Academic Writing and the Reality in Universities: A Review of Academics’ Voices

Karna Rana, PhD

This review is based on the interview which was published in April 2018 issue of ELTChoutari. Ashok Raj Khati, one of the editors of http://eltchoutari.com/ has explored significant ideas on academic writing from the interaction with scholars working in different universities of Nepal. The structured interview is centred on the university programmes which provide students with opportunities for learning skills of academic writing. It also highlights research and writing culture in the universities and publication habit of academics in their profession. The interview also raises the issue of plagiarism in Nepali academia.

The majority of academics in this interview emphasise that the formal courses they have in their universities can develop students’ academic writing skills. However, Khadka, Chairperson of English Subject Committee at Mid-Western University, Nepal, values the ELT club of students, which is a community of learning, to develop their writing skills. Students’ participation and presentation of their writing in seminars and conferences are highly focused by Gnawali and Ojha. Teachers’ feedback on students’ writing is focused to improve writing skills. However, developing students’ academic writing skills is a challenging job of university teachers in Nepali universities where the majority of students enrolled in English education come from government high schools. The students learn the English language in their schools as a subject among other subjects. Nevertheless, Negi doubts the scholarly qualification of university teachers and their learning and teaching habits who lack broad academic knowledge and extensively use diary notes to deliver lectures instead of teaching skills. Gaulee criticises university teachers for not providing feedback on students’ writing. He suggests the teachers need to value their salary for teaching life skills for students but not just for grading their level.

The academics in the interview highlight plagiarism in the works of academics and postgraduate students as a serious concern and a major issue in academic discussions in universities. Gnawali presumes that scholars plagiarise in their scholarly writing generally for two reasons: an intention to get quick promotion and lack of knowledge about how to acknowledge the sources. And the lack of enforcement of the law against the academic crime seems to be a loophole to allow the growth of plagiarism. Negi suggests the use of software to prevent plagiarism and discourage such activities in the authorship of academic publications. I believe that the academics’ arguments, ideas and suggestions signpost the demand for reformation in Nepali university programmes, the need for international standard academic writing and the development of research culture and publication.

The issues raised in the interview and the suggestions made to improve academic writings and publications in Nepal are genuine and significant if academics realise these in their professional activities. I reiterate the ideas of Gnawali and Gaulee that the honesty in knowledge and fair in sharing ideas in all kinds of academic publications should come first before thinking about earning money. However, the academic practice in Nepali universities is still based on Gurukul tradition, where chela (learners) just follow what their Guru (teacher) says. This culture is well maintained in academic writing and publications too. University lecturers and even professors compile contents from several sources based on the syllabus to prepare a book, author the book and insist undergraduate and postgraduate students to purchase their publications. None of such publications is ethical as the authors copy and paste contents without acknowledging the sources. Such publications are not standard because the information gathered in them is neither genuine nor authentic.

So far I know that the majority of standard journal articles and books in international academia are voluntarily written, reviewed and published, although few publishers charge little amount of money to cover the cost of press and distribution. Academics in Nepal need to learn about it and transform themselves before thinking to bring change in academic activities. Except rare recent graduates from local and international universities, who have been working hard to transform piracy academic culture to research-based original publication system in Nepali academia, the majority of university academics need to learn tangible academic skills and reflect their both soft and hard academic skills. Soft skills refer to social skills such as honesty in acknowledgement, fairness in information and unbiased criticality and hard skills refer to writing skills such as selection of academic language, organisation of ideas and presentation of information in an article or a book chapter.

Dr. Rana is associated with School of Teacher Education, College of Education, Health and Human Development, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

Being Familiar with Academic Writing

Nani Babu Ghimire

Twenty-four years ago, on a fine morning, my maternal grandfather was having a conversation with one of his friends. He said, “My grandson wrote a letter in English and sent to his uncle in Okhaldhunga“. His friend replied, “It’s amazing. He has done a great job!” My grandfather felt proud of what his grandson (me) had achieved by writing a letter. This was my first piece of creative writing. The others I wrote were what I memorised. I also felt that I had achieved a great feat. I had gone through a book of local writer and followed the pattern of writing a personal letter. I have taught the English language in a community campus affiliated with Tribhuvan University for a decade. I am currently doing MPhil in English language education at Tribhuvan University. In this blog piece, I focus on how I got acquainted with academic writing during the first five months of the MPhil program.

I used to consider that the creative and academic writings are the same. Now I learned that academic writing is different from the creative ones. Academic writing is an activity of academics which requires a standard language. I got an opportunity to read what Greene and Lidinsky (2012) said: “Academic writing is what scholars do to communicate with other scholars in their fields of study, their disciplines (p.1)”. They further added that academic writers or scholars use specialised language to capture the complexity of an issue or to introduce specific ideas from their discipline. I learned that academic writing includes serious thoughts, complex sentences, specialised vocabulary, and variety in construction. Academic writing is thus authentic, objective, unambiguous, systematic and purposeful.

I have experiences of teaching, supervising masters theses and carrying out small-scale researches. I have also published a few journal articles in local journals. However, as a student of  MPhil, I felt I have not been much familiar with academic writing. One day our teachers in ‘Advanced Qualitative Research’ asked us a question: “Have you ever written a daily journal in your academic career?” We did not have the answer as many of us do not have the practice of writing even a page every day. They suggested us that novice academics should write a reflective summary of an article or any readings we have gone through on that day. Listening to them what I felt that I had not done what I am supposed to do to be an academic.

After two months, our teachers gave us some assignments to do. The teachers instructed us to write an introductory part of a research-based article on any topic. I was assigned to write a report on a selected topic choosing a research paradigm, an academic article and an experience on the influential professional issue. I found myself comfortable with the first two than writing an experience.

Regarding selecting the research issue and the problem, I had to strive a lot in the beginning. I was instructed to find an important issue, mostly in language education in Nepal in which I am interested in. I was able to choose an issue after going through several books, articles and interaction with teachers. I selected the issue and wrote a concept note on it and submitted to my professors. Then they advised us to link it with a theory, theoretical grounding of the issue. This was the most difficult part for me. I took support from my teachers and I went through many research articles and books. I wrote the theoretical framework of my issues as the second step for my assignment.

In the next step, they told us to collect data selecting appropriate research methodology. I have to mention the details of the methodology part. They made us practice developing themes from the transcription of our data. Finally, as the third assignment, they asked us to prepare a complete research-based article on the issue that we have selected as the first assignment. Doing a lot of practice, visiting different websites, studying research-based journal articles and taking help from teachers I completed my final assignment.

Reflection

The narrative that I mentioned above asserts to me that I am really satisfied with five months of my MPhil class. First of all, I took initiation to write a reflection on different issues that I am interested in and summary of the text that I studied. I learnt to choose the research issues and problems from the practical life for carrying out research. I learned to develop a theoretical framework on an issue of the research. Similarly, I got ideas to collect data using audiovisual devices, transcribe the recorded data in the paper following the rules and criteria of transcription, develop themes from the transcription, analyse and interpret the themes with the voices of my research participants and related literature. In a nutshell, I received a lot of ideas to write a research-based article in the first semester. I believe, it is an example of learning to create an academic writing.

At this point,

I started the journey of my creative writing by composing a personal letter when I was studying in Grade Ten. I have been a teacher in schools and colleges for several years. However, the MPhil program taught me to create an academic article. With this five-month experience, I felt that creating an academic article is different from writing in other forms as it has distinct features to be considered.

Reference

Green, S. & Lidinsky, A. (2012). From Inquiry to Academic Writing: A Text Book and Reader. New york: Bedford/ St. Martin’s.

Mr. Ghimire teaches at Siddhajyoti Education Campus in Sindhuli. He is currently pursuing MPhil in English language education from Graduate School of Education, Tribhuvan University.

Welcome to the April- June Issue of ELT Choutari: Special Coverage on Advancing Writing Education #Vol. 10, Issue 87

Editorial

We are delighted to present the second quarterly issue (April- June) of ELT Choutari of 2018. Standing at this point and looking back, we have been able to publish 87 issues in the past 10 years, and we believe that it has been a good source of learning and a place for expressing feelings, ideas and professional experiences. This has really encouraged us to keep the ball rolling.

Why skill for doing a job? Whatever we attempt to do, it requires particular skills to accomplish the task successfully. For example, the way of dressing up for a party, driving a car, decorating a room, painting a picture, performing a dance, designing a building, speaking in a conference, writing an essay or doing so and so activities are skills. In a generic sense, skill is an ability to perform an activity systematically. Whether preparing a cup of coffee or writing a thesis for a degree, skills specific to the jobs label the quality and taste of both of them. I believe that a customer enjoys the taste of coffee in a cup but not the cup in a cafeteria. Therefore, the owner of the cafeteria employs professional barista to attract maximum customers and increase the sales. However, customers always talk about the taste of coffee but not the barista who prepares a nice cup of coffee for the customers. Does it make a difference to the barista’s job and skill? Sometimes it does but mostly not.

An academic writer perhaps needs to understand this fact. Although it is not easy to develop academic writing skills, the skills play a vital role to offer a nice piece of writing to readers. It does not matter whoever you are like a barista in a cafeteria kitchen but the taste matters- the taste of your writing matters! I have heard several gossips among teachers and academics that they would like to be an academic writer but I have never heard how they would become a writer. How many postgraduate students internalise the role of a barista? I believe that a barista must have spent a long life preparing the coffee to become a professional barista. S/he might have learned the skills from several mistakes and losses.

This issue offers reading various experiences of several academics who share their struggles, challenges they faced, skills they learned and some degree of academic knowledge. These articles focus on skills of writing an academic paper and suggest that academics learn academic skills from their writing activities similar to a barista who learns skills of preparing coffee from the workplace. I believe that teachers, students and emergent researchers will be benefited reading these writings about “writings”.

In the first post, Thesis Writing: A Hard Nut to Crack, Muna Rai shares her anxiety, process and pain, and pleasure of writing her Master’s thesis.

In the similar second post, Sharing My Experiences of Master’s Thesis Writing, Mamata Bhattarai shares her reflective journey of thesis writing.

Likewise, in our third post, A Teacher’s Journal of Teaching Writing in Community School of Nepal, Bimal Khanal shares his experiences and feeling of teaching writing in the community school and perceptions of students.

Similarly, introducing our one of the popular genres “the interactive blog post”, Ashok Raj Khati weaves the policies, practices, processes and challenges in teaching writing in English Language Education (ELE) Program in Nepali Universities with the collaboration of the faculties of different universities in Nepal.

In the same way, in an exclusive interview with the expert from our thematic area of this issue, Dr Shyam Sharma focuses on the beliefs and assumptions about writing, need of writing today, issues and challenges in our writing education, and some ways forward.

In another post, Thinh Le shares tips for composing an essay and taking academic notes effectively based on his experience.

Finally, in the last post, our Choutari editor, Jeevan Karki presents you the seven special photos from different areas that can be used in teaching language skills especially writing.

Here are the seven posts for you in this issue:

  1. Thesis Writing: A Hard Nut to Crack (A Student’s Experience) by Muna Rai
  2. Sharing My Experiences of Masters Thesis Writing by Mamata Bhattarai
  3. A Teacher’s Journal of Teaching Writing in Community School in Nepal by Bimal Khanal
  4. Writing Practices in ELE Programs in Nepali Universities: An Interactive Blog Post by Ashok Khati
  5. Training Teachers to Integrate Writing Across the Disciplines: Dr Shyam Sharma
  6. Tips for Writing an Essay and Taking Academic Notes by Thinh Le
  7. Free Photos for Teaching Writing: Jeevan Karki

I would like to thank my dear friends: Jeevan Karki, Ashok Raj Khati and Praveen Kumar Yadav, the editors of http://eltchoutari.com/ for their support to bring this issue. To be honest, they have done much more than me on this issue and have ever put their greater effort to make this professional online magazine sustainable. The founders of this online magazine always deserve the core place of bigger thank you.

Finally, if you enjoy reading any post, please feel free to share in your circle and of course, drop your comments in the boxes below that will encourage us to keep moving. Similarly, you can send your reflective experiences, journals, best practices, book reviews, case studies, local and global perspectives on ELT, etc. You can email us your post at 2elt.choutari@gmail.com

Dr Karna Rana

Editor of the issue