Thread: Research

Overcoming rhetorical incompatibilities in academic writing: English versus the Romance cultures

Karen Bennett, Lisbon, Portugal

Background A survey of the many English academic style manuals on the market (Bennett 2009) has shown a remarkable consistency across disciplines and genres as to the qualities required in English academic discourse. These include characteristics such as clarity, economy and precision; an emphasis upon rational argument supported by evidence, with an avoidance of -˜dubious' persuasive techniques; and a general restraint with regards to claims made. This contrasts sharply with the traditional scholarly discourse of the Romance cultures (Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and French), which is characterised by a taste for -˜copiousness', manifested by wordiness and redundancy; a preference for a high-flown erudite register (including complex syntax, lexical abstraction, etc); a propensity for indirectness (the main idea is often embedded, deferred or adorned at all ranks); and the extensive use of figurative language and other forms of subjectivity.

Purpose Drawing on published research into the characteristics of Portuguese academic writing across disciplines (Bennett 2010, 2011, 2012) and as yet unpublished research into the other languages, this paper uses a contrastive approach to explore these differences from the point of view of the translator, editor, writing instructor or non-native English-speaking author.

Recommendations Using examples from academic papers in all four languages, suggestions are given as to how some of the more intransigent problems might be reformulated in order to make the text more acceptable to an English-speaking readership (these include things like complex sentences, deferred topics, interpersonal framing devices, cohesion, etc). The paper closes with a discussion about the ethical, ideological and identity issues involved in radical domestication.


  • Bennett, Karen (2009) -˜English Academic Style Manuals: A Survey', Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 8: 43-54.
  • ---- (2010) 'Academic Discourse in Portugal: A Whole Different Ballgame?' Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 9/1: 21-32.
  • ---- (2011) Academic Writing in Portugal I: Discourses in Conflict, Coimbra University Press.
  • ---- (2012) English Academic Discourse: its Hegemonic Status and Implications for Translation (with particular reference to Portuguese), Lambert Academic Publishing.


Karen Bennett is a member of the Centre for English Studies, University of Lisbon, where she researches in the area of translation studies. She has a PhD in translation studies and is also a practising translator, specializing in the translation of academic texts from Portuguese and French into English. She currently teaches English for academic purposes and scientific communication at the University of Coimbra. In addition to numerous articles on many translation-related subjects, she has published two books: Academic Writing in Portugal I: Discourses in Conflict (Coimbra University Press, 2011) and English Academic Discourse: its Hegemonic Status and Implications for Translation (Lambert Academic Publishing, 2012).