Cross-disciplinary collaboration in research on a specific-purpose language test in the healthcare setting

  • Tim McNamara University of Melbourne
  • Cathie Elder University of Melbourne
  • Eleanor Flynn University of Melbourne
  • Ute Knoch University of Melbourne
  • Elizabth Manias Deakin University
  • Robyn Woodward-Kron University of Melbourne
  • Sharon Yahalom Monash University
Keywords: English for Specific Purposes, healthcare communication, interdisciplinary collaboration, Language Testing, medical records, research methodology


Central to teaching and assessing languages for specific purposes is collaboration between domain experts and applied linguists; yet, the complexity of the process has been little documented. A project involving collaboration between language testers, applied linguists and healthcare professionals in Australia provided an opportunity for exploration of this complexity. The project focused on interprofessional written communication about patient care, which forms the basis of a writing task in the Occupational English Test (OET), an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) test for health professionals. The project aimed to identify criteria indigenous to the work setting in order to inform the criteria used by language professionals in judging performance on the OET. This methodological paper examines the decisions involved in designing the collaboration and considers the possible effect of decisions on the validity of findings. The decisions include the choice of workplace writing tasks, of participants, of work settings and of written materials to be used as stimuli, the mode of eliciting responses to the stimuli from the domain experts and the coding and interpretation of data. The ways in which the research results are to be implemented in practice are examined, as well as the broader implications for the methodology of ESP research.

Author Biographies

Cathie Elder, University of Melbourne

Cathie Elder is Associate Professor and Principal Fellow in the School of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Melbourne. Her main area of research expertise is in language testing and the testing of languages for specific purposes in particular.

Eleanor Flynn, University of Melbourne

Eleanor Flynn is Associate Professor in the Department of Medical Education at the University of Melbourne. Her research interests include teaching and assessment of communication skills to medical students and graduates, and medical student selection.

Ute Knoch, University of Melbourne

Ute Knoch is Associate Professor and Director of the Language Testing Research Centre at the University of Melbourne. Her research interest is in language assessment, in particular language assessment for specific and academic purposes, validation and aspects relating to rater quality.

Elizabth Manias, Deakin University

Elizabeth Manias is Research Professor at Deakin University, School of Nursing and Midwifery, and Honorary Professor at the School of Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne. Her research considers how health professionals, patients and family members communicate in diverse clinical settings to make decisions about healthcare.

Robyn Woodward-Kron, University of Melbourne

Robyn Woodward-Kron is Associate Professor in healthcare communication in the Melbourne Medical School at the University of Melbourne. Her research focus is learner discourses in medical education, intercultural healthcare communication, and language and communication barriers in clinical trial participation. Her PhD is in educational linguistics.

Sharon Yahalom, Monash University

Sharon Yahalom is Lecturer in the Student Academic Support Unit in the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University and a PhD student in the School of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Melbourne. Her research interests include healthcare communication and language testing for specific purposes.


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How to Cite
McNamara, T., Elder, C., Flynn, E., Knoch, U., Manias, E., Woodward-Kron, R., & Yahalom, S. (2018). Cross-disciplinary collaboration in research on a specific-purpose language test in the healthcare setting. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 13(1-3), 189-210.