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Dr Maria Leedham

Profile summary

Professional biography

I am a Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics and English Language and am interested in student and professional writing and corpus-assisted discourse studies as a means of exploring textual data. I was Co-I on the ESRC-funded Writing in professional social work practice in a changing communicative landscape (WiSP) which ran from 2015-2018. Current research projects include the exploration of Young Adult fiction and a project  aiming to build a corpus of student writing and a related corpus of tutor feedback (see 'Research interests' below for more details).

I hold a BA in Linguistics (Lancaster University), MSc TESOL (Aston University, distance learning) and a PhD (The Open University) and am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. I have also qualified as a teacher trainer on Cambridge ESOL CELTA courses and hold the RSA/UCLES Diploma in TEFLA (Edinburgh University). Prior to starting work at The Open University in 2009, I taught EAP (English for Academic Purposes) and was a teacher trainer at Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University. I have also taught EAP and English language at Gyosei College for Japanese Students (Reading, UK), language schools in Oxford, UK and at a secondary school in Iwate, Japan. From 2005-07 I was a Research Assistant at Oxford Brookes on a project resulting in the British English Written English corpus (BAWE).

Research interests

My main research expertise is in text analysis, using corpus-assisted discourse studies. Corpus projects include research into student assignments, professionals’ writing, newspaper texts, TV transcripts and Young Adult literature. I combine corpus analysis with interviews, focus groups and observations to build a rounded picture of the practices around writing.  

My work on academic writing took, as its point of departure, issues arising from my PhD thesis (A corpus-driven study of features of Chinese students' undergraduate writing in UK universities) and includes a monograph, book chapters and journal articles on student writing at undergraduate and Masters level in the UK (see publications list). In researching student writing, I take a descriptive, non-deficit approach and foreground the alternative linguistic and visual means frequently used by L2 English students in producing successful university assignments. I’m now working as PI with colleagues Dr Jackie Tuck and Dr Prithvi Shrestha on a project named Student Writing and Tutor Assessment Practices (SWaTAP). We aim to build a corpus of OU student writing across four disciplines and a companion corpus of tutor feedback.

I have expanded this interest in academic writing to consider writing produced by professional social workers. I was Co-Investigator on the ESRC-funded Writing in professional social work practice in a changing communicative landscape (WiSP) project with Theresa Lillis (PI) and Alison Twiner (2015-2018). This work was designed to provide a detailed description and analysis of the texts and writing practices in professional social work, develop an innovative way of researching the written record in institutions, using different methodologies (ethnography, corpus linguistic and process approaches), and involve stakeholders (social workers, social work agencies, service users, inspection bodies etc) to ensure that research findings will have an impact on education, training and policy initiatives. The project resulted in a corpus of social workers' writing, a number of publications (some ongoing) and presentations, and a site for social work practitioners. I have also carried out related work on the portrayal of social workers in the press and am completing a paper on how social workers and other caring professionals are portrayed on television.

I am PI on a new project: 'The ‘windows and mirrors’ in the top 50 best-selling young adult fiction in the UK in the past 5 years', working with colleagues Dr Sarah Mukherjee and Dr Sally Hunt. The project arose out of our teaching work on L301 Language, literature and childhood. Alongside corpus compilation, we are conducting focus groups of young people and interviewing their school librarian. We hope this project will support young people's reading practices and assist schools in book selection. 

Doctoral student Supervision

I particularly welcome applications from potential doctoral students in the areas of academic writing, writing across different professions, online learning, and in social topics explored through corpus-assisted discourse studies.

Previous doctoral students

Dana Therova:  Linguistic complexity in international foundation students' assesed writing at a UK university  (PhD, 2021)

Jenny McMullan: Gender in a Study of Academic Writing? An Exploration into the Writing Practices and Experiences of Sixteen Women Enrolled in Research Courses in a UK University (PhD, 2018)

Subhi Ashour: Understanding Teachers' Engagement in Inquiry-Based Professional Development  (PhD, 2016)

Mat Terrett: Exploring an Exam-Practice Approach to Teaching Academic Reading and Writing in China: Teacher Perspectives and Materials Analysis (EdD, 2015)

David Hann: A study of the playful use of English among learners on an intensive language course (PhD, 2013)

Teaching interests

My teaching is research-led and builds on my background as a teaching practitioner, spanning a wide range of areas at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I am currently production chair of the Level 3 undergraduate module L301 Language, literature and childhood and team member for two further undergraduate modules. Previously I was coordinator for the Applied Linguistics pathway of our MA Education degree, and both production and presentation chair of E304 Exploring English grammar.

I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Impact and engagement

From 2015-2018 I was Co-I on the ESRC-funded project Writing in professional social work practice in a changing communicative landscape (WiSP). This project aims to inform policies and guidelines on recording and assist with the development of training materials for writing and recording. Potential beneficiaries include professional social workers, social work agencies, inspection bodies, local authority trainers and service users. The project team have worked with an Advisory Panel comprising members of these groups. I contributed resources to the WiSPeR site of materials for social work practitioners.

I have given invited talks on Chinese students' writing in English - based on my PhD and subsequent work - to both academic and practitioner teacher and administrator audiences.

My engagement with OU students and the wider public includes interviews for Student Hub Live on my research and on the nature of applied linguistics, an interview for OpenMinds magazine on globalisation and the English language, and an Open Learn article on using corpus linguistics to investigate pronoun use in writing.

External collaborations

My expertise in Applied Linguistics has resulted in invitations to examine PhDs across the UK and in Spain.  I am External Examiner for Sheffield University's MA in Applied Linguistics (2021 - ongoing) and from 2012-2016 I was External Examiner for Brighton University's Graduate Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.  I am a member of the British Association of Applied Linguists (BAAL) and from 2013-2015 was a member of the Executive Committee and responsible for the Applying Linguistics Fund.

From 2013 - 2019 I was Senior Academic Reviewer for the Arab OU's English Language modules (licensed from the OU UK); my role was to ensure quality of teaching and to advise on the recruitment of new academics.

I have a strong reviewing record across a number of journals, such as Applied Linguistics, Journal of English for Academic Purposes and System and East Asian Learner Journal (Reviews Editor and Editorial Board member, 1997-2012).

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
CREET: Language and Literacies Research ClusterClusterFaculty of Education and Language Studies

 

Externally funded projects

Writing in professional social work practice in a changing communicative landscape
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator19 Oct 201519 Oct 2018ESRC Economic and Social Research Council

The production and use of written texts is a high stakes activity in professional social work, playing a central role in all decisions about actions and services for people and at the same time used to evaluate a social worker’s professional competence. However, little empirical research has been carried out to date on the writing demands and practices of everyday social work – and their changing nature given the changing technologies being used. The proposed project seeks to address this gap in existing knowledge base by answering the following interrelated questions: what are the institutional writing demands of contemporary social work? what are the writing practices of professional social workers? how are the how are writing demands and practices shaping the nature of professional social work? To answer these questions the project focuses on three local authorities in the UK, exploring the range of written texts required and the writing practices of 50 social workers. It uses an integrated language methodology, including ethnographic description, discourse analysis using corpus software and the detailed tracking of the production of texts, in order to: map the types of writing that are required and carried out during the course of everyday practice; quantify the amount of writing that is being done and how writing is being managed alongside other commitments; identify the technologies mediating specific writing practices and the extent to which these enable or constrain effective writing and communication; track the trajectories of texts relating to specific cases; identify the writing challenges that social workers face, the problems identified and solutions adopted. Findings will be of direct relevance to nine key groups of beneficiaries: 1) academics in the fields of applied linguistics and literacy studies, particularly the subfield of work-based literacies; 2) professional social workers; 3) service users and carers; 4) social work agencies; 5) social work education and training providers; 6) social care inspection bodies; 7) policy makers on health and social care at local, national and international levels; 8) professional workers in other sectors where there are significant writing and recording demands, e.g. health, policing; 9) the general public.

Publications

‘Social Workers Failed to Heed Warnings’: A Text-Based Study of How a Profession is Portrayed in UK Newspapers (2022)
Leedham, Maria
The British Journal of Social Work, 52, Article bcab096(2) (pp. 1110-1128)


Reflections on the procedural and practical ethics in researching professional social work writing (2022)
Lillis, Theresa; Twiner, Alison; Balkow, Michael; Lucas, Gillian; Smith, Miriam and Leedham, Maria
Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice ((In Press))


Creating a corpus of sensitive and hard-to-access texts: Methodological challenges and ethical concerns in the building of the WiSP corpus (2021-12)
Leedham, Maria; Lillis, Theresa and Twiner, Alison
Journal of Applied Corpus Linguistics, 1(3)


Time, the Written Record, and Professional Practice: The Case of Contemporary Social Work (2020-10)
Lillis, Theresa; Leedham, Maria and Twiner, Alison
Written Communication, 37(4) (pp. 431-486)


Exploring the core ‘preoccupation’ of social work writing: A corpus-assisted discourse study (2020-01-01)
Leedham, Maria; Lillis, Theresa and Twiner, Alison
Journal of Corpora and Discourse Studies, 3 (pp. 1-26)


Recounting and reflecting: The use of first person pronouns in Chinese, Greek and British students' assignments in engineering (2017-03-31)
Leedham, Maria and Fernandez-Parra, Maria
Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 26 (pp. 66-77)


‘If it’s not written down it didn’t happen’: Contemporary social work as a writing intensive profession (2017)
Lillis, Theresa; Leedham, Maria and Twiner, Alison
Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 14(1) (pp. 29-52)


Chinese Students’ Writing in English: Using visuals and lists (2015-02)
Leedham, Maria
English Teaching in China (ETiC), 6 (pp. 16-20)


Book review: Literacy in the digital university (2014-08)
Leedham, Maria
System, 45 (pp. 261-262)


‘Enjoyable’, ‘okay’, or ‘like drawing teeth’? Chinese and British students’ views on writing Assignments in UK Universities (2014)
Leedham, Maria
Journal of Academic Writing, 4(1) (pp. 1-11)


Besides … on the other hand: using a corpus approach to explore the influence of teaching materials on Chinese students’ use of linking adverbials (2013-12)
Leedham, Maria and Cai, Guozhi
Journal of Second Language Writing, 22(4) (pp. 374-389)


Review of: 'New Trends in Corpora and Language Learning' and 'Keyness in Texts' (2012-03)
Leedham, Maria
System, 40(1) (pp. 162-165)


Combining intuition with corpus linguistic analysis: a study of marked lexical chunks in four Chinese students' undergraduate assignments (2012)
Leedham, Maria
Nordic Journal of English Studies, 11(3) (pp. 155-187)


Review of: Academic Writing: At the Interface of Corpus and Discourse (2010-09)
Leedham, Maria
System, 38(3) (pp. 510-511)


From traditional essay to 'Ready Steady Cook' presentation: Reasons for innovative changes in assignments (2009)
Leedham, Maria
Active Learning in Higher Education, 10(3) (pp. 191-206)


Book review of: English Language Teaching in China: New approaches, Perspectives and Standards (2008-05)
Leedham, Maria
East Asian Learner, 4(1) (pp. 51-52)


“Do I speak better?” A longitudinal study of lexical chunking in the spoken language of two Japanese students (2006-05)
Leedham, Maria
The East Asian Learner, 2(2)


Do I speak better?: A longitudinal study of lexical chunking in the spoken language of two Japanese students (2006-05)
Leedham, Maria
East Asian Learner, 2(2)


Towards the compilation of a corpus of assessed student writing: An account of work in process (2005)
Nesi, H.; Gardner, S.; Forsyth, R.; Hindle, D.; Wickens, P.; Ebeling, S.; Leedham, M.; Thompson, P. and Heuboeck, A.
Proceedings from the Corpus Linguistics Conference Series, 1(1)


Chinese Students’ Writing in English: Implications from a Corpus-Driven Study (2014-08-27)
Leedham, M.
ISBN : 978-0-415-85854-0 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : Abingdon


Integrating real life applications with text analysis (2023-05-17)
Leedham, Maria
In: Leedham, Maria; Tagg, Caroline and Tuck, Jackie eds. Online Pedagogy and the Student Experience: Teaching Applied Linguistics and Beyond
Publisher : Open University Press, McGraw-Hill | Published : London, UK


Introduction (2023-05-17)
Tuck, Jackie; Tagg, Caroline and Leedham, Maria
In: Leedham, Maria; Tagg, Caroline and Tuck, Jackie eds. Online pedagogy and the Student Experience: Teaching Applied Linguistics and Beyond
ISBN : 9780335251889 | Publisher : Open University Press, McGraw-Hill | Published : London, UK


Student perspectives towards learning online (2023)
Leedham, Maria
In: Leedham, Maria; Tagg, Caroline and Tuck, Jackie eds. Online Pedagogy and the Student Experience: Teaching Applied Linguistics and Beyond
Publisher : Open University Press, McGraw-Hill | Published : London, UK


Learning from lecturers: What disciplinary practice can teach us about ‘good’ student writing (2015-11)
Leedham, Maria
In: Lillis, Theresa; Harrington, Kathy; Lea, Mary and Mitchell, Sally eds. Working with Academic Literacies: Case Studies Towards Transformative Practice. Perspectives on writing (pp. 163-174)
ISBN : 9781602357624 | Publisher : The WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press | Published : Fort Collins, Colorado


Writing in tables and lists: a study of Chinese students’ undergraduate assignments in UK universities (2012)
Leedham, Maria
In: Tang, Ramona ed. Academic Writing in a Second or Foreign Language: Issues and Challenges Facing ESL / EFL Academic Writers in Higher Education Contexts (pp. 146-166)
ISBN : 9781441112163 | Publisher : Continuum | Published : London


Exam-orientated tasks: transcripts, turn-taking and backchannelling (2005-01-25)
Leedham, Maria
In: Willis, Jane and Edwards, Corony eds. Teachers Exploring Tasks (pp. 93-102)
ISBN : 9781403945563 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : London


Online pedagogy and the student experience: teaching applied linguistics and beyond (2023)
Leedham, Maria; Tagg, Caroline and Tuck, Jackie eds.
Publisher : Open University Press, McGraw-Hill | Published : London


The Japanese Learner: Context, Culture and Classroom Practice (2001)
Gray, K.; Ansell, M.; Cardew, S. and Leedham, M. eds.
Publisher : Oxford University Department for Continuing Education | Published : Oxford


‘Guv, I'm a copper, not a social worker!’: Using corpus-assisted discourse studies to analyse how caring professionals are portrayed on anglophone TV (2022)
Leedham, Maria
In : ICAME Conference (27-30 Jul 2022, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK)


‘[She] stated [they] would ‘kick off’: Using quotations to make service users visible in social workers’ writing (2021)
Leedham, Maria
In : ‘Creativity and Collaboration’ symposium. British Association of Applied Linguistics SIG (Professional, Academic, and Work-Based Literacies PAWBL) (29 Jan 2021, Virtual Event)


‘Social workers dismissed concerns’: A corpus-assisted discourse study of the portrayal of a profession in UK newspapers (2020-06-17)
Leedham, Maria
In : Corpus Assisted Discourse Studies (CADS) International Conference 2020 (17-19 Jun 2020, Sussex University (online))


Exploring the core ‘preoccupation’ of professional social work writing: A corpus-assisted discourse study (2019)
Leedham, Maria; Lillis, Theresa and Twiner, Alison
In : International Corpus Linguistics Conference 2019 (26-29 Jul 2019, Cardiff University, UK)


Creating a corpus of social workers’ writing: Methodological challenges, representational issues and analytical concerns (2018)
Leedham, Maria; Lillis, Theresa and Twiner, Alison
In : 4th Corpora and Discourse International Conference (22-24 Jun 2018, Lancaster University)


Writing in contemporary social work: texts, technologies and trajectories (2017-09-01)
Lillis, Theresa; Leedham, Maria and Twiner, Alison
In : BAAL2017: British Association for Applied Linguistics Conference (31 Aug - 02 Sep 2017, University of Leeds, UK)


Combining ethnography and corpus to research writing practices in social work: challenges and opportunities in methodology, epistemology and application (2016-11)
Lillis, Theresa; Leedham, Maria and Twiner, Alison
In : ALAPP 2016 (Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice Conference) (3-5 Nov 2016, Copenhagen, Denmark)


‘If it’s not written down it didn’t happen’: Social worker perspectives on contemporary writing and recording demands (2016-07)
Lillis, T.; Leedham, M.; Twiner, A.; Moore, J. and Whitehead, M.
In : Joint Social Work Education and Research Conference (JSWEC) 2016 (15 Jul 2016, Milton Keynes)


‘Enjoyable’, ‘okay’, or ‘like drawing teeth’? Chinese and British students’ views on writing assignments in UK Universities (2014-07-10)
Leedham, Maria
In : Writing Development in Higher Education: Future Directions in Academic Writing (WDHE 2014) (9-11 Jul 2014, Coventry)


Tutor and student perspectives on multimodal features of undergraduate assignments (2014-02)
Leedham, Maria
In : Writing Research Across Borders (WRAB) (19-22 Feb 2014, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense)


Writing in engineering: pronoun usage in written assignments by Chinese, British and Greek students (2013-09)
Fernandez-Parra, Maria and Leedham, Maria
In : 46th Annual Meeting of BAAL: Opening New Lines of Communication in Applied Linguistics (5-7 Sep 2013, Edinburgh)


Tutor perspectives on the use of visuals in undergraduate assignments (2013-09)
Leedham, Maria
In : 46th Annual Meeting of BAAL: Opening New Lines of Communication in Applied Linguistics (5-7 Sep 2013, Edinburgh)


Embracing different semiotic modes in undergraduate assignments (2012-09-06)
Leedham, Maria
In : British Association of Applied Linguists (BAAL) (6-8 Sep 2012, Southampton University)


Embracing different semiotic modes in undergraduate assignments (2012-07)
Leedham, Maria
In : Writing Development in Higher Education (WDHE) (2-4 Jul 2012, Liverpool University)


Writing in tables and lists: exploring multimodal undergraduate writing through keyword searches (2011-06)
Leedham, Maria
In : ICAME 32 Oslo 2011: Trends and Traditions in English Corpus Linguistics: In Honour of Stig Johansson (1-5 Jun 2011, Oslo, Norway)


Combining methods to analyse the relationship between language and attainment among Open University students (2010-07-16)
Erling, Elizabeth; Leedham, Maria and Adinolfi, Lina
In : Ethnographies of Academic Writing in a Global Context: the Politics of Style (16 Jul 2010, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)


Layering methods to analyse the relationship between language use and attainment among Open University undergraduate students (2010-06-29)
Leedham, Maria; Adinolfi, Lina and Erling, Elizabeth
In : WDHE (Writing Development in Higher Education) (28-30 Jun 2010, London)


Combining intuition with corpus linguistic analysis: a longitudinal study of lexical chunks in four students’ writing (2010-03)
Leedham, Maria
In : Formulaic Language Research Network (FLaRN) (23-26 Mar 2010, Paderborn, Germany)


'According to the equation...': key words and clusters in Chinese and British Students' undergraduate assignments from UK universities (2009)
Leedham, Maria
In : Corpus Linguistics Conference (21-23 Jul 2009, Liverpool)


'In light of this...' Comparing n-grams in Chinese and British students' undergraduate assignments from UK universities (2009)
Leedham, Maria
In : ICAME Conference (27-31 May 2009, Lancaster)


Searching corpora of Chinese and British writers for lexicalised language (2008-04-25)
Leedham, Maria
In : Crossculturality: English Studies and World Literature in China (24-25 Apr 2008, Beijing University, China)


Searching corpora of Chinese and British writers for lexicalised language (2008-03-16)
Leedham, Maria
In : Chinese Postgraduate Network (15-16 Mar 2008, Oxford)


From traditional essay to "Ready Steady Cook" presentation: Reasons for innovative changes in Higher Education assignments (2008)
Leedham, Maria
In : WDHE (Writing Development in Higher Education) Conference (25-27 Jun 2008, Strathclyde University)


“Enjoyable”, “okay” or “rather pointless”? An exploration of Chinese and British students' views on innovative and traditional assignment types in UK universities (2008)
Leedham, Maria
In : Promoting Partnership: Responding to the Needs of the East Asian Learner in Higher Education (12-13 Jul 2008, Portsmouth)


What can the BAWE Corpus tell us about student development? (2006-05-12)
Ebeling, Signe and Leedham, Maria
In : Writing Development in Higher Education (WDHE) Conference (11-12 May 2006, The Open University, Milton Keynes)


A corpus-driven study of features of Chinese students' undergraduate writing in UK universities (2011-05)
Leedham, Maria Elizabeth
PhD thesis The Open University


Writing in professional social work practice in a changing communicative landscape (WiSP)
Lillis, Theresa; Leedham, Maria and Twiner, Alison
UK Data Service