Academic Writing

Rhetorical functions in academic writing: Application of theory

Introduction

One thing that you learn in higher education is how to apply what you are learning (theory) to the real world. It is an essential part of writing critically as defined by Bloom

Make sure you distinguish between describing something you have learned, for example a theory, and applying it - that is, explaining how it has been used.

See: Writing Functions 1: DescribingWriting Functions 5: FunctionWriting Functions 6: ProcessesWriting Functions 20: Supporting

Application:

  • Uses a concept in a new situation.
  • Applies what was learned in the classroom into novel situations.
  • Applies general ideas and theories to concrete situations.
  • Applies what is discussed in one paper to another paper.
  • Predicts probable effects.
  • Solves problems by applying acquired knowledge, facts, techniques and rules in a different way.

Typical verbs associated with application include: apply, construct, demonstrate, derive, find, forecast, highlight, illustrate, implement, modify, plan, produce, reconcile, relate, schedule, show, solve, tabulate, use, validate, verify.

Typical assignment questions/briefs associated with application are:

  • How would you use ...?
  • What examples can you find to ...?
  • Can you relate this information to the present situation?
  • How would you organize _______ to show ...?
  • What approach would you use to ...?
  • How would you apply what you learned to develop ...?

Example

The law of supply states that an increase in quantity demanded would increase the price of the product and therefore less will be demanded at the new process. Therefore in analysing the market for electricity, the supply curve would be affected because there would be an increase in supply as there is a new product on the market and everybody would want it.

Notice how we have included a statement of the economic principle.and an application of the economic principle:

The law of supply states that an increase in quantity demanded would increase the price of the product and therefore less will be demanded at the new price. Therefore in analysing the market for electricity, the supply curve would be affected because there would be an increase in supply as there is a new product on the market and everybody would want it.

Examples

1. The Theorem of Pythagoras states that the square of the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the lengths of the two remaining sides of the triangle - a2+b2=c2. In the case of purchasing a new television set to fit in a particular space, we know that televisions are generally measured diagonally, from corner to corner.  So, a 35-inch television is 35 inches from one corner to the corner diagonal opposite it. The space available for the television is 30 inches long and 17 inches tall. Using the Pythagorean Theorem, we can calculate that the space will hold a television with a diagonal of the square root of 302 + 172, which is 34.5 inches.  From this, we know that we may want to purchase a slightly smaller television to fit the space. 

2. Following Belbin’s (1993) model of team roles at work, people in teams tend to assume different team roles. He suggests that understanding the different roles within a particular team can contribute to the success of the team. Teams can become unbalanced if all team members have similar styles of behaviour or team roles. In our groups, we found that after analysing the team several of the team members could be classified as shapers. Shapers are people who challenge the team to improve. According to Belbin, our team would be more successful if we had a more balanced team and this would include fewer shapers.

3. Porter’s (1980) Five Forces model refers to “substitute products” as those products that are available in other industries that meet an identical or similar need for the user. As more substitutes become available and affordable, the demand becomes more elastic since customers have more alternatives. Substitute products may therefore limit the ability of firms within an industry to raise prices and improve margins. In our study, the price of aluminium cans is constrained by the price of glass bottles, steel cans, and plastic containers. These containers are substitutes; so constrain the demand for our aluminium cans.

4. According to Darwin’s (1859) evolutionary theory, natural selection is a matter of reproductive success. This means that the fittest individuals are the ones who have the combination of traits that allow them to survive longer and produce more offspring. Those beneficial traits will be inherited by next generations.

5. House (1996) argues that effective leaders are those who clarify their subordinates' path to the rewards available, and ensure that rewards the subordinates value are available. Foe example, if a subordinate has little confidence or skill then the leader needs to provide coaching and other support. If the subordinate likes clear direction they will respond best to a leader who gives it.

6. In addition to the direct effects discussed above, we also examined the indirect effects of positive and negative feedback on job satisfaction. We used the competing models analysis suggested by Singh et al. (1994) to study this effect.

7. Brown’s (2012) theory of employee motivation provides a useful analytical framework of factors which might impact on workplace motivation in general. However, it may be that the criteria he uses are too limited in scope. For example, the theory does not include any affective criteria. The present study investigated the extent to which the quality of the social experience associated with the workplace is also going to be an important motivational factor for employees.

8. The task performance of six teams of four individuals identified as shapers by the Team‐Role Self‐Perception Inventory (Belbin, 1981), was compared with that of six mixed teams of four individuals; one coordinator, one plant, one completer finisher, and one team worker. It was found that consistent with Belbin’s proposal the “mixed” teams performed better than teams consisting of shapers alone. 

Application can sometimes involve, description, evaluation and modification.

Tuckman and Jensen (1977) developed a theory that groups can potentially pass through five fairly clearly defined stages of development: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. However, a team that survives will go through these stages many times. As new members join, as others leave, as circumstances or the task change, new tensions arise that take the group back to an earlier stage. A new member implies that the team needs to revisit, however briefly, the forming and norming stages. This ensures the new member is brought psychologically into the team and understands how they are expected to behave. A change in task or a conflict over priorities can take a group back to the storming stage, from which it needs to work forward again. The process will be more like Figure 17.6 than the linear progression implied by the original theory.

(Boddy's (2008, p. 571) evaluation and modification of Tuckman and Jensen's theory of group development.)

Language

Statement of Principle

before you can apply a principle/model/theory, you need to present it and explain it, at the same time making it clear from whom and where you have obtained the ideas you are discussing . For example

According to Darwin’s (1859) ...

Porter’s (1980) Five Forces model refers to ...

The Theorem of Pythagoras states that ...

Brown (1983, p. 231) states that ...

Here are some more expressions you can use to introduce and explain a theory or principle.

The work of X indicates that ...

The work of X reveals that ...

The work of X shows that ...

Turning to X, one finds that ...

Reference to X reveals that ...

In a study of Y, X found that ...

As X points out, ...

As X states, ...

As X has indicated, ...

A study by X shows that ...

X has drawn attention to the fact that ...

X correctly argues that ...

X rightly points out that ...

X makes clear that ...

According to X...

It is the view of X that ...

The opinion of X is that ...

In an article by X, ...

Research by X suggests that ...

X has expressed a similar view.

X reports that ...

X notes that ...

X states that ...

X observes that ...

X concludes that ...

X argues that ...

X found that ...

X discovered that ...

Application

You can then apply it to your own context.

This seems to indicate that...

This means that ...

Therefore ...

According to this theory ...

Here we see ...

From this, we can understand ...

In other words ...

It follows that ...

The implications are therefore that ...

It must therefore be the case that...

The indications are therefore that...

It is clear therefore that ...

On this basis it may be inferred that...

Given this ..., it can be seen that...

As a result ...

As a consequence ...

This leads to ...

Concluding

In short,
In a word,
In brief,
To sum up,
To conclude,
To summarise
In conclusion,
On the whole,
Altogether,
In all,

....

It is

generally
widely

accepted
argued
held
believed

that ....


Therefore,
Thus,
On this basis,
Given this,

it

can
may

be

concluded
deduced
inferred

that... .


From

Table 1

it

can
may

be

seen
concluded
shown
estimated
calculated
inferred

that ....

the

table
figures
data
results
information


In conclusion,
Finally

we/may say
it can/may be said

that ....

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