• We examined how agency and responsibility were represented in 250 retraction notices.
• We found that agents of culpable acts were identified in only 44.40% of the RNs.
• Agent-obscuring grammatical means were used more often than agent-identifying ones were.
• RNs by journal authorities identified culpable agents less often than those by authors did.
• Soft-discipline RNs identified culpable agents more often than hard-discipline ones did.
Informed by image repair theory, this study examines grammatical resources used to represent agents of retraction-engendering acts in retraction notices (RNs). A corpus of 250 RNs from two broad disciplinary groupings and authored by different stakeholders was analyzed to determine if agents of retraction-engendering acts were identified and how linguistically visible they were made. It was found that agents of culpable acts were identified in only 44.40% of the RNs and that agent-obscuring grammatical resources were deployed about 3.35 times more frequently than agent-identifying ones were. Furthermore, the hard-discipline RNs authored by journal authorities identified agents of culpable acts significantly less frequently and less explicitly than both the hard-discipline RNs from authors of retracted publications and the soft-discipline RNs written by journal authorities did. These results suggest that choices of grammatical resources in RNs are influenced by a complex web of factors, including different retraction stakeholders’ varied communicative purposes, their image repair efforts, their relation to the reprehensible acts, and legal considerations. These findings warrant further attention to language use in RNs as a high-stakes genre.
Retraction notice, Linguistic representation of agency, Culpability, Image repair, Discipline, Authorship