s image about the author (undergraduate student in this case) is highly critical. Therefore, voice has a powerful function in academic writings that might affect the author’s final position (I mean final grades in this study). Voice has been investigated in some studies before but from different angels, for example it has been contributed to the exploration of its role in writing instruction and assessment as (Matsuda, 2001, P.36). Zhao has investigated whether and how the strength of an author’s voice in written texts can be reliably measured so she has developed an analytic rubric that measures voice strength in second language writing (Zhao, 2013, P.204). Other researchers examine the role of voice in persuasive academic writing to see if the correlation exists between the two measurements or not as (Helms-Park & Stapleton, 2003) and another study selects writings that are of argumentative/persuasive nature and are source-text based (Zhao & Llosa, 2008, P.159).

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The measurement of voice strength in second language writing.

The concept of writer identity produces difficulties to the development of rubrics because identity does not lie completely in the text, but it exists in the interaction between writers and readers that is negotiated by the text. Hyland proposes a more comprehensive model that sees voice in academic writing as essentially interaction between writers and readers. This interactional model of voice consists of two major dimensions as he puts it. One is the writer-oriented ‘stance’ dimension, which refers to “how writers present themselves, their opinions, and their arguments through the use of four linguistically available elements: hedges, boosters, attitude markers, and authorial self-mention” (Hyland, Guinda, & Sancho Guinda, 2012, P.137). The other is the reader-oriented ‘engagement’ dimension that is realized “through the use of five other linguistic- and discourse-level elements: reader pronouns, personal asides, references to shared knowledge, directives, and (rhetorical/audience directed) questions” (Hyland, Guinda, & Sancho Guinda, 2012, P.137).

Nevertheless, with an increasing interest in the value of voice as a measurable concept, researchers began to explore the role of voice in second language writing. In a study for Ivanic and Camps, the collected samples are illustrative rather than representative in which voice has been structured as one type of ‘self-representation’ in textual and interpersonal positioning (Ivanič & Camps, 2001, P.7). Another essential study by Zhao where she has analyzed how voice strength scores contribute to the quality of second language writing argumentative essays. “This study founds high correlations among the three dimensions of the rubric and, more interestingly, identified the ideational dimension, which concerns a writer’s presentation of clear and unique ideas, as the most contributive factor” (Yoon, 2017, P.74). Based on these findings, Zhao has confirmed on the importance of fully developed ideas with a strong commitment in constructing a strong authorial voice and a high-quality essay Zhao (2017, P.).

Gender Identity in Academic Writing

A small body of research that examines the role of voice in gendered writings, one of the few is for (Petric, 2010) who interviewed 30 master’s degree students in gender studies at a university in Central Europe to exemplify how those students defined voice. Petric found that students showed varied views, starting from individual voice to writers’ choices of interactions with other voices (Petric, 2010). Other studies reveal the gender issue when it comes to analysis (by coincidence) as in (Zhao, 2013) in which Rater 3 (one of the analytical tools used in this study) drew a conclusion about the gender of the writer: “His examples ... his or her examples ... I guess it’s a man because he’d been talking about technology ... but that example of Bill Gates and Windows, like millions of lines of code, is really able to create a vivid image in my mind through writing. And, um, so I think for that reason, I would give it a high [voice] score” (Zhao, 2013, P.210).

Textual voice elements could be quantified using

  • The Authorial Voice Analyzer (AVA), an automated text processing tool that has been used in a recent study for Yoon (Yoon, 2017). The AVA calculates the normalized frequency values of the lexico grammatical expressions relevant to the interactional meta-discourse categories of Hyland as (hedge, booster, attitude marker, self-mention, and reader pronoun) and then calculates scores (stance and engagement) (Yoon, 2017).
  • Textual analysis in terms of rubric use along with automatic essay scoring to quantify the voice elements in writings.
  • The three-dimensional (the ideational, affective, presence dimensions) analytic voice rubric that Zhao used in (Zhao, 2013) which was adopted as a measure of voice in her mentioned study. This rubric was readily applicable to the writing samples used in Zhao’s study in which each analytic dimension evaluated voice presence on a 5-point scale.
  • A triangulation method that consists of three different ways in collecting targeted data, questionnaires for under graduate students under investigation, interviews with selected professors in the same department, and writing samples for both males and females of fresh and last year in English department.

Delimitations of the study

Due to the fact that Tanta is the capital of Delta region and is surrounded by small towns and villages there will be huge gaps in social background of participants since I will be collecting data from a public university. Also, without a questionnaire or interview tool, the educational material used in the English department would be unknown.

Operational Definitions

  • Essay: refers to a literary nonfiction genre that presents a perspective on any given topic using various literary devices.
  • Meta-discourse: this term is used in writing to demonstrate any phrase that is included within a clause or sentence that goes beyond the subject itself, often to examine the purpose of the sentence or a response from the author. Examples for interactive meta-discourse by Hyland (Transition markers and Frame markers) (Hyland, Guinda, & Sancho Guinda, 2012, P.178)


  • SLW: Second Language Writing
  • AVA: Authorial Voice Analyzer
  • AW: Academic Writing


  1. Helms-Park, R., & Stapleton, P. (2003). Questioning the importance of individualized voice in undergraduate L2 argumentative writing: An empirical study with pedagogical implications. Journal of Second Language Writing, 12(3), 245–265.
  2. Hyland, K., Guinda, C. S., & Sancho Guinda, C. (2012). Stance and Voice in Written Academic Genres. London, UNITED KINGDOM: Palgrave Macmillan Limited. Retrieved from
  3. Ivanič, R., & Camps, D. (2001). I am how I sound: Voice as self-representation in L2 writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 10(1), 3–33.
  4. Matsuda, P. K. (2001). Voice in Japanese written discourse Implications for second language writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 19.
  5. Matsuda, P. K., & Tardy, C. M. (2007). Voice in academic writing: The rhetorical construction of author identity in blind manuscript review. English for Specific Purposes, 26(2), 235–249.
  6. Petric, B. (2010). Students’ conceptions of voice in academic writing.
  7. Yoon, H.-J. (2017). Textual voice elements and voice strength in EFL argumentative writing. Assessing Writing, 32, 72–84.
  8. Zhao, C. G., & Llosa, L. (2008). Voice in high-stakes L1 academic writing assessment: Implications for L2 writing instruction. Assessing Writing, 13(3), 153–170.
  9. Zhao, C. G. (2013). Measuring authorial voice strength in L2 argumentative writing: The development and validation of an analytic rubric. Language Testing, 30(2), 201–230.
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