Mathematical discourse in PhD theses: Considerations for the language teacher

Keywords: metadiscourse, mathematical writing, doctoral academic writing, Singapore, EAP


Mathematical discourse is unique in that it is made up of “semiotic resources of mathematical symbolism, visual display in the form of graphs and diagrams, and language” (O'Halloran, 1998, p. 360). Natural language plays the important role of guiding the reader through the logical reasoning of the propositional content. This study investigates how logical reasoning processes are expressed and how authors interact with readers. The study used as data publications on mathematical writing, interviews with disciplinary experts, and an analysis of eight PhD theses in mathematics using Hyland’s (2005) metadiscourse framework. The expert writing and interviews showed that a high premium is placed on mathematical content, clarity, conciseness and a sense of collegiality all of which contribute to the aesthetic value of an argument. The analysis of the theses found that mathematical writing at doctoral writing involves both linear mathematical reasoning and meta-mathematical explanations (as defined by Kuteeva & McGrath, 2015). The study also reveals that contrary to the common perception that mathematical writing is impersonal, writers do interact and engage with readers in various ways.

Author Biography

Ming Cherk Lee, National University of Singapore

Lee Ming Cherk is a senior lecturer at the Centre for English Language Communication of the National University of Singapore.

How to Cite
Lee, M. C. (2019). Mathematical discourse in PhD theses: Considerations for the language teacher. The Asian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 6(2), 153-169. Retrieved from