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What and where? Corpus linguistics evaluation of transitional markers usage in TOEFL iBT and Academic IELTS writing tasks

Guillermo Balseiro Barrios, Hsing-Hung Yeh
National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan


Transitional markers (lexical bundles and linking adverbials) facilitate readers’ text comprehension, which connects also to writing delivery and clarity (Hyland, 2005). However, understanding regarding their teaching and use by learners of different proficiency levels is still lacking (Appel & Szeib, 2018; Staples et al., 2013), which can be linked to the challenges these learners face when trying to integrate these devices as novice writers (Walková, 2020), and the problems demonstrating this integration in high-stakes proficiency tests as a predictor of their competence in academic writing (Pearson, 2021). Therefore, this study aimed to determine differences in the usage of transitional markers in TOEFL iBT® and academic IELTS essay samples for their integrated and independent writing tasks. A corpus (˃130000 words) was prepared based on 520 essay samples found both in textbooks (Biber & Gray, 2013; Walková, 2020) and online. A classification of transitional markers was based on function following the literature (Biber et al., 2004; Pearson, 2021), and expanded until creating a comparison database for R to obtain their frequencies. A MANOVA for the nine major groups of transitional markers resulted in statistically significant main effects for the type of test, the type of writing task, and the interaction between these two independent variables. Sequential, cause-consequence, and defining-descriptive transitional markers were, overall, the most frequently found. Defining-descriptive and referential connectors were particularly common in integrated tasks in comparison with the contrasting and cause-consequence ones predominant in independent writing samples. These results are beneficial as a reference for instruction: leaning towards a more tailor-made teaching of these devices in opposition to the generalized guidance common nowadays. Finally, the differentiation in the usage of transitional markers by test and type of task might help testees to improve their essays’ comprehensibility (avoiding misuse or overuse) and, ultimately, their test performance.


transitional markers, TOEFL iBT®, Academic IELTS, corpus analysis

International Joint Conference of APLX, ETRA40, and TESPA 2023