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Masters Dissertation Award

The Research and Publications  sub-committee website has more information about this award. Below is some information about previous winners.

2019 Winner

The winner of the 2019 BALEAP Dissertation is Indrit Bulku. A copy of the dissertation can be accessed here.

Title: What features of legal writing matter to domain and language specialists? An exploratory study investigating indigenous assessment criteria in a second language legal context

Awarding Body: Lancaster University


This quasi-exploratory study offers a qualitative comparison of expert feedback on a legal writing assessments. The assessments were gathered from two focus-group settings in which six samples of an appellate brief written by second language law students were shown to a group of lawyers and Language for Specific Purposes instructors to comment on the strengths and weakness of each performance. The purpose of the study was to elicit authentic assessment criteria which could inform the review of the scope of the assessment scheme used to evaluate students’ performances.

Thematic analysis was applied to codify the data and identify those aspects of performance that are not only valued by legal specialists but could also be assessed in a language performance test.

The qualitative analysis of the data revealed a striking similarity in terms of the assessment criteria which both groups of participants applied when evaluating students’ performances; nevertheless, the nature of expert feedback differed significantly: legal specialists focused more on the quality of legal analysis and legal reasoning while language assessors provided more detailed feedback on the language and the clarity of the legal texts.

The findings suggest the need for the collaboration of legal and language experts to extend beyond the curriculum design to the assessment of second language legal writing performances. The findings provided an empirical basis for the revision of two criteria used to evaluate the second language legal writing test in the context of this study: Argumentation and Organization. Overall, the study’s findings support the value of the qualitative evidence in providing insights into how legal experts read and evaluate written legal texts and how this could enable English for Legal Purposes instructors to represent domain specialists when evaluating second language written legal tests.


Indrit Bulku is a Lecturer of English and the Curriculum Chair at Qatar University, Foundation Program, Department of English. He holds a Masters degree in Language Education from Yeditepe University, Turkey and a Masters degree in Language Testing from Lancaster University, the UK. His main research interests are integrated skills, LSP, and reading skills assessment.

2018 Winner

The winner of the 2018 BALEAP Master’s Dissertation Award is Caroline Fletcher. The dissertation is available here.

Title: Learner engagement with teacher-generated electronic formative feedback on EAP writing: A multiple case study of international foundation students.

Awarding Body: Sheffield Hallam University


This multiple case study examined leaner engagement with teacher-generated electronic formative feedback (TEFF) on EAP writing. Building on Ellis’ (2010) framework for investigating corrective feedback and Han and Hyland’s (2015) multiple case study employing this framework, this study used the three dimensions of behavioural, affective and cognitive engagement to explore learner engagement in the wider context of both surface- and text-level issues in writing. Furthermore, the feedback in this study utilised Turnitin’s GradeMark tools, and thus the relatively unresearched area of how learners engage with Turnitin as a formative feedback platform was explored. A mixed methods approach was adopted. Firstly, text analysis of feedback on first drafts and revisions in final drafts provided quantitative data about TEFF uptake. Secondly, participant interviews involving stimulated recall and follow-up questions provided qualitative data regarding affective and cognitive engagement. The participants were three Chinese students in the final term of an international foundation programme for a UK Russell Group university.

The study found that all three participants produced highly successful revisions based on feedback received via GradeMark’s in-text feedback functions, with all participants also stating that the in-text feedback functions were more helpful than GradeMark’s overall summary and grading functions. Secondly, affective engagement was found to vary significantly across the three participants, from negative emotions and attitudes to overwhelming positivity. However, unlike previous studies (e.g. Storch & Wigglesworth, 2010), this study found that the participant demonstrating the most negative affective engagement revised as successfully as the participant with the most positive attitude. Finally, a wide range of cognitive and metacognitive operations were reported, with two participants demonstrating extensive metacognitive and deep processing operations. Consistent with previous studies (e.g. Han & Hyland, 2015; Storch & Wigglesworth, 2010), this study also found no direct link between depth of processing and successful uptake of feedback. Overall, these findings suggest a complex relationship between the three dimensions of engagement with formative feedback and a need for further in-depth case studies investigating how individual differences, for example proficiency, might affect learner engagement with TEFF.

Ellis, R. (2010). Epilogue: A framework for investigating oral and written corrective feedback. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 32, 335–349.

Han, Y., & Hyland, F. (2015). Exploring learner engagement with written corrective feedback in a Chinese tertiary EFL classroom. Journal of Second Language Writing, 30, 31–44.

Storch, N., & Wigglesworth, G. (2010). Learners’ processing, uptake, and retention of corrective feedback on writing. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 32, 303–334.

2017 Winner

The winner of the 2017 BALEAP Master’s Dissertation Award is Anna Murawska. The dissertation is available here.

Title: Can academic reading empower EAP students?

Awarding BodyEdinburgh University


Academic reading has so far unduly played a peripheral role in EAP and the academic literacy research agenda. This work draws on constructivist approaches to reading, and a critical view of literacy to foreground academic reading as a proactive and potentially empowering literacy practice. It employed narrative inquiry (group and individual interviews) with international students enrolled on an EAP course to ascertain whether and how academic reading can be empowering. One participant’s reading story is presented in its entirety to illustrate international students’ complex relationship with academic reading. The data suggests reading has the potential to be empowering, but that although many current practices are disempowering. Suggestions for more empowering practices on the level of EAP curricula and classroom instruction, as well as the wider academic literacy context are made.

2016 Winner

BALEAP is happy to announce that Alasdair Braid has been awarded the BALEAP Dissertation Award for 2016. Access the dissertation here.

2015 Winner

BALEAP is happy to announce that Eilidh Webster has been awarded the BALEAP Dissertation Award for 2016.

Eilidh’s dissertation is entitled Critical thinking and EAP writing: A meta-synthesis of research on teaching approaches to critical thinking in the EAP writing class. It was submitted to the University of Glasgow as part of her MEd in TESOL.

Access the Dissertation here.

Critical thinking is a complex and contested, but clearly important, concept for EAP practitioners and their students. However, there is a notable gap in academic understanding and potential for improvement in classroom delivery. Eilidh’s dissertation reviewed and synthesized a wide range of literature in a way that has practical implications for EAP materials writing and for our students. The panel recognizes the value of systematic reviews and meta-syntheses in supporting evidence-based practice particularly in areas where there are a number of small, qualitative studies. The dissertation goes beyond what has been said before about this topic in EFL and EAP and is written in a clear, straightforward style.


Two dissertations – by Ian Johnson and Karen Schrader – were short-listed and a further eleven are noted for honorable mention. The abstracts of the winning and shortlisted texts are presented below:


Webster, Eilidh (2016). Critical thinking and EAP writing: A meta-synthesis of research on teaching approaches to critical thinking in the EAP writing class. MEd TESOL Dissertation at the University of Glasgow


Critical thinking skills are some of the core skills universities wish their students to develop over their degree courses.  Increasing numbers of international students are choosing to attend university in English-speaking contexts such as the UK and USA who come from educational backgrounds which do not necessarily foster critical thinking skills as practiced in these academic contexts (Tian & Low, 2007; Bali, 2015).  EAP courses should aim to help their students adapt and begin to develop these skills, particularly in the context of academic writing which is the main method of assessment for the majority of students and where being critical in some way is often required (Moore, 2013).  However, the definition of critical thinking and the best ways to approach teaching critical thinking and writing are areas which for teachers are often controversial and ambiguous (Kuhn, 1999).  This study therefore aims to investigate how EAP students and teachers perceive critical thinking and which instructional practices appear to be effective in teaching critical thinking and writing through conducting a meta-synthesis of previous empirical research. 10 articles are analysed using an operational framework for teaching critical thinking (Thomas & Lok, 2015).  The results of the analysis show that many students in the contexts of the studies seem to still hold misconceptions of the meaning of critical thinking and that they may be perceived as lacking the disposition or confidence to think critically because of these misconceptions or cultural differences.  The skills of evaluation and synthesis are perceived as being closely connected to critical thinking and are a focus in writing instruction.  To teach critical thinking and writing effectively the analysis also indicates that sustained content based courses and collaborative learning may be beneficial. Implications for teaching practice and potential directions for future research are also discussed.


Short list

Ian Johnson (2016). ‘He said, she said’: A corpus based comparison of the citation skills of novice Chinese undergraduate students with those of proficient exemplars. MA Applied Linguistics and TESOL at the University of Portsmouth. 


The ability to cite effectively is a cornerstone of entry into U.K. academia. Proficiency affords a safeguard against plagiarism allegations, and the ability to display consultation with literature, whilst simultaneously supporting development of coherent writer argument through a range of citation devices, most notably report verb selection. Previous research into citation practices has focused on expert writer levels and, more recently, high-scoring ergo ‘proficient’ university students. In this study, the novice level is deeply examined via corpus-based analysis of 207,000 words from essays written by Chinese L1 speakers attending pre-sessional English courses, and compared to proficient exemplar conventions in the British Academic Written English corpus. Several divergent practices are evident among novices, illuminating a range of adverse effects. Report verb choices are dominated by ‘say’ and ‘show’, viewed as often representing naïve substitutions for many available alternatives, notably ‘argue’, ‘suggest’ and ‘believe’. Such substitutions are exemplified to show effects on the ability to build authorial argument, through a diversion of the writer stance and coherence of novice essays from that intended. Use of corpus data to familiarise students with the grammatical patterning and semantic functions of a small range of report verbs is posited as a direction for pedagogy.


Karen Schrader (2016). Understanding self- and peer-assessment processes: Developments in an EAP module for academic reading and oral presentation skills. MA Teaching English for Academic Purposes at the University of Nottingham.


Self-assessment (SA) and peer-assessment (PA) in higher education aim to develop the student’s ability for life-long learning beyond the confines of a formalized university setting.  These two types of formative assessment have been found conducive to language learning contexts and can increase student motivation and self-regulated learning through directed self-reflection and collaborative learning situations.  A successful implementation requires critical understanding of the processes.  This action research dissertation explores a group of teachers’ (N=5) collaborative effort to introduce written self-reflection and peer-feedback in a revised English for Academic Purposes reading and oral presentation module.  A mixed-method, action research approach using focus group interviews and questionnaires was used to gather insights into best practices as well as impressions of the benefits, limitations and improvements in oral presentation skills.  The data from the teachers was triangulated with results from a student survey of my two classes (N=31).  The results revealed that both stakeholder groups were overall satisfied with the learning outcomes and felt that the self-assessment and peer-assessment tasks were worthwhile and rewarding.  Further, the findings illustrate that detailed, accessible explanations, adequate training, use of video and awarding marks for the quality of the assignments were processes that led to a smooth and successful implementation of self- and peer-assessment.  However, the teachers found more scaffolding in the form of guiding questions and more emphasis on critical reading and language skills are necessary to complete the learning goals.  I offer recommendations for future improvements to the four phases of the formative assessment process: introduction, training, implementation and follow-up, which can be used as a basis for future teachers.


Previous Award-winning Dissertations