Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts




This study compares the functions of abstract nouns previously defined as "shell nouns" (Schmid, 2000) to create cohesion in academic texts written by professional published authors and international graduate students. To make this comparison, two corpora of research papers, one by international graduate students and one by published authors, were collected from 6 different academic disciplines (Art and Design, Biology, Computer Science, Economics, Environmental Engineering, and Physics and Astronomy). The 35 shell nouns (Hinkel, 2004) were investigated in order to find out the frequency patterns in both corpora. The six shell nouns identified as the most common ones in the published corpus were qualitatively compared between published authors' and international graduate students' writings, and further analyzed for cohesive functions through different lexico-grammatical patterns in the two corpora. Specifically, the functional analysis was conducted to find out how these shell nouns function in different lexico-grammatical patterns (th-be-N, th-N, N-be-cl, N-cl) as cohesive devices in both corpora. The findings of this study indicated that the two groups of writers used shell nouns at almost the same rate of frequency. In addition, they employed various functions for these nouns as cohesive ties in the text in some new lexico-grammatical patterns (the N, the N of, a(n) N, a(n) N of, the same N) which had not been previously identified. Finally, the analysis of frequency, lexico-grammatical patterns, and functions of these shell nouns used by the two groups of writers provided some information about the use of these nouns as cohesive devices in academic writing, and possibly raised awareness for their cohesive functions that could eventually be applied in English for Academic Purposes courses.



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

Rahime Nur Aktas



OCLC Number


File Format


File Size

56 pages