My research attempts to answer applied questions related to first and second language education. In the sections below, I’ve set out my work to date under thematic headings.


Writing development

Much of my recent research has aimed to answer questions about writing development: How does children’s writing change as they progress through school? What happens when children learn to write in multiple languages? What distinguishes higher from lower quality writing?

Between 2015 and 2018, I led the ESRC-funded Growth in Grammar project – a corpus study of how the syntax, vocabulary and phraseology of English children’s writing develops from age six to sixteen. See here for a list of relevant work. For more information about the Growth in Grammar corpus, see here. If you would like to access the corpus, please complete the user agreement form. From 2021, I have been collaborating with colleagues from the Universities of Oslo, Bergen, and Agder on the MULTIWRITE project, to study how school children in Norway develop their writing across first, second and third languages.

English for Academic Purposes

Most of my professional teaching career was spent as a teacher of English for Academic Purposes, helping students prepare for English-medium university study.  This has left me with a strong interest in research that can inform EAP practice. My work in this area has been particularly concerned with describing the key vocabulary and formulaic language of academic writing and with understanding how these things vary across disciplinary areas. See here for a list of my EAP-related publications.


Collocations are pairs of words which seem to be ‘attracted’ to each other in one way or another. Examples include: true feelings; shrug your shoulders; face the consequences; curry favour; black coffee. The idea of collocation has fascinated me since my first encounter with it as a student on a TESOL training course, partly because it is such an obviously useful and important part of learning a foreign language; partly because analysing collocations can bring to light new layers of meaning in texts; and partly because I’m intrigued by how native speakers’ linguistic systems are able to find just the right collocation to fit the context.

Because of this early interest, I did my PhD on the topic of collocations in second language learning. Since then, I’ve published a number of studies on how collocations are learned, used and mentally processed. See here for a list of relevant work.

Corpus linguistic methods

Since my first encounter with corpus linguistics, I have been fascinated by its potential for answering applied linguistic questions. The relationship between the data we can derive from a corpus and the applied questions we want to answer is rarely a straightforward one, however. This has led to an ongoing interest in corpus linguistics as a methodology and in what we can and cannot infer from corpus research. See here for a list of publications related to corpus linguistics as a methodology.