You are here

  1. Home
  2. Professor Theresa Lillis

Professor Theresa Lillis

Profile summary

Professional biography

I am  Professor Emeritus of English Language and Applied Linguistics at The Open University.

My main research area is writing. I have been researching writing for some 25 years from a perspective that can be summarized as the politics of access, location, production and participation. I’m committed to using ethnography as an overarching research methodology and have an ongoing interest in developing ‘text oriented ethnographic approaches’, using a range of methods. I've written about what we mean by 'writing' , for example in The sociolinguistics of writing, EUP (2013) and 'Resistir regímenes de evaluación en el estudio del escribir: hacia un imaginario enriquecido', Signo y pensamiento, (2018) 36 (71)  66-81. 

I have been involved in three main areas of study.






Research interests

Current research and writing centres on:

  • Academic literacies
  • Academic writing for publication in a global context
  • Professional social work writing


Teaching interests

I am not currently involved in teaching.





Impact and engagement

My main work centres on writing practices in professional social work.




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
Lead19 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.