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Ethnography of Writing: A Basic Framework to Introduce Academic Writing to ESL University Students

Dr. Padam Chauhan*

Abstract

English as a second language (ESL) first-year university students often face challenges with academic writing because of the linguistic, cultural, and instructional differences between the education system in the U.S. and their home countries (academic writing conventions in English and their first languages). This paper aims to present an ethnography of writing as a framework to familiarize the ESL first-year university students with the basics of academic writing, which directly speaks to the educational, social, and cultural contexts of U.S. higher education. The paper concludes that ESL students benefit immensely from using Grabe and Kaplan’s (1996) ethnography of writing as a framework to introduce academic writing in English to cope with their academic writing challenges.

Keywords: academic writing challenges; freshman ESL learners; ethnography of writing; U.S. higher education; linguistic, cultural, and instructional differences

My Tutoring and Teaching Academic Writing Experiences

I have gotten an opportunity to become an ESL educator for different aged students in different educational contexts. First, I have been an ESL teacher in Nepal. I have taught reading and writing to high school and undergraduate students. Second, I worked as a writing tutor at a regional level teaching university in the Midwestern region of the U.S. I tutored both domestic and ESL international undergraduate and graduate students. Third, I have been teaching reading, vocabulary, and writing courses in the Intensive English Language Program (IEP) at the Midwestern U.S. university for four years. Primarily, I follow a process-based approach (Zamel, 1983; White & Arndt, 1991) and the genre-based approach (Hyland, 2004; Swales, 1990; Tardy, 2008) to teach academic writing to my ESL students who come from diverse educational, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds. I guide my students by helping them explore resources, services, and contacts in and outside of the university. These learning resources are essential to alleviate their academic writing difficulties in the U.S. higher education context (Chauhan, 2021). Sharing experiences of ESL instructors’ academic journey, including coping strategies, is critical to improving their academic writing skills (Odena & Burgess, 2017). However, existing literature shows that academic writing in English is challenging for ESL students at both undergraduate and graduate levels (Chauhan, 2021) because they come from diverse social, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds (Duff & Anderson, 2015). The diversity of their backgrounds can also be an asset to acknowledge and utilize for enhancing their academic writing skills in English.

Nature and Scope of Academic Writing in Higher Education Context

Academic writing (AW) refers to the writing used in the college and university-level writing courses (Johnson, 2016). Additionally, AW has become the primary communication medium between scholars in academic subjects and disciplines in a higher education context (Greene & Lidinsky, 2015). AW is simple, clear, focused, and formal. It is also technical, objective, impersonal, concise, logical, and well-organized. An academic writer must meet genre-specific expectations and stylistic conventions (Ferris, 2018; Giltrow et al., 2014; Osmond, 2016; Starkey, 2015). AW is specific to context, task, purpose, and audience (Ferris, 2018; Grabe & Kaplan, 1996; Starkey, 2015). In parallel with these ideas, Gottlieb and Ernst-Slavit (2013) stated that“[t]he distinct purpose, audience, and context of communication result in clear differences in terms of language use in the selection of words, formality, sentence construction, and discourse patterns” (p. 2).  AW is seen differently by scholars based on the features mentioned above. Osmond (2016) argued that AW projects writers’ in-depth knowledge, critical thinking skills, and analytical skills while studying different academic subjects within their disciplines and majors. It is also seen as an inquiry because writers can discover their values, beliefs, strengths, and areas to improve when they engage in the writing process (Starkey, 2015). Grabe and Kaplan (1996) recommended that each writer understands AW from the lens of an ethnographic approach. Echoing similar ideas, Ferris (2018) has summarized the features of successful academic writers and standards of writing used in academia.

Writers must have at least an adequate grasp of the content they are writing. They must understand the rhetorical situation, including the purpose of the writing and the knowledge and expectations of their audience of readers. They need to appreciate the constraints and boundaries accompanying genres, tasks, and text types. Further, writers need advanced control of the linguistic features (vocabulary, spelling, grammar, cohesive ties) and extra-linguistic features (punctuation, capitalization, formatting) appropriate for their text’s content, genre, and target audience. (p. 75)

Ethnography of Writing as a Framework to Introduce Academic Writing

As I mainly tutor and teach academic writing to freshmen ESL first-year university students, I am well acquainted with their writing challenges based on my teaching experience and research study. Current research study has also found that ESL undergraduate students faced many challenges with academic writing in the U.S. university context.

To illustrate, Chauhan (2021) concluded that ESL “undergraduate students experienced academic writing challenges [including] content (gathering information/ideas), organization, academic vocabulary, genre awareness, grammar and mechanics, and citing and referencing sources” (p. 148) because the standards and genre-specific expectations of AW in English are different from those of in ESL students’ L1s (Ferris, 2018; Giltrow et al., 2014; Osmond, 2016; Starkey, 2015).

To address the AW challenges of my ESL first-year university students, I employ Grabe and Kaplan’s (1996) ethnography of writing, which provides a theoretical framework to understand AW regarding its social and cultural contexts in U.S. higher education. Before creating any written text, all writers must ask this fundamental question: “who writes what to whom, for what purpose, why, when, where, and how?” (Cooper, 1979, as cited in Grabe & Kaplan, 1996, p. 203). They further stated that this framework considers academic writing as a combination of writer, reader, subject matter, and text as a writing triangle in which the writer persuades the readers in terms of logos (reason/text), pathos (credibility/writer), and ethos (values, beliefs/audience). Overall, the ethnography of writing is one of the best frameworks to introduce AW to the freshmen ESL students because this framework examines the text’s audience, the writer’s purpose, the genre required by the task, and the situation in which the wiring is used (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996).

Taxonomies of Ethnography of Writing

Grabe and Kaplan (1996) introduced eight types of taxonomies of ethnography of writing to discuss further how this framework operates in a broader academic context. Their framework is further explained together with how I employed this framework to teach writing to my ESL first-year students in a Midwestern U.S. university.

Who

            Grabe and Kaplan (1996) state that the first parameter of ethnography of writing is a taxonomy of who, i.e., writers. Knowing the writer and their background is critical to understanding writing well. It is essential to understand whether the individual is a beginning writer or a mature writer and whether the writer is a student who will be evaluated by their teachers or an independent scholarly writer who writes for an academic journal. This background information of the writer influences the audience for whom the writing is produced.

Considering this parameter, I often emphasize the writer’s role in my writing class. As an L2 writing instructor, I know that my students come from different first language (L1) backgrounds. The writing system in their L1s works differently from the writing system in English. I am aware that they are beginner writers in L2 and need more explicit instruction, support, and encouragement from me. I do understand that they are at the initial phase of creating their identity in L2 writing. In the meantime, I am also aware that their authorial voice is critical. So, I orient my students to use academic language and concrete words that embody meaning in the academic context (Bailey, 2018; Brun-Mercer & Zimmerman, 2015; Johnson, 2016), which ultimately helps the writers to make their voices strong. Also, I ask my students to use active structures to strengthen their authorial voice.

Writes

The second taxonomy of ethnography of writing is writes, which focuses on the linguistic nature of writing. This taxonomy of ethnography considers the entire process of text construction, its different linguistic parts, and their organization (thesis statement, topic statements, coherence, cohesion, word choice, reference, transition words (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996), sequencing information (Atkinson, 1991), and overall rhetorical arrangement of information (Bruthiaux, 1993). Overall, in the process of text construction, the writer considers audience, purpose, context, and the genre requirement (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996), discipline-specificity, and disciplinarity (Christiene & Maton, 2011; Flowerdew & Costley, 2016). There are two approaches that I use to teach writing: a process-based approach and a genre-based approach.

First, I follow a process-based approach (White & Arndt, 1991; Zamel,1983) to teach writing in my class. For example, selecting topics (they select topics themselves which they are passionate about writing), gathering required information, creating an outline, preparing the first draft, seeking feedback from peers, writing center tutors, and teachers, addressing feedback, editing, and finally submitting the final draft to the instructor for evaluation (Johnson, 2016; White & Arndt, 1991). Each step in this writing process is equally important for them because my students need to undergo various stages of the writing process to write essays. Also, they will receive points for an outline, first draft, and final draft separately.

Another approach that I employ to teach writing to my students in my class is the genre-based approach (Hyland, 2004; Swales, 1990; Tardy, 2008) because genre-based instruction enhances L2 students’ knowledge in four main areas, which include “formal knowledge of target genres’ features and conventions, the process knowledge of the methods used to produce, distribute, and consume these genres, rhetorical knowledge of target genres’ functions, characteristics, strategies, and subject matter knowledge of disciplinary content and skills” (Tardy, 2009, p. 21). By recognising the usefulness of a genre-based approach to writing, past research studies emphasized the responsibility of L2 educators to develop L2 students’ genre knowledge (Ferris & Hedgcock, 2013; Hyland, 2004; Tardy, 2008, 2009). Highlighting the importance of genre, Hyland (2004) stated “to fail to provide learners with what we know about how language works… denies them the means of both communicating effectively in writing and analyzing text critically” (p. 42). As the L2 students are not much acquainted with different types of genres, it is imperative to teach them genre knowledge explicitly. Also, they need to know that written texts are specific to each academic discipline, program, and major (Christie & Maton, 2011; Hyland, 2017).

Therefore, I provide a sample essay to my students, and they are engaged to analyze and identify all parts of the essay. They include an introduction (hook, background information, and thesis statement), three body paragraphs beginning with topic sentences, supporting details (explanations, reasons, examples, data, experiences, observations, etc.), and a conclusion that summarizes the main points of the essay and restates the thesis statement. In doing so, my students internalize all parts of the essay, which will help them to create their essays later. Ferris and Hedgcock (2013) and Tardy (2008) also stress that it is crucial to train beginner writers with skills that enable them to participate in intertextual systems.

What

            The third taxonomy of ethnography of writing is what, i.e., the content or message. Grabe and Kaplan (1996) emphasize that this writing parameter should be described in terms of content, genre, and register. So, this taxonomy of writing seeks to answer these questions: to what extent does the writer need to have background knowledge (content) to create a particular text, what type of texts does the writer produce, and in which fields they are used? The what aspect of writing “must take into account the phenomenological world (a theory of world knowledge), a theory of genre, and some specification of register” (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996, p. 205). In other words, the writer’s background knowledge (schema theory) is crucial in this taxonomy of writing because it provides the writer with the knowledge of the genre and the techniques to organize academic discourse for a specific purpose (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996; Swales, 1990). So, it is critical for ESL writing instructors to allow their students to choose their topics to write.

In my writing class, I do not assign any essay topics to my students. Instead, I provide them with the freedom to choose their topics themselves because I want to promote social justice in my writing class. I also encourage them to choose a topic based on their background knowledge because it is difficult for them to write on a topic that is entirely new to them. For example, the student majoring in Finance ended up choosing a topic from their field, such as Three Ways to Make Money Legally in the U.S. However, the student who is specializing in Sports Management wrote Three Strategies to Improve Cricket. Unlike these two students, the next student who is majoring in Nursing decided to write on Three Benefits of Homemade Breakfast. Besides that, I also provide them with a sample essay to follow because I follow a genre-based approach to teaching writing. This approach allows them to be acquainted with the framework of a text used in the academic context. In doing so, they can write their essays on their topics by following sample essays given to them.

To Whom

            Another powerful taxonomy of writing is to whom, which refers to the audience. Grabe and Kaplan (1996) call it a theory of audience or readers because the audience is always at the center of creating a text. Also, the audience plays an essential role in the meaning-making of the text. The writer needs to ponder some of these questions regarding the audience. Are the readers known or unknown to the writer? If they are known, how close or distant are they? How much-shared knowledge exists between the readers and the writer in general? How much-shared knowledge exists between them on a particular topic. Grabe and Kaplan (1996) further state that the audience’s parameter influences the writer’s writing, including the number of persons who are expected to read the text, the extent to which the readers are known or unknown to the writer, the level of status (can be either higher, equal, or lower) between them, the extent of shared background knowledge between readers, and the extent of specific topical shared knowledge between readers and writers.

Building on Grabe and Kaplan’s (1996) framework, recent research studies also highlighted the role of the audience. Before the author writes any text, they need to consider their audience because the type of audience determines their writing (Swales & Feak, 2012). Similarly, Kirszner and Mandell (2015) argued that while writing any text, the audience should be kept in mind because they determine the purpose of the paper. While writing, academic writers envision a specific audience who share knowledge regarding a topic or issue they are writing about (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996; Singh & Lukkarila, 2017). Realizing the significance of to whom parameter, I often ask my students to decide their audience because it is critical for them to know who is going to read their essays. They know that two types of audience read their essays. They include their classmates and their instructor/s.

For What Purpose

As its name suggests, this taxonomy refers to the purpose of producing a text. Grabe and Kaplan (1996) state that every written text is created purposefully. They add that when the writer thinks of purpose, they need to ask these questions: to what extent is it possible to define purpose in a writing task? Are there single or multiple purposes in the task? How does purpose interact with genre and audience? As most writings are meant for audiences, they expect the purpose of the paper when they read them. Therefore, most writers mention their goal of writing to facilitate the readers to make better meaning of the text.

Before writing anything, the writer should be clear about the purpose of writing. Kirszner and Mandell (2015) argued that it is the purpose that limits the writer what to say and how to say it. According to Bailey (2015, 2018), there are three main reasons for writing: (i) to argue on a subject of common interest and give the writer’s view, (ii) to report on a piece of research study and create some type of new knowledge, and (iii) to synthesize research conducted by others on a topic. So, AW is unique because the writer shares inquiry-based knowledge to inform a particular academic community (Singh & Lukkarila, 2017). Considering this taxonomy, all writers need to know the purpose of the academic texts they are writing.

In keeping in mind this taxonomy, I mention to my students that each piece of writing has a certain purpose. My students mostly write five types of essays, and these are five-paragraph essays. For example, when they write a cause-and-effect essay, they show cause and effect relationship of a particular topic. However, when they write a descriptive essay, the purpose is to describe a place, person, object/thing, and process. Unlike these two essays, when my students write classification essays, the objective is to describe three main categories of a particular topic in an interesting way. For example, one of my students chose to write on Three Types of Roommates, whereas another student was interested to write on Three Types of Cell Phone Users.

Why

             According to Grabe and Kaplan (1996), the notion of why people write refers to underlying intentions or motives that may or may not be revealed by functional purpose. However, if the writer’s motive is apparent, it helps the readers comprehend the text better. Therefore, genre-based texts overtly express the writer’s motive to facilitate schema instantiation. So, the why component of writing depends on the paper’s audience, topic, and purpose.

In order to make sure my students maintain the why component in their writing, I encourage them to engage in peer review. When they participate in the peer review process in different phases of their writing, they are provided with opportunities to read their course mates essays. In doing so, they not only write on only their topics but also get an opportunity to read and offer feedback on their classmates’ essays. First, they are provided with a checklist (based on a rubric) and asked to give feedback focusing on higher-order concerns such as content/ideas, organization, and vocabulary because they play an important role to convey the writers’ message to their readers. Then, they also give their feedback concentrating on lower-order concerns such as grammar, mechanics, and formatting.

When and Where

According to Grabe and Kaplan (1996), this parameter refers to text creation’s time and place. This taxonomy of writing plays a more minor role than the rest of the taxonomies. However, its relevance depends on the type of text. For example, in official emails and letters, the date and place they are sent may be more critical for both the writer and receiver (reader).

In my writing class, when the parameter is crucial for my students because every writing assignment has a fixed deadline to complete and submit to me. The deadline is clearly mentioned in my writing course which every student is provided with both printed and digital copies of the course syllabus on the first day of the class each semester. Also, the deadline for each writing assignment is also mentioned on D2L (an online learning platform used in most U.S. universities and colleges). My students strictly follow the deadline to submit each writing assignment. If students are unable to submit their writing assignments due to any unexpected circumstances, they inform me via email and request an extension of the deadline. In that case, I extend the deadline depending on each student’s situation. In that case, I also provide additional time for individual conferencing with that student to support their writing development.

How

Although this is the final parameter of the writing’s ethnography, this is probably the most important because it examines how the text is created. Therefore, this parameter is also called “a theory of online writing production … or a theory of writing process” (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996, p. 213). Mainly, there are two things this parameter emphasizes. First, writing is a recursive process because the writing process stages, namely planning, drafting, revising, editing, and sharing, do not come in a neat linear sequence. Instead, the writers move backwards and forward several times to create a text (Hyland, 2003; Zamel, 1983). Next, the cognitive mechanism remains at the center of this parameter because it “provides [the writers with] the means for exploring notions such as audience, content, and writer intension from a composing perspective” (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996, p. 213).

This parameter is crucial for my students. For each writing assignment, they must go through all writing stages. They also know each stage has its significance in terms of learning and assessment. For example, they are aware that they cannot create a good outline without gathering sufficient information on a topic. Similarly, no good first draft can be written without a good outline. Without seeking and addressing feedback on the first draft, the final draft does not turn out to be perfect. My students understand this process; therefore, they love to follow all phases of the writing process because they receive separate points for outlines, first drafts, and final drafts.

Conclusion

To sum up, I have found that Grabe and Kaplan’s (1996) ethnography of writing is a useful framework to introduce AW to my ESL first-year university students. My students have developed an understanding of the basics of AW after I employed this approach. This framework has been very effective for me for two reasons. First, this framework promotes the teaching and learning of AW by asking the ESL students to analyze the writer’s process before composing any written text. As Paltridge (2017) stated, the students are asked: “to undertake any analysis of the context in which the text they are writing occurs and consider how the situation in which they are writing impacts upon what they write and how they write it” (p. 12). Second, this approach considers the intended audience, their background knowledge, values and understanding, conventions, genre awareness, and discipline-specificity and disciplinarity (Christie & Maton, 2011; Paltridge, 2017) because of people working in the academic community share “ideas, beliefs, values, goals, practices, conventions, and ways of creating and distributing knowledge” (Flowerdew & Costley, 2016, p. 11). Therefore, the ESL writing instructor’s responsibility is to train first-year university students to familiarize themselves with these elements when writing for academic purposes.

References

Atkinson, D. (1991). Discourse analysis and written discourse conventions. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 11, 57-76. doi: 10.1017/S0267190500001951

Bailey, S. (2015). The essentials of academic writing for international students (4th ed.). Routledge.

Bailey, S. (2018). The essentials of academic writing for international students (5th ed.). Routledge.

Brun-Mercer, N., & Zimmerman, C.B. (2015). Fostering academic vocabulary. The CATESOL Journal, 27(1), 131-148. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1111751

Bruthiaux, P. (1993). Child’s talk: Learning to use language. Oxford University Press.

Chauhan, P. B. (2021). Academic writing challenges experienced by international students in a Midwest U.S. university: A phenomenological inquiry [Doctoral dissertation, Minnesota State University, Mankato]. Cornerstone: A Collection of Scholarly and Creative Works for Minnesota State University, Mankato. https://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/etds/1129

Christie, F., & Maton, K. (2011). Disciplinarity functional linguistic and sociological perspectives. Continuum International.

Duff, P.A., & Anderson, T. (2015). Academic language and literacy socialization for second-language students. In N. Markee (Ed.), Handbook of classroom discourse and interaction (pp.337-352).  Wiley-Blackwell.

Ferris, D. (2018). Writing in second language. In J.M. Newton, D.R. Ferris, C. C. M. Goh, W. Grabe, F. L. Stoller, & L. Vandergriff (Eds.), Teaching English to second language learners in academic context: Reading, writing, listening, and speaking (pp.75-122). Routledge.

Ferris, D., & Hedgcock, J. (2013). Teaching L2 composition: purpose, process, and practice (3rd ed.). Routledge.

Flowerdew, J., & Costley, T. (2016). Introduction. In J. Flowerdew, J. & T. Costley (Eds.), Discipline-specific writing (pp. 9-40). Routledge.

Giltrow, J., Gooding, R., Burgoyne, D., & Sawatsky, M. (2014). Academic writing: An introduction (3rd ed.). Broadview Press.

Gottlieb, M., & Ernst-Slavit, G. (2013). Academic language: A centerpiece for academic success in English language arts. In M. Gottlieb & G. Ernst-Slavit, Eds.), Academic language in diverse classrooms (pp. 1-38). Corwin.

Grabe, W., & Kaplan, R.B. (1996). Theory and practice of writing. Longman.

Greene, S., & Lidinsky, A. (2015). From inquiry to academic writing. A practical guide. Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Hyland, K. (2003). Second language writing. Cambridge University Press.

Hyland, K. (2004). Genre and second language writing. University of Michigan Press.

Hyland, K. (2017). Learning to write for academic purposes: Specificity and second language writing. In J. Bitchener, N. Storch, & R. Wette (Eds.), Teaching writing for academic purposes to multilingual students: Instructional approaches (pp. 24-41). Routledge.

Johnson, A. (2016). Academic writing: Process and product. Rowman & Littlefield.

Kirszner, L.G. & Mandell, S. R. (2015). Patterns for college writing: A rhetorical reader and guide. Bedford St. Martins.

Odena, O., & Burgess, H. (2017). How doctoral students and graduates describe facilitating experiences and strategies for their thesis writing learning process: A qualitative approach. Studies in Higher Education (Dorchester-on-Thames), 42(3), 572–590. doi: 10.1080/03075079.2015.1063598

Osmond, A. (2016). Academic writing and grammar for students (2nd ed.). Sage.

Paltridge, B. (2017). Context and the teaching of academic writing. In J. Bitchener, N. Storch, & R. Wette (Eds.), Teaching writing for academic purposes to multilingual students: Instructional approaches (pp. 9-23). Routledge.

Singh, A.A., & Lukkarila, L. (2017). Successful academic writing: A complete guide for social and behavioral scientists. The Guilford Press.

Starkey, D. (2015). Academic writing now: A brief guide for busy students. Broadview Press.

Swales, J.M. (1990). Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge University Press.

Swales, J.M., & Feak, C.B. (2012). Academic writing for graduate students: Essential tasks and skills (3rd ed.). University of Michigan Press.

Tardy, C. M. (2008). Multimodality and the teaching of advanced academic writing: A genre systems perspective on speaking-writing connections. In D. Belcher & A. Hirvela (Eds.), The oral-literate connection: Perspectives on L2 speaking, writing, and other media interactions (pp. 191-208). University of Michigan Press.

Tardy, C. M. (2009). Building genre knowledge. Parlor Press.

White, R. & Arndt, V. (1991). Process writing (1st ed.). Longman.

Zamel, V. (1983). The composing processes of advanced ESL students: Six case studies. TESOL Quarterly, 17(2), 165-187. doi:10.2307/3586647

Author’s Bio: Dr Padam Chauhan works as a Retention Specialist for the International Center and an ESL Instructor for the IEP at Minnesota State University (MNSU), Mankato, Minnesota, USA. Prior to that, Padam worked as a Writing Consultant for MNSU’s Writing Center. He has earned MEd in English Education from T.U., Nepal, MA in TESOL, and EdD from MNSU, Mankato. Before joining MNSU, Mankato, he taught ESL at the high school level and served as a high school (10+2) principal in Nepal. Padam voluntarily served NELTA Central Committee as its member, treasurer, and general secretary. Padam has presented at the NELTA, IATEFL, TESOL, AAAL, and TESL conferences in Nepal, the UK, the USA, and Canada. His current research interests include academic reading and writing, Writing Center tutoring pedagogy, and equitable access to English language education.

 

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