Effective academic writing: no-one’s first language.

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It is commonly assumed that postgraduate and particularly postdoctoral researchers will have already learned everything they need to know to write for scholarly publication as students. However, in a recent Vitae Midlands Hub workshop, Catalina Neculai, pointed out the fact that “academic writing is no-one’s first language”. Collaborating on Researcher Development (CoRD): Academic Writing Case Studies was a workshop held on 15th May which brought together researcher developers from across the region to look at different examples and models of inspiring academic writing support and training.

The case studies included:

  • The work of the Centre for Academic Writing (CAW) at Coventry University. CAW has a whole institutional teaching and consultancy approach to writing support: also carrying out pedagogical research to further inform their teaching and support.
  • The writing summer school offered by the University of Birmingham, addressed a gap in academic writing provision at discipline level and the differences in what can be meant by ‘academic writing’.
  • The Warwick Writing Programme of workshops, individual meetings and group away days. Along with the Thesis Writing Group for students, this provision highlighted the importance of making researchers conscious of how they write and tools/strategies for improvement.
  • The Social Writing Series at the University of Nottingham is so-called because it brings students together with a facilitator and is self-directed in a ‘shut up and write’ programme for target orientated writing.
  • The doctoral writing provision at the University of Leicester, which includes the peer review of doctoral writing.

The range of offerings certainly showed how different models have been developed by institutions to meet specific needs, but also highlighted some common considerations.

Researchers can and do learn a great deal about writing FOR their disciplinary peers FROM their disciplinary peers. However, if someone lacks knowledge or confidence in their academic writing abilities, support from the wider network of university experts can be very valuable. From structured workshops to facilitated ‘space’, time to work on academic writing skills can give someone the confidence to develop their ‘writing language’.   An improved skill-set will give an individual confidence in presenting their work back in a disciplinary setting, but in a time when the majority of postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers are increasingly making their longer term careers outside academic research, confident writing is a real asset.

If you’d like to find out more about the presentations, discussions and recommendations from this CoRD meeting, please contact midlandshub@vitae.ac.uk

If you are interested in this topic you may like to attend ‘Future Directions in Academic Writing’ – the 15th biennial Writing Development in HE Conference. The event is being held at CAW, Coventry University this year, on 9th – 11th July. For further details visit: http://www.coventry.ac.uk/events/WDHE2014/