A 3-D Approach to Discovering and Creating the Features of Written Texts


  • Martha C. Pennington SOAS and Birkbeck College, University of London




University Writing, Teaching of Writing, Textual Analysis, Writer-Reader Interaction


This article outlines a student-centered, ‘hands-on’ approach to the teaching of writing at university level through first discovering and then creating the features of written texts in three dimensions: microtextual (lexico-grammar), macrotextual (rhetoric), and extratextual (context). The ‘3-D’ approach has been designed for novice writers, offering a practical, step-by-step procedure to prepare them to write in specific disciplines and for specific purposes. Though usable with other audiences, the sample material included here is especially appropriate for second-language writers and will be of particular interest to students of science. While the approach is consistent with Systemic-Functional and ESP orientations to text, as contrasted with most ESP pedagogy – especially that geared to students in sciences – the 3-D approach gives particular attention to affect, writer–reader interaction, and shared context. The approach, which starts from analysis of texts and then moves to writing of texts, is first described and then illustrated using several short popular science texts about insects and birds. These texts exemplify lexico-grammatical and rhetorical features of scientific texts while also illustrating other purposes which a writer may seek to fulfill as well as the underlying assumptions and author biases that might exist even in texts which appear to be purely descriptive or ‘objective’. The texts and analyses provided are intended for classroom use to train students in the approach, supplemented by a step by step guide for students to follow. Through the activities provided for the sample texts, students develop awareness of the properties of texts and how these can be discovered through analysis and then written into their own texts.

Author Biography

Martha C. Pennington, SOAS and Birkbeck College, University of London

Martha c. Pennington (Ph.d. Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania) holds positions at the University of London as Professorial research Associate in Linguistics, School for Oriental and African Studies, and research fellow in Applied Linguistics and communication, Birkbeck college. Professor Pennington is the founding editor of the journal, Writing and Pedagogy (Equinox), and the editor of two book series, Frameworks for Writing (Equinox) and Innovation and Leadership in English Language Teaching (Brill). She has published 15 books and over 200 articles in edited collections and journals including TESOL Quarterly, Modern Language Journal, System, Journal of Second Language Writing, Language and Education, Language Culture and Curriculum, Computers and Composition, Computer Assisted Language Learning, RELC Journal, and World Englishes. Her current work centers on creativity in academic writing, effects of technology on literacy, humor and language, bilingualism, and English phonology in applied linguistics.


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How to Cite

Pennington, M. C. (2016). A 3-D Approach to Discovering and Creating the Features of Written Texts. Writing and Pedagogy, 8(1), 117–147. https://doi.org/10.1558/wap.v8i1.29525



Reflections on Practice