Epistemic stance and the construction of knowledge in science writing: A diachronic corpus study

Robert Poole, Andrew Gnann, Gus Hahn-Powell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


This study investigates the use of epistemic stance features within a specialized, diachronic corpus of biochemical research pertaining to the motility of bacterial cells in a process referred to as chemotaxis. The corpus constructed for the investigation includes 328 open access research articles citing the seminal 1972 publication, “Chemotaxis in Escherichia coli analyzed by three-dimensional tracking” in the peer-reviewed journal Nature by Drs. Howard Berg and Douglas Brown. For the investigation, the corpus was segmented into sub-corpora representing five time periods and the trends in use of epistemic stance markers were analyzed. Over the period covered by the corpus (1972–2017), the overall use of modal auxiliaries and non-modal hedges decreased while the frequency of boosters increased. Additionally, epistemic stance markers indexing greater degrees of certainty increased while epistemic stance markers reflecting doubt and uncertainty decreased. These findings are noteworthy as they contrast with previous studies investigating diachronic change in epistemic stance use in both academic and science writing and add to our understanding of the use of epistemic stance in the formation of knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100784
JournalJournal of English for Academic Purposes
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Corpus-aided discourse study
  • Diachronic analysis
  • Epistemic stance
  • Science writing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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