Bringing Academic Writing courses in English up-to-date
Projekt v rámci Aliance Aurora, jehož cílem je zmapovat standardy kurzů akademického psaní na partnerských univerzitách a porovnat je s vybranými univerzitami v anglicky mluvících zemích. Výsledkem budou aktualizované sylaby kurzů a seznamy používaných materiálů, které budou odpovídat současným trendům v oblasti výuky akademického psaní. Vytvořené materiály budou sdíleny v rámci Aliance Aurora a studentům by měly umožnit bezproblémovou účast v kurzech na kterékoli z partnerských univerzit.
In our project we want to map the standards, materials, and syllabi of academic writing English courses at Aurora (Associate) Partner institutions and compare them with those of selected universities in English speaking countries to guarantee that what we teach is in line with today’s standards. Our aim is also the needs analysis aimed at undergraduate students to determine the gap between the desired and current outcomes of courses.
The results of the above-listed activities will be creating standards for courses of academic writing, course syllabi and list of recommended reading to be shared with Aurora (Associate) Partner Universities. This should enable students to seamlessly take courses of academic writing in English at any of the member institutions.
Výsledky projektu Bringing Academic Writing courses in English up-to-date
1 Bringing Academic Writing in English up-to-date
The aim of this page is to help you to plan courses of Academic Writing for ESL students. It is based on a survey carried out in 2021, aiming at mapping how Academic Writing is taught at some universities in Europe. This has been contrasted with input from universities in a number of English speaking countries, to see if there are any differences in what is considered important parts of students’ writing.
The results are aimed at anyone planning a course of Academic Writing for ESL students, but might also help you to plan other English courses that involve writing as well. The recommendations build on what students and teachers say about their needs and their courses. We have also included an outline of what universities in English speaking countries tend to claim as good academic writing in their guidelines for students. At the end there is a list of materials that were recommended in the survey. All together, this should give any teacher ideas and materials to plan courses that will be effective and help students to improve their writing.
The recommendations are based on a project carried out in 2021 by the staff of Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice, Slovakia and the University of Essen-Duisburg, Germany. The research was funded by the Aurora Office, Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic.
2 Recommendations in short
In short, the survey did give some quite clear results. When planning a course of Academic Writing for ESL students, you might want to focus more on grammar and vocabulary than on specific functions of academic writing (such as referencing, paraphrasing etc.). This might sound old-fashioned and uninspiring to some, but it is clearly something student feel they lack, and it seems their level is sometimes overestimated. Students of today often have a very communicative grasp of English, but that does not mean they have the tools needed to craft an academic paper. And while specific writing functions are part of this, the basics have to be there.
A good start seems to be to assess what the students writing level is, and start from there. Building vocabulary is, fortunately, quite simple and there are plenty of good books and on-line resources for this. By using templates and example texts, it is a fairly simple task to make sure they have a vocabulary large enough for their basic needs. Among the suggested materials, the Academic Vocabulary list by Amanda Cox offers a good overview of the actual need.
Grammar is a different point: the needs might not be homogeneous, and it can be difficult to choose what to work with specifically. Students themselves mention topics such as tenses, prepositions, linking words and word order. The passive is not mentioned as often, possibly a reflection of the more common use of active voice in writing today. For students speaking languages that do not have articles, that would also be a strong recommendation. In this, any grammar books or exercises could be used, as long as they offer enough variation and range.
Some specific functions of academic writing are of course necessary. But there is no clear picture of what the main priorities should be. Expressing arguments and writing clearly and coherently seem to top the lists, however. The best way to do this is likely to integrate these into the the work with grammar and vocabulary, since that creates a natural lead in as well as it puts the vocabulary and grammar into a natural context. Among the materials suggested, there are several titles achieving this, for example Graff and Birkenstein’s “They say, I say” and the “Oxford Guide to Plain English”.
Academic formalities are a requested topic, but differ between institutions and publications and may therefore be problematic. If there is still time, it would arguably be wiser to focus on formal English, paraphrasing (including plagiarism) and finally the writing process in itself, a topic that is mentioned in the survey by teachers as well as students.
All put together, these should create a full curriculum, enough to help students to reach their goals of writing essays in English. By first focusing on grammar and vocabulary and not until later on more specific writing functions, students should have time to both catch up with gaps in their English and gain confidence to go further. Focusing on too advanced parts of the writing process already at the start might, if we are to believe the results from the survey, just miss what they see as their main needs. Simply put, we have to make sure they have the basics before they can go on with more advanced things.
3 Writing guidelines published by universities in English speaking countries
First of all, it needs to be pointed out that the needs of students in English speaking countries and the rest of the world obviously will be different. Since native speakers seldom need to work with grammar and vocabulary, at least outside special needs arising from their chosen topics, they can focus on functions instead, such as building arguments, paraphrasing, and even stylistics. Students with English as second language face a very different reality. They need to work with grammar and vocabulary in order to reach a level where other priorities can be useful.
That duly noticed, the first point is that many universities do publish guidelines, or at least some basic information, about what they consider good Academic English and what they expect students to produce. Not all do, however, and there is a fairly high level of cross-referencing, where different universities refer to each other. The universities included come from a wide range of English speaking countries, including the UK, Ireland, the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. These guidelines are usually published by university institutions offering different services to students and staff. They usually also offer courses, workshops and individual consultations, sometimes for a fee.
One aspect of the guidelines is that grammar is often absent. As mentioned above, most students already know English grammar well enough, and do not need any further practice. The frequency and topics mentioned vary, however, between countries. Universities in the UK seldom mentions grammar, and when they do it is usually just to point out that grammar, as a general topic, is important. Specific grammar topics, however, are more unusual. The ones that are most often mentioned are tenses and in a few cases passive voice.
Universities in the USA tend to focus on style and the writing process, just as Australian and New Zealand universities do. However, it is not unusual to also find at least links to web resources about grammar. Canada seems to have a similar trend, possibly due to a higher number of students with other language backgrounds. Similarly to UK universities, Irish universities do not mention grammar frequently for the same reason: most students in Ireland are native speakers of English and they know grammar well enough. However, command of grammar and punctuation is listed as one of the criteria on which students are assessed. They are advised not to guess and always look it up in case they are not sure, they are also discouraged from using grammar-checking software. Specific grammar and punctuation areas mentioned are sentence structure (shorter sentences in scientific writing, longer in arts or philosophy), tenses, the usage of apostrophes and commas.
Vocabulary is, on the other hand, an area that figures relatively much in the guidelines from most countries, and this must be said to be interesting also to ESL students. The most common categories are academic vocabulary (without further specification), followed by linking words and the need to avoid phrasal verbs and other informal expressions. Some guides recommend to avoid first person singular, while others state that while that is true in some situations, “I” can actually be acceptable in a modern academic text. In some cases, the use of “one” is recommended. There seems to be no clear consensus, other than that the word should not figure too often in academic writing.
More important than grammar and vocabulary seems to be the process of writing and the issues connected with the process: planning and structuring the writing assignment, researching the topic, referencing and incorporating sources, writing critically and analytically, creating an argument, and editing and proofreading the text. The topic of plagiarism was also introduced by the universities as an important one. How to build arguments is also an important point that keeps popping up, with the same frequency as formal language (which is surprisingly low, considering what many text books look like) and the ability to define words and concepts.
When it comes to style, the absolutely most mentioned point is a clear and concise language. Practically all guides include this. Structure, both of complete essays and of paragraphs (including topic sentences) also score high. After that, practicing reference systems came in on the same frequency as Plain English (or equivalents, such as to avoid overly complex sentence structures, esoteric vocabulary and to make the language accessible to all). Apart from these points, there are several concepts that keep returning in the descriptions. These include for example, neutral tone, reading and writing critically, and cause and effect.
Most universities also demand inclusive language, by which should mainly be understood as a language that is free of prejudice, sexist, racist etc. expressions. But this appears to also include avoiding overly complex language, since that would exclude large groups of people.
4 Results of the survey
What students say
Our student survey involved students from a range of countries with many different language backgrounds. Most take courses that last one or two semesters and claim that their main motivation is to improve their general language skills. A majority also get credits for the courses, although this is not a general rule, with a third of students taking non-credit courses.
The most common problems they experienced were with grammar and vocabulary. They seem to feel that they do not have the level necessary for writing academic texts. Answers include that they have problems finding the correct expressions in English, that they lack scientific words and that they keep reusing the same words over and over again. Grammar that they mention mainly includes tenses, prepositions, linking words and word order. The passive is not mentioned as often, which on the other hand should not be a problem, since it is falling out of fashion in academic stylistics today anyway.
Other issues students seem to have are with some functions. In the survey, topics such as introductions, conclusions, structure and developing or elaborating ideas. Words that also came up were composition and formatting, as well as formal or academic style. Among these, the ability to elaborate or develop ideas in a written form seem to be the most common issue. Still, all of these were mentioned considerably less than grammar and vocabulary.
This seems to be in conflict with the fact, that most students claimed to have had quite a lot of grammar in previous English courses. Formal language and vocabulary also score highly when they report what kind of language skills they have studied. Clearly, even though they do get a lot of this, it is still not enough.
Few students claimed to have been taught about plagiarism, Plain English, topic sentences or the writing process in general. It is not unlikely that this is also one of the reasons why they do not claim this as something they need more of: they are not necessarily aware of the importance of these. Especially topic sentences and Plain English (or equivalent systems of making the language more accessible) are highlighted as important parts of academic writing by many English speaking universities. Still, non-English speaking universities and schools seem to be blissfully unaware of that these at all exist.
What teachers say
We asked both teachers in English speaking countries and non-English speaking countries about their experience with teaching academic writing. The response frequency was considerably lower than for the students, but we believe that some of the replies still are very useful.
In English speaking countries, the most common course content was academic formalities, plagiarism, and writing arguments. This was closely followed by formal language, paraphrasing and the writing process. Plain English (or equivalents) as well as inclusive language, which were extensively mentioned in the published materials on the universities web pages, seem to figure considerably more seldom in the syllabi.
When answering the question what they think is the most important part of academic writing, the most common answer was coherence and clarity, followed by the writing process. Grammar and vocabulary hardly figure at all on the list.
Teachers in non-English speaking countries had a slightly different approach to the content of courses. The most common course content was formal language, but this was followed by vocabulary and grammar. This is not a surprise, since they mainly teach ESL students. The next item on the list was plagiarism (which students were not the least interested in), topic sentences and writing arguments. Paraphrasing came further down the list, same as the writing process, which seems to be more important to the English speaking universities. Topic sentences also score higher.
5 Recommended materials and vocabulary
There is a wide range of textbooks for EAP, and the participants in our survey recommended a variety of materials. The choice will naturally depend on the aim of each particular course, as well as the students’ level. Finding a mix of both grammar, vocabulary and the specifics of academic writing might be challenging, but must in the end be down to the actual need.
So, the choice should probably be based on the level of your students. How well do they write, and how prone to mistakes are they? If their writing skills are on a lower level, it makes sense to use materials focusing on grammar. If they already have the necessary language level, writing skills and academic skills ought to be the choice. But as already mentioned, grammar and vocabulary is often a good focus. It is what students ask for to a large extent, and a necessary pre-requisite for taking the next step and becoming an academic writer.
Concepts such as formality, clarity, building arguments and paraphrasing have their part in this, but should perhaps not dominate completely, at least not before the students have reached a certain level. Different concepts aiming at clarity (such as Plain English in the UK) might be a good idea to incorporate. Like any other tool that makes writing easier and less stressful, they are useful. They definitely help those with weaker language skills to develop and to get the confidence to write, but cannot replace the need to learn correct grammar and terminology.
Some of the materials presented on this list are pure grammar or vocabulary textbooks, others teach mixed skills. Some of the books are meant for learners of certain levels, while yet others are meant for those who already possess enough skill to write everyday texts. The list is not in any way complete, but can be extended (and will need to be so, as new materials are constantly published). It has not been edited according to quality or usefulness, but just represents the titles recommended by the respondents.
Textbooks recommended by non-English speaking institutions:
Black, M, Chapel, A.
Booth, W.C., Colomb, G.G., Williams, J.M.
Colomb, G.G., Williams, J.M.
De Chazal, E., McCarter, S.
Enguist, A., Oates, L.C.
Geoghegan, C.M., Gonthierová, J.
Hewings, M, Sowton, CH.
Hogue, A., Oshima, A.
Kolaříková, Z., Petruňová, H., Timková, R.
Kolaříková Z., Petruňová, H., Timková R.
McCarthy, M., O’Dell, F.
Ramage, J.D., Johnson, J., Beam, J.C.
Rozenfeld, J., Tomaščíková, S.
Štěpánek, L., de Haaf, J.
Štěpánek, L. et al.
Swales, J.M., Feak, C.G.
Zemach, D., Islam, C.
Academic Writing. A Handbook for International Students
Cambridge Objective IELTS
The Craft of Research
Lessons in Clarity and Grace
Advanced Writing with English in Use
Oxford EAP: A Course in English for Academic Purposes
Just Writing. Grammar, Punctuation and Style for the Legal Writer
Praktická anglická a americká korešpondencia
Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life
Science Research Writing for Non-native Speakers of English
Cambridge Academic English: Integrated Skills Course for EAP
Writing Academic English
Angličtina v akademickom prostredí (cvičebnica)
Angličtina v akademickom prostredí
Academic Vocabulary in Use
Oxford Academic Vocabulary Practice Lower-Intermediate B1 with Key
Oxford Academic Vocabulary Practice Upper-Intermediate B2-C1 with Key
Writing Arguments: A Rhetoric with Readings
The Complete Guide to TOEFL iBT Test
Developing Academic English in Speaking and Writing
Effective Academic Writing 1-4
Academic Encounters: Human Behaviour
English for Psychology in Higher Education Studies
Akademická angličtina. Průvodce anglickým jazykem pro studenty, akademiky a vědce
Academic Writing for Graduate Students
Cambridge Academic English. Intermediate
English for Academic Research: Writing Exercises
English for Writing Research Papers
English for Academic Research: Vocabulary Exercises
Writing in Paragraphs
Textbooks recommended by English speaking institutions:
Feak, G, Swales, J.
Graff, G., Birkenstein, C.
Kamler, B., Thomson, P.
Oshima, A., Hogue, A.
Swales, J.M., Feak, C.G.
Oxford Guide to Plain English
Authoring a PhD
Academic Writing for Graduate Students
They Say, I Say
Communicative Activities for EAP
Elements of Academic Style
Helping Doctoral Students Write
Academic Writing for Graduate Students
Essential Tasks and Skills
English for Academic Research: Grammar, Usage and Style
Online materials recommended by non-English speaking institutions:
Academic English UK (youtube channel)
Academic English UK
BBC Learning English
Blair English: Email/Letter Writing & Vocabulary Exercises
British Council Teaching English
Dartmouth Institute for Writing and Rhetoric
David S. Goldstein
EngVid – Learn English for Free (youtube channel)
Guardian Higher Education
Purdue on-line Writing Lab
Sainani, K.: Writing in the Sciences
Walden Writing Centre
Yang, F. General Academic English
Online materials recommended by English speaking institutions:
Note-Taking Strategies. Grand Valley State University
Purdue on-line Writing Lab
Writing a Research Paper. University of Wisconsin
Univerzita Palackého jako komplexní vzdělávací instituce
V rámci tohoto projektu je cílem CJV FF UP zvýšit pedagogické kompetence akademických pracovníků centra v oblasti metodologie výuky s ohledem na komunikaci v akademickém prostředí, implementovat volně přístupnou e-learningovou platformu Moodle a vytvořit studijní opory, připravit rozřazovací testy pro studenty před zahájením výuky a v neposlední řadě zajistit kvalitní jazykové vzdělávání pro zaměstnance FF UP.
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