Numerous studies to date have investigated the cohesive, evaluative and formal features of semantically unspecific abstract nouns such as objective or assumption. These nouns share the property of ‘shell-nounhood’, associated with their ability to package and characterise complex discourse segments. One broad genre where this ability is widely exploited is academic discourse, which favours a markedly nominal cohesive style. Despite the extensive use of academic corpora in the study of shell-nounhood, the research focus has been primarily on specific sub-genres, formal patterns and rhetorical functions. This paper critically reviews the available evidence on this genre, using the corpora from which such evidence was obtained as its basic organising principle. In so doing, it uncovers some of the gaps to be addressed by future research, thereby setting the stage for more comprehensive descriptions that may usher in new pedagogies for the teaching of this crucial aspect of lexical cohesion in academic discourse.
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