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OASIS Writing Skills

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Academic Writing for Multilingual Students: Using a Corpus

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Using a Corpus

Last update 7/7/2017

Video Length: 6:06

Visual: Walden logo at bottom of screen along with notepad and pencil background.

Audio: Guitar music.

Visual: The video’s title is displayed on a background image of a dictionary page. The screen opens to the following slides: Using a Corpus to Check for Grammar and Scholarly Voice

  • Use a corpus to check your writing for grammatical structures and academic phrasing
  • Corpus = an electronic collection of texts
    • Internet
    • Google Scholar
    • Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA)
    • Word and Phrase. Info (a subpart of COCA)


Audio: One way to help revise your writing for grammar and scholarly voice is to use a corpus. A corpus is a large electronic collection of texts that you can search to learn about academic phrasing and formulaic phrases and expressions. The Internet is the easiest corpus to use. To check if a particular phrase is used, search for it on the Internet. For example, you could type in the words “in the other hand” and “on the other hand” and see the results of your search. If there are few hits, then it is likely not standard phrasing. On this slide, you can see a few other examples of corpuses you could use. One is Google Scholar, another is the Corpus of Contemporary American English, and the last one listed here is a subset of the Corpus of Contemporary American English, Word and Phrase Info, that focuses specifically on academic texts. There are many, many more corpuses available. Some of them are free and some require a subscription. Feel free to explore and find a corpus that you like the best. You can also find the links to the specific corpuses listed here on the Writing Center website.


Visual: The slide changes to show the home page of the Corpus of Contemporary American English on the Search tab. As the speaker describes her actions, the video shows these actions on the screen.

Audio: In this video, I will lead you through two different examples of using a corpus so that you can envision how you could use this in your own writing. Here, you can see that I am on the Search tab in the Corpus of Contemporary American English.

The question I want to know is if I can write “discuss about something” or if I should simply write instead “discuss something.” Therefore, I type the word “discuss” in the search box here.  Then, I click on “Find Matching Strings.”

According to the results on this slide, there are 24,797 matches with the word “discuss.” I want to see what these matches look like, so I click on the word “discuss” to show the examples.

You can see the first 16 examples on this slide. The word “discuss” is highlighted in the sentence within the context. I have some other information about these instances of the word “discuss” here as well. I can see the date of publication and the journal in which this word is used. This may or may not be important to me, depending on what type of information I’d like to glean from the corpus. If, for example, I want to look at how a particular word is used in a particular journal, then I might want to focus on this information more. I may also want to be sure that the examples I am looking at are published academic sources and not text from spoken English, as words may be used differently in different contexts. I could also click on any of these examples and see the word “discuss” in the larger context of the paragraph or sentence where it is used.

In this example, however, I just want to know if I can write “discuss something” or “discuss about something,” so the information shown on this slide gives me my answer. When I look closely at the examples here, I can see that in each case, we say “discuss something” and never “discuss about something.” Therefore, in my own writing, I know that I should not use the preposition “about” after the verb “discuss.” The corpus here helped me find my answer.


Visual: The video changes to the home page of the Word and Phrase Info website. As the speaker talks, the video shows the speaker clicking on Frequency list, and then Academic instead of All Genres. The speaker then shows all of the steps she describes.

Audio: Let’s look quickly at another example. This time, I am in the subset of the Corpus of Contemporary American English, the Word and Phrase Info, that focuses on academic English. My question this time is about how often the verb “claim” appears in different fields of study and if there are synonyms for this verb.

I type in the word “claim” here. I can also decide if I want to look at this in all parts of speech or just when it is used as a noun or a verb or an adjective or an adverb. I could also choose “limit discipline” and look at the use of this verb in my own particular field of study. In this search, I decided not to select this. I then click on “Search” to see what I can find.

As a verb, “claim” appears 16,031 times in this corpus. I can also see here that it is used more frequently in some disciplines over others. This verb seems to be more commonly used in History than in Education. Therefore, if I am writing in the field of Education, the verb “claim” is probably not something I want to use a lot.

Maybe I want to find a synonym for this verb instead. This corpus also lists synonyms and their frequency of use. I can see on this slide some possible synonyms and how commonly they are used.

There is so much more you can do with a corpus to check for grammar and scholarly voice in your own writing. I hope this short video gives you some ideas and that you continue to explore using corpuses more on your own.


Visual: The screen changes to end with the words “Walden University Writing Center” and “Questions? E-mail”