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Volume 4 Number 3, Autumn 2007, Pages 1-240   

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Developing the Message: Thematic Progression and Student Writing

    Alvin Leong Ping

In the Hallidayan framework, theme and rheme form the message structure of the clause (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004, p. 64). The patterning of theme and rheme in the text accounts for how the main ideas are structured and developed. The pioneering work of Danes (1970, 1974) on thematic progression (TP) has been particularly valuable in showing how thematic patterning affects the flow and development of the message in various ways.
Using the Hallidayan framework (incorporating Danes's TP), 20 essays written by upper secondary school students in Singapore are analyzed for theme and rheme. The good and weak essays in the corpus are compared to find out if there are differences in the way the two groups of writers organise the message structure of their writing. The results show that there is little difference in the selection of theme between the two groups of essays. In terms of TP, however, a striking difference is noted. The good essays are characterised by elaborated developments of theme and rheme. The developments in the weak essays, in contrast, are thin.

Keywords: theme, rheme, thematic progression, Halliday, student writing