Author Identifier

Anne Thwaite

ORCID : 0000-0003-0165-7437

Fiona Budgen

ORCID : 0000-0001-8722-7926

Janet Hunter

ORCID : 0000-0002-2265-1838

Kuki Singh

ORCID : 0000-0002-0745-7041

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Journal of English for Academic Purposes






School of Education




Edith Cowan University - Open Access Support Scheme 2021


Thwaite, A., Budgen, F., Hunter, J., & Singh, K. (2021). What is complexity? Grammatical issues in assignment prompts. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 52, article 100998.


Student performance on assignments is of growing international concern. Some of the difficulties that students have with crafting their university assignments are due to the demonstrated complexity of academic writing in different text types. Previous work in this area has mostly examined complexity at the sentence and clause level; however, more recent studies indicate that complexity at the level of the group or phrase, in particular the nominal group, may cause more of a problem for students. In addressing this issue, we take a descriptive approach to examining a corpus of assignment instructions from a Bachelor of Education program at one Australian university. These instructions vary widely in content and style. In order to identify where difficulties of interpretation may lie, we look at these assignment prompts holistically, from the text through to the word level, commencing with Genre and Register, but focusing on the clause and group/phrase levels. Results demonstrate that it may not be realistic to ascribe ‘complexity’ to only one level of language. In our data, it does occur at the group level but we also need to take grammatical metaphor and clause-level phenomena into account, as well as the text's purpose and context.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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