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Concordancing Help

Concordancing: a text analysis tool for language development

This tool is computer software that we think can help you improve the accuracy of your written research English. To use it for this purpose, you need three things:

Some linguistic background

All languages contain words and phrases that are commonly associated with other words or phrases (e.g. theory and practice; genetically modified organisms; the effect of something on something else). These collocations (words that are commonly used together) can be identified and studied. If you want to identify and learn common collocations that are used in writing about your own research field, you need to study texts (examples of writing) specific to that field. You can use a software program to help you do this in a systematic way: a concordancer.

What does a concordancer do?

A concordancer searches a group of texts (called a corpus) for all examples of a particular search item. It displays the results as lines of text across the screen, with the search term highlighted in the middle. Results can then be sorted according to what is on the left or right of the search term (and one, two, or three words away from the search term), and this can provide data for your language learning. If the corpus you search is specific to your research field, you can search it in this way to improve your use of discipline-specific English.

What can you learn from concordancing output?

A good way to demonstrate the learning possibilities is through an example. Imagine you were writing a sentence including the word 'role' and you were not sure about what verbs you could use in front of it, or what prepositions you could use after it. To answer these questions, you could run a concordancer search of a relevant corpus of text using the word 'role' as your search term. If you sort the concordancing output according to what word appears on the right of the search term, it will be easy to answer the question about preposition use.

Below we have copied 20 lines of concordance output, obtained by asking the ConcApp program to search for the word 'role', and sort the output according to the word that occurred to the right of the search term. The corpus we searched was made up of research articles in the field of biotechnology – so the answers will be relevant for research writing in that field. To check for your own field, you will need to make and search your own discipline-specific corpus.

Use the 20 lines of data below to answer the questions we have listed – and then compare your answers with our suggestions, given below the dataset.

Questions you can answer from these data:

1. Which two prepositions commonly follow a role?

2. Which verbs or other constructions commonly precede a role for?

3. What type of noun phrase (NP) commonly follows a role for? (List the NPs and then try to decide on a category that describes them.)

4. Which verbs or other constructions commonly precede a role in?

5. What types of phrase commonly follow a role in?

6. What adjectives can be used with a role?

immers et al., 1992) may also indicate an ongoing rolefor Ca2+ in plant responses to salinity, as does t
also occurs upon salinization, consistent with a rolefor inositol phospholipid-based signalling respons
and rice, there is evidence indicating a central rolefor members of the HKT gene family of Na+ and Na+/
backcrossed populations, indicating an important rolefor MTP1 in Zn tolerance in the hyperaccumulator
a U-box-containing E3 Ub ligase. This suggests a rolefor the ubiquitination system as a negative regula
tMYC2 transcripts during plant defense suggests a rolefor this gene in biotic stress in addition to its
(Gaxiola et al., 2001), suggesting a significant rolefor vacuolar sequestration. Given the higher leve
lants exposed to increased Mn suggests a possible rolefor ZIF1 in Mn tolerance. Although the vacuole is
conditions of high Zn exposure imply an important rolefor ZIF1 in Zn tolerance in A. thaliana. In view
for inhibition of Zm-X-QUAC suggests a potential rolefor Zm-X-HACC in an increase in [Ca2+]cyt that wou
g these members of the MFS, ZIF1 may fulfill this rolein A. thaliana. A second model is that ZIF1 tran
is gene in biotic stress in addition to its known rolein ABA-mediated responses to abiotic stress. To de
synthesized or exogenously applied, could play a rolein antagonizing JA-ethylene responsive defense gen
s a similar pattern of variation with a potential rolein biosynthesis of hormone or secondary metabolite
synthase-like protein (OsCslF1), which may have a rolein catalyzing the biosynthesis of hemicellulose ba
expression, which is consistent with JA-specific rolein cell expansion (Takahashi et al. 1994). Moreove
e outer mesocarp of ripe fruit implies a possible rolein cell wall loosening and fruit softening. In tom
also evidence that AtHKT1;1 plays a more complex rolein controlling ion fluxes. Although hkt1;1 knockou
to release Glc monomers. Besides their well-known rolein defense mechanisms against fungal attack, there
that this particular residue could play a central rolein determining the Na+ selectivity of the transpor

Answers – for the field of biotechnology!

1. Which two prepositions commonly follow a role?

for and in

2. Which verbs commonly precede a role for?

Common verbs are indicate and suggest, with imply also possible. Another construction that appears is consistent with

3. What type of noun phrase (NP) commonly follows a role for?

It seems to be followed by concrete nouns, such as the name of a molecule or gene or similar. In one instance it is followed by a noun of process, vacuolar sequestration.

4. Which verbs or other constructions commonly precede a role in?

The most common verb is play, with imply, have and fulfil also appearing. Another construction preceding this phrase is is consistent with.

5. What types of phrase commonly follow a role in?

This phrase is followed by three types of construction:

· the name of an organism/plant – e.g. A. Thaliana

· a verb ending in –ing (a gerund) – e.g. antagonizing, catalysing

· a noun phrase of process – e.g. defense mechanisms, biosynthesis

6. What adjectives can be used with a role?

Adjectives appearing before role include important, central and significant; possible and potential; and ongoing, complex and well-known.


Training in constructing effective concordancing searches

A very useful site to learn more about constructing searches and learning from the output is this one, associated with the University of Birmingham, UK.


Here you can find examples (called 'kibbitzers') that focus on vocabulary, on grammar, and on discourse (connecting ideas). Reading these and checking the concordancing data given will provide many ideas about searches you can run yourself using your own discipline-specific corpus.