PhD examiner reports for submitted doctoral theses were collected from six faculties in the University of Helsinki during 2011-2012. These are public documents submitted to the Faculty Council of each university faculty. The examiners provide a fairly substantial evaluation (typically several pages) of a submitted thesis, together with suggestions for improvement before the final submission and public defence. The examiners are also to make a recommendation with regard to the readiness of the candidate to defend the thesis in public, which in effect means the examiners regard it as acceptable.
This preliminary examination is carried out by two external examiners for each thesis. After the defence, a final report is submitted, but these are usually shorter, and written by the examiner acting as opponent in the public defence, who is usually one of the preliminary examiners. They therefore overlap with the preliminary reports and were not included in the corpus.
The six faculties fall into a convenient separation into the Sci categories (faculties of Medicine, Agriculture & Forestry, and Mathematics & Science) and SSH categories (faculties of Arts, Social Sciences, and Behavioural Sciences). In the sample collected from 2011-2012, 57% of the examiner reports were written in Finnish (n=743), with 40% written in English (n=531). The remaining reports are written mainly in Swedish (n=26, 2%), with 11 reports in either French, Russian, Spanish, or Italian.
Out of the 531 reports in English that were submitted during these two years, the authors of 524 reports could be contacted for permission to include their texts, with the authors of 330 reports granting their permission (63%). These 330 examiner reports are distributed as follows across the broad categories:
|category||no. of statements||no. of words||% of words||avg. words/statement|
The broad Sci/SSH categories are further broken down by the six domains from which the statements were drawn:
|category/domain||no. of reports||no. of words||% of words||avg. words/report|
As this is a hitherto unexplored genre of expert academic writing, we collected as many of the examiners’ statements as possible, including from L1 English authors. Even though these statements are not written by L2 English users, they are nevertheless written for a context where English is the lingua franca between a Finnish university and academics from 33 identified L1 backgrounds.
As for the examiners’ L1s, English emerged as the largest group with 29% of words. This figure reflects the distribution of L1 English authors among individual reports, which is roughly 28% (i.e. 148 of the 524 reports in English were written by L1 English authors). Altogether 33 L1s are represented, and the ten largest L1s by word count make up 85% of words in the subcorpus:
|author L1||no. of reports||no. of words||% of words|
As a reflection of the expert role of the examiners, senior academic staff (i.e. professors) are most prominent in this subcorpus, with 61% of words. In addition to junior and senior academic staff, about 9% of words come from authors tagged as junior or senior industry (i.e. who are employed outside academia but retain active ties to research):
|author role||no. of reports||no. of words||% of words|
For a more detailed description of the examiner report subcorpus, see the ELFA project research blog.
WrELFA 2015. The Corpus of Written English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings. Director: Anna Mauranen. Compilation manager: Ray Carey. http://www.helsinki.fi/elfa/ (last access).