This is a guest post from Julia Molinari from the School of Education, The University of Nottingham. Julia is currently doing doctoral research into ‘academic writing’.
A range of motivations, both personal and professional, have triggered the following observations, and the main reason for writing this is to see who else – ‘out there’ – has been wondering why Creative Writing courses abound and Academic Writing ones are much less likely to be found!
I know many undergraduates, postgraduates and fully-established academics – all ‘native’ speakers of English – who find it hard to write ‘academically’ and who rely on copy-editors not just to proofread, but to do the stuff that transforms a text from mere writing, to ‘good’ writing, writing that will draw in and inform an intended reader (writing that is authoritative, has a voice and a clear take-home message, to name just a handful from Pat’s blog) – writing, in other words, which projects ideas and sparks off connections, writing that teleports you out of the material text (with its syntax and structure) and into a world of knowledge.
I also teach Academic Writing to ‘non-native’ HE students and over the past 20 years have come to realise that although learning certain technical skills that are associated with Academic Writing is necessary (things like nominalisations and referencing), they are by far insufficient to enable writers to create texts that take the reader into another world. Although, arguably, the non-native has to walk before she can run, I can’t help feeling that, at least my students, have to learn to run pretty quickly.
So, my point is that to varying degrees, there is a need for non-native, native, undergraduate, postgraduate and academics to learn the Art of Academic Writing, a point which is better made and substantiated by Antoniou and Moriarty (2008) who draw on the aims and pedagogy of Creative Writing courses – which they label as ‘holistic’ – to argue that universities should also develop a more visible Academic Writing pedagogy, not one that is somehow learnt by osmosis or one that that remains largely prescriptive. I would also add that we need an Academic Writing pedagogy that critically examines established conventions by looking at the extent to which these may be preventing new knowledge and voices from emerging. For example, what might the academic writing conventions for interdisciplinary research or writing about oral cultures?
In their support, Antoniou and Moriarty (2008) refer to the stress, anxiety, fear and lack of confidence experienced by some academics when it comes to writing; they talk of feelings of ‘resentment’ at being forced to write in order to get jobs and then keep them; they remind us of the fact that contemporary academic culture involves lots of teaching and admin, as well as research and finding the time to write it, so even if we have had the good fortune of having gone to the ‘right’ schools and universities, being able to write well academically, AND write prolifically, is not a given; and if we haven’t had this privileged education, then the challenge of accessing and then reproducing the academic literacies that are expected of us increase (see also Lillis 2001 on access to academic literacies).
I also wonder why it is that Academic Writing is associated with such negativity. I somehow imagine that creative writers really want to be writers, that they love the whole process of writing and that a creative writing course is designed to help you ‘find your voice’ and your style. Is this so different from academic writing?
All of this has hit home even more since reading Pat’s blogs, which, when taken together, remind me of the holistic nature of academic writing, one that involves our (multiple) identities and our physical and psychological beings (from finding a voice and having something to say to looking after our writing body). Given the high stakes of and subtleties involved in good academic writing, I wonder why so few universities teach it?
Antoniou, M. and Moriarty, J. (2008) ‘What can academic writers learn from creative writers? Developing guidance and support for lecturers in Higher Education’ in Teaching in Higher Education 13 (2): 157-167
Lillis, T. (2001) Student writing: access, regulation, desire Routledge: London.