Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Reflexive Metadiscourse in Online Academic Discussion Forums

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posted on 2023-11-24, 02:00 authored by Mayyer Ling

This study investigates metadiscourse use in online academic discussion forums with the use of Ӓdel’s reflexive model. Metadiscourse markers are linguistic features in spoken and written texts that refer to the author/speaker, the reader/listener, and the evolving text. Reflexive metadiscourse, the focus of the current thesis, is a specific type of metadiscourse where the linguistic features are all discourse internal. This means that the author/speaker, the reader/listener, and the reference text must all be part of the evolving text. The reflexive model offers a set of criteria for the selection of metadiscursive markers that prove to be useful in a study such as this.

In the reflexive metadiscourse model, metadiscourse instances satisfy the delimiting strategies set in Ӓdel (2006). In the current study, reference to these reflexive metadiscourse instances are termed simply as “metadiscourse”. If the process of identifying potential metadiscourse is still ongoing, then the instances are termed “potential metadiscourse”. Finally, the term reflexive will be used when an instance is found to be non-metadiscursive, according to the framework of this thesis, subsequently labelled as “non-reflexive metadiscourse”. This is to account for the fact that in other models, such as Hyland’s interpersonal metadiscourse model, some non-reflexive metadiscourse instances are still metadiscursive. For example, evidentials include instances when a speaker is sharing his/her experience in an ongoing text. In the reflexive model, however, such evidentials would not be metadiscursive as the experience occurs outside of the ongoing text and in the writer’s real world.

The study involved collecting interactions in online discussion forums from four modules at Universiti Brunei Darussalam, and the resultant corpus has over 150,000 words. The reflexive model was adapted for use with this discourse based on a close reading of one module during the pilot study. To analyse the corpus, AntConc was used to electronically search for metadiscourse markers from the pilot study, and from Ӓdel (2006) and Molino (2018) to generate concordance lines. Then these lines were manually read to filter out non-metadiscursive instances. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 undergraduates and postgraduates on their use of online discussion forums for their learning to provide an insider’s perspective on the use of metadiscourse online and to check the categorisations that resulted from the analysis. Some of the categorisations were revised based on the information from the interviews. Finally, quantitative methods were employed for the identification of patterns in metadiscourse use in online discussion forums, specifically their role in constructing relationships among peers and in constructing the self-identity of writers.

The results suggest that there were new metadiscourse forms found in this genre of online interactions and some revision to the key concepts in reflexive metadiscourse is perhaps timely and necessary. The results may be influenced by the affordances of online platforms such as change in the intended audience (Hafner, 2018) and the ability to reference other texts intertextually via the use of hyperlinks (Xia, 2020). These affordances have contributed to the changes in the way that writers construct their texts for their readers. In addition, in the current study, the interactions seem also to be influenced by the relationship writers have with their readers outside of the discussion forum (i.e., their relationships in their face-to-face classes and their social relationships outside of the academic settings).

Overall, this thesis provides insight into the writing process in crafting main responses and comment posts in online discussion forums using data from both the Discussion corpus and information obtained from the semi-structured interviews. This thesis thus provides valuable methodological, theoretical, and conceptual implications, laying out a foundation for future studies on reflexive metadiscourse in online academic discussion forums, and potentially other discourses in various under-explored settings.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY-ND 4.0

Degree Discipline

Applied Linguistics

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

280116 Expanding knowledge in language, communication and culture

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Parkinson, Jean; Elgort, Irina