Writing as a critical moment in professional discourse


  • Theresa Lillis The Open University




case notes, expertise, ideologies, professional writing, social work writing, writing for publication


Written texts mediate action and serve as accounts of action in most contemporary professional domains. Echoing Candlin’s call for applied and social linguists to explore ‘critical moments’ in discourse, I argue that ‘writing’ constitutes just such a critical moment, because of its contested position in professional domains and the dominant ideology underpinning writing evident both in ‘intellectual’ (academic) and ‘expert’ (professional) orientations. A key challenge is to find ways of understanding writing which are not constrained by existing ‘intellectual’ and ‘expert’ orientations and which can contribute to useable knowledge for professional practice. I draw on specific examples from ethnographically oriented research projects with professionals in two domains (academia and social work) to illustrate how a dominant ideology of writing is enacted. This enactment is explored further by focusing on ICT-mediated ‘expert systems’ in social work, illustrating how an increasingly used, specific technology of writing is impacting professional practice. I conclude by considering the difficulties and possibilities of collaboratively building usable knowledge about writing for professional practice.

Author Biography

Theresa Lillis, The Open University

Theresa Lillis is Emeritus Professor of English Language and Applied Linguistics at the Open University, UK. Her writing research centres on the politics of production and participation. Authored, co-authored and edited works include Academic Writing in a Global Context (2010, Routledge), The Sociolinguistics of Writing (2013, Edinburgh), Theory in Applied Linguistics (2015, AILA Review), The Dynamics of Textual Trajectories in Professional and Workplace Practice (2017, Special Issue of Text and Talk). 


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How to Cite

Lillis, T. . (2021). Writing as a critical moment in professional discourse. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 15(3), 334–363. https://doi.org/10.1558/jalpp.21055



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