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Textual and language flaws: problems for Spanish doctors in producing abstracts in English

Author(s): Lourdes Divasson Cilveti | Isabel K. León Pérez

Journal: Ibérica
ISSN 1139-7241

Volume: 11;
Start page: 61;
Date: 2006;
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Keywords: applied linguistics | discourse analysis | Language for Specific Purposes (LSP) | English for Medical Purposes (EMP) | abstract writing

Scientific journals are the primary source of information for researchers. The number of articles currently indexed in databases is so large that it has become almost impossible to read every relevant article in a particular field. Thus, research paper abstracts (RPAs) have acquired increasing importance. Several studies have shown that they are the skipping point, particularly among non-native English speakers. To our knowledge, little research has been carried out on RPA writing by Spanish doctors. It is thus the objective of this article to analyse the way abstracts are structured and linguistically realized by these professionals. We selected 30 RPAs written in English by Spanish speaking doctors from three leading Spanish journals on internal medicine. We recorded their textual level flaws by measuring the degree of informativeness with regard to three main variables: move patterning, ordering and structuring, and their language use flaws under two broad categories: ortho-typographic and grammatical. Length, use of hedges and keywords were also identified. 86.6% of the abstracts were informative, 13.3% uninformative while none of them could be classified as highly informative. With regard to the authors' use of language, over 70% presented some kind of flaws: 21.55% of these mistakes were ortho-typographic while 78.44% were grammatical. Our results support the need of designing specific units geared on the one hand towards explicit teaching of structured abstracts and on the other, towards the difficulties found by doctors because they lack language competence. They would also benefit from clearer guidelines from journal editors.

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