In this article I wish to examine what constitutes ‘commonality’ or the lowest possible denominator in EAP in terms of, inter alia, materials used, subjects/topics taught and ways of referencing written work, modes of assessment, the importance of specialist vocabulary and, last but not least, the role of EAP/ESAP teachers and their qualifications and pedagogical approaches. I also wish to demonstrate what is in fact different when an ELT practitioner enters the subdomain of English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) and all the skills, including writing (Flowerdew, 2016).

Students of Engineering, Chongqing, China

With the growing internationalisation of world universities offering courses via the medium of English, and the steadily growing numbers of overseas students coming to enrol on undergraduate and postgraduate courses at British universities, EAP has become a key sub-area of ESP. It has evolved in the last 30 years and continues to do so. While initially EAP courses in the UK focused on ESP Science and Technology courses (1970s and 1980s), over time EAP have gradually embraced other main academic disciplines.

It could be argued that the end of the 1990s marks the end of the dominance of EAP approaches focusing primarily on English for General Academic Purposes (EGAP), and that from the beginning of the 21st century onwards there emerges a distinct ESAP strand which in many aspects departs from the traditional EAP framework.

What could be termed a shared universal pedagogic paradigm in both EGAP and ESAP is, for instance, ways of teaching:

  1. academic writing – a number of binding rules remain the same, e.g. not allowing for contractions, the use of nominalisation (nouns rather than verbs predominate) or avoidance of ‘I’
  2. listening – emphasis on learners’ ability to follow and understand lectures as well as take notes
  3. reading – speed reading (skimming and scanning) and an ability to work out the meaning of new words form context
  4. speaking – focus on presentations (students’ ability to customise content to the needs of the audience, use an appropriate structure and extemporise effective answers to questions from the audience after the talk)
  5. vocabulary – there is a key generic corpus of phraseology that is used both in EGAP and ESAP (Coxhead, 2006)
  6. grammar – the binding principle is to use the so-called ‘elegant variation’ which favours the syntax normally inherited from Latin

All this gets more complex once one enters the domain of ESAP. It is here that disciplinary variations come into play and have a major impact on the pedagogy used. First, a major challenge can be materials to use with ESAP learners (e.g. students who study Engineering or Tourism or Nursing). It needs to be remembered that commercially produced ESAP materials are written with abstract cohorts in mind. In real-world situations an EAP tutor needs to rise to the occasion and meet the specific ‘needs, wants and lacks’ (Dudley-Evans & St John, 2011) of students by engaging in materials design. In my own teaching career I have invested a lot of time in preparing customised teaching materials fine-tuned to the needs of my students (see An EAP/ESAP practitioner over time, through trial and error, becomes fairly skilled in materials adoption, adaptation, design and redesign. In order to provide my students of Engineering with topical tailor-made materials I routinely tap into various sources that offer me cutting-edge content, e.g. YouTube, New Scientist, the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, The Engineer, BBC Radio 4, not to mention authentic materials from the world of work (e.g. anonymised original engineering reports). Needless to say, an ESAP tutor will be particularly busy when dealing with non-text-based disciplines such as Art and Design. While most commercially produced materials cater so well for text-based disciplines (e.g. Medicine, Law, Engineering), Art and Design remains under-supplied and tutors teaching music or drama or fashion may well have to design a series of lessons by themselves in the absence of ready-made resources.

Second, another challenge facing an ESAP practitioner in disciplinary variations is the manner of referencing one’s written work in different cognate subject areas. Normally home and international students at British universities are taught and expected to use a suitably modified version of the so-called ‘Harvard system’ which is shared across most subjects in British Higher education (Pears & Shields, 2019). However, there are exceptions to the rule. Certain subjects depart from this convention and university students are required to adhere to different rules. A good example is Public Health. Already at university, any students studying this subject are normally obliged to use the so-called Vancouver style of referencing, which is completely different from the Harvard one (Clauss et al, 2013). Another example is Engineering: students engaged in this topic are asked to use the so-called IEEE (The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) style. All this becomes even more complicated if ESAP tutors use journal articles with their postgraduate students since many journals follow different styles. Particularly helpful here are online reference managers which are now more frequently used owing to the state-of-the-art developments in technology enhanced learning (TEL). It seems that the most user friendly e-device to help students and academics with referencing styles is, which includes a dropdown menu of an almost all-inclusive list of referencing styles; the writer needs to select one and then the application helps with the in-text and bibliographic references by compiling them in a consistent format.

Third, in ESAP there are challenges linked to learners’ assessment, which again demonstrates that disciplinary variations may impact on the nature and the type of assessment. While the most common form of assessment on undergraduate courses remains a researched synthesis essay written in an impersonalised style, there are noble exceptions here, too. In Nursing one of the typical written genres that graduates are expected to master is reflective writing (Price & Harrington, 2019). This type of writing has its own conventions and students of nursing submitting written assignments need to demonstrate an ability to function comfortably in this genre. Another variation of assessment can be found in Art and Design. While most academic disciplines favour oral presentations as a common framework for assessment of academic oracy, Art and Design students are often required to present a crit (Smith, 2011). Any ESAP tutor involved in using a crit as a form of oral assessment would need first to be trained (unless s/he comes from an art background) in order to understand all its subtle features. Another example of idiosyncratic assessment can be taken from Law: in this case it is mooting which exemplifies a form of workplace simulation. Mooting ‘is the oral presentation of a legal issue or problem against an opposing counsel and before a judge’ (Oxford University Press, 2019). Yet again, an ESAP tutor – unless s/he has a Law degree – might need to be trained by a subject tutor to be able to manage teaching ESAP for students of Law.

Recently there has been much debate in EAP and ESAP, as well as in academia in general, about the legitimacy of traditional forms of assessment and if any revisions or innovations need to be considered. A very interesting concept is that of authentic assessment (Times Higher Education, 2019). It is suggested that any assessment should ideally mirror what a student would be doing in real life in the workplace once they graduate form university. Individual EAP or ESAP tutors may wish to experiment here. At present in my post I teach international (monolingual) students of Engineering. In order to attempt an authentic assessment, in one module I asked them to deliver presentations in groups of nine. The justification was that in real life engineers often work in teams, and each team requires different specialists. Prior to this the learners were introduced to Belbin’s typology of teams (Belbin, 2017) and were made aware of what each member type contributes to a successful team. Interestingly, these students coped very well with this assessment and showed a very high level of engagement. Arguably it may well be that this happened owing to the specifications of this authentic assessment which replicated what might or would happen in real life.

Fourth, possibly one of the most visible markers of disciplinary variations is the use of lexis. While most if not all academic disciplines share a common core of general academic vocabulary, specific disciplines have their own corpora of specialist terminology (Cowley, 2011). This specific lexicon is likely to cause some students (especially those from the non-Indo-European group of languages) considerable difficulty. An ESAP tutor is also bound to find many terms challenging and will need to consult specialist dictionaries. While grammar normally constitutes a finite set of elements and can eventually be learned at higher levels, it is virtually impossible with vocabulary and specialist terminology. In addition, various collocations add another layer of lexical difficulty here. ESAP vocabulary needs to be ‘administered’ to students in judicious doses, in a memorable context and with a lot of recycling. With lexis in ESAP, students move on a continuum from jargon to daily terminology. By the end of this journey they use the phraseology at ease since they have made a sizeable step forward as members of a given discourse community (Genre Across Borders (GXB), 2019).

Fifth, some mention needs to be made of the role of the teacher and pedagogical approaches in ESAP. In principle, an ESAP tutor remains a facilitator and co-communicator and more often than not the principles of the post-communicative method/approach (i.e. enlightened eclecticism) apply – a lot depends on the initiative of the tutor and their teaching philosophy. ESAP tutors with a strong pedagogic training background will invariably make their classrooms learner-centred using a wide range of techniques. ESAP tutors representing more theoretical backgrounds may aim at a balance of communicative and traditional transmission modes of delivery. The ESAP classroom pedagogy also depends on the profile of student cohorts. In a classroom in which students come from multilingual backgrounds an ESAP tutor can aim at a minimal amount of teacher-talking-time (T-T-T) on the understanding that all multilingual students will fill up most of the class with their oral interactions and a large percentage of student-talking-time (S-T-T). However, an ESAP tutor may well be surprised that s/he has to produce a lot of T-T-T when teaching a monolingual group of students from a culture where speaking in public or in the classroom puts the onus on the teacher with students remaining fairly passive. This could well be the case with both EAP and ESAP tutors attempting to teach monolingual groups of students from, say, China or South Korea or Japan. The pedagogical approaches in EAP and ESAP also depend on tutors’ qualifications and experience. At present there is no post-level 7 ESP/EAP/ESAP qualification with a practicum (i.e. teaching practice component) that would be seen as an official PG qualification. Most tutors obtain relevant experience by shadowing experienced colleagues. Recently, some British universities have designed certificates in teaching EAP which partially bridge the current gap. Some British MA TESOL courses have modules in ESP or EAP which address this need. Finally, Cambridge DELTA has an option in Module 3 whereby trainee teachers can opt for EAP as the theme for the coursework for that module.

As seen above, it may not always be easy to verbalise what exactly constitutes the minutiae of ESAP. Often we search for a metaphor to illustrate an example. For me the best reminder is a quote from Ken Hyland in which he mentions how different academic disciplines favour different reporting verbs: ‘It turns out, in fact, that engineers show, philosophers argue, biologists find and linguists suggest’ (Hyland & Paltridge, 2013: 17) [my emphasis].

In this article, I have attempted to show how the delivery of EAP becomes more differentiated when an EAP tutor needs to embrace ESAP disciplinary variations and genre specifications (Hyon, 2017). Very often the boundary between the two is blurred as an ESP practitioner may need to switch between the two as and when required. I hope that this write-up acts as a prompt for more ELT lecturers to enter EAP and ESAP as a natural stage in their career progression.


Belbin R (2017) Team Roles at Work (2nd edition). London: Routledge.

Clauss M, Müller D & Codron D (2013) Source references and the scientist’s mind-map: Harvard vs Vancouver style. Journal of Scholarly Publishing 44 (3) 274–282.

Cowley S (2011) Getting the Buggers to Write. London: Continuum.

Coxhead A (2006) Essentials of Teaching Academic Vocabulary. Boston, MA: Thomson Heinle.

Dudley-Evans T & St John M (2011) Developments in ESP. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Flowerdew J (2016) English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) Writing. Writing & Pedagogy 8 (1) 1–4.

Genre Across Borders (GXB) (2019) Discourse community [online]. Available from: (accessed 24 November 2019).

Hyland K & Paltridge B (2013) Bloomsbury Companion to Discourse Analysis. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Hyon S (2017) Introducing Genre and English for Specific Purposes. London: Routledge.

Oxford University Press (2019) What is mooting? [online] Available from: (accessed 24 November 2019).

Pears R & Shields G (2019) Cite Them Right (11th edition). London: Red Globe Press.

Price B & Harrington A (2019) Critical Thinking and Writing in Nursing. London: SAGE.

Smith C (2011) Understanding students’ views of the crit assessment. Journal for Education in the Built Environment 6 (1) 44–67.

Times Higher Education (2019) Does university assessment still pass muster? [online]. Available from: (accessed 23 November 2019).

Mark Krzanowski is Associate Professor in English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) in Transnational Education (TNE) at Brunel University London (BUL) and at Chongqing University of Posts and Telecommunications (CQUPT). Prior to this post, Mark was the Director of the Centre for Academic English Studies (CAES) in the Surrey (University) International Institute (IIS) at the Dongbei University of Finance and Economics (DUFE) in Dalian, China. Mark was the Co-ordinator of the IATEFL’s (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) ESP (English for Specific Purposes) SIG (Special Interest Group) from 2005 until 2013, and since 2014 he has been Editor-in-Chief of its Journal: Professional and Academic English (PAE). Mark is also a member of the ESP IS (Interest Section) Committee at He has a special mention in He can be reached on or on