Multi-dimensional analysis, text constellations, and interdisciplinary discourse

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Multi-Dimensional Analysis (MDA) has been widely used to explore register variation. This paper reports on a project that uses MDA in an innovative fashion, in order to explore the features of interdisciplinary research discourse in a particular broad academic domain. Firstly, MDA is used to identify dimensions of variation in a corpus of eleven thousand journal articles in the domain of environmental studies, from a mixture of monodisciplinary and interdisciplinary journals. We then focus on the texts published in one journal, Global Environmental Change, in the period 1990-2010. This is an interdisciplinary journal and it might therefore be expected that the papers within it diverge in terms of disciplinary approach sufficiently to produce differences that are analogous to register differences. On the other hand, those ‘registers’ cannot be identified on external criteria, as they do not explicitly state their disciplinary derivation, so an alternative approach is required: an inductive approach.
Instead of identifying registers on external criteria and comparing them, we use the dimensional profiles of individual texts to identify clusters of texts, here termed ‘constellations’, that share combinations of features and that might therefore be said to constitute a distinct ‘register’. Using this methodology, we have derived six constellations of texts within an interdisciplinary journal, distinguished by their dimensional profile. Analysis of each of the constellations indicates that they consist of texts that have commonalities in their approaches to research approaches, based around: the development of predictive models; quantitative and historical research; discussions of theory and policy; and humanenvironment studies that focus on individual voices. The identification of these constellations could not have been achieved through an a priori categorisation of texts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153–186
Number of pages34
JournalInternational Journal of Corpus Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2017

Bibliographical note

Paul Thompson was the PI on the ESRC funded project 'Investigating Interdisciplinary Research Discourse: the case of Global Environmental Change' (2013-2015). This study derives from that project.


  • Multi-Dimensional Analysis
  • s, interdisciplinary discourse
  • text constellations


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