This study investigates how college students of different linguistic backgrounds organize information and encode stance in expository essays, which are contrasted to the texts of professional writers to understand how linguistic difference and experience in writing play out in rhetorically effective essays. The study compares the textual and interpersonal Themes of 180 essays by English as Foreign Language (EFL), English as Second Language (ESL), and English as First language (L1) professional writers drawn from the International Corpus Network of Asian Learners of English (ICNALE), in which L1 English teachers’ essays were collected as reference data. The raw frequencies of both types of Theme were calculated and normalized. A 4X2 two-way mixed design ANOVA was conducted. The results reveal that both student groups used significantly more textual Themes than the professionals. Specifically, each of the groups applied a distinct set of textual Theme types. The EFL group most frequently used devices associated with listing and adding reasons to support their thesis. By contrast, the ESL group sounded more argumentative due to their frequent use of adversative devices. Although the professional essays used significantly fewer explicit textual Themes, they attained cohesion and coherence in developing and binding their arguments by both effective internal flow and lexical chains. Regarding interpersonal Themes, no significant difference was found and all three groups applied much more explicit subjective expressions to make visible their rhetorical role as writers. The relative maturity of interpersonal Theme use may be attributed to the students’ affiliation with the soft disciplines.
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