Teaching Academic English Writing Skills

Mher Ghazarian

Problems that exist in teaching academic English writing skills include a general lack of knowledge of the requirements of academic writing in English. In general, this is a problem, not only that involves students, but also teachers. In different cases, often neither the teacher nor the students are fully committed to the main requirements of the academic writing skills. This lecture tackles the main issues that teachers should consider in teaching this skill and the most efficient method of delivering it, not only to students whose English is a second language, but also to students whose native language is English. Out of the classroom experience, two cases concerning students and their writing competency can be distinguished: 1. Case 1: The students have acquired the necessary language – in that they possess a productive knowledge of the minimum level of vocabulary required at university level (approximately 20,000 base words) and are grammatically fluent – but they lack the necessary academic writing skills (for most of these students English is the first language). 2. Case 2: In this case, students do not have the necessary language, nor the necessary academic writing skills (for most of these students English is the second language). It is obvious that teachers who deal with the second case are facing very much more challenging situation. In any way, teaching academic English writing skills remains a skill that should be acquired by the students, whether they are native speakers or learners of English as a second language.

Acceptable Writing Behavior in Academic Writing

Many authors agree that there is a standard of acceptable "writing behavior." This behavior is considered acceptable by the authors and the workers in the field of
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The following is taken from Band 9 of the IELTS marking key used by assessors: "The writing displays a completely logical organizational structure which enables the message to be followed effortlessly. ideas clearly stated and supported. in the majority of circumstances. and do these help make the meaning clear? (Sense of argument) Besides these questions. personal experiences and/or facts? 2. however. Has the student organized his/her work into paragraphs? Are the paragraphs in the right sequence and accurately linked together so the writing makes a coherent whole? (Paragraphing) 3. accurate detail." The Essay Students are. appropriately organized paragraphs. Irmscher in his Teaching Expository 2 . which is described by W.F.teaching and evaluating writing when it meets certain criteria. Many academic writing exams and evaluation standards require the following: content relevant to the topic. we find a direct reference to content in the marking rubric. This criteria is mainly based on four main questions: 1. How well does the student deal with the topic? Does s/he get straight into the topic and seem interested in it. and also make the reader interested in it? (Subject matter) 4. The content plays a significant role in the academic writing.g. asked to present their ideas in the form of an essay. and appropriately used connectives (cohesion). moreover) used. with effective supporting material. fluent expression. logical sequencing (coherence). Does the student make their answer interesting using colorful detail. Is the argument set out clearly and logically and does the writer come to a clear conclusion? … Does the writer give clear examples? Are linking words (e. another element is always added and considered to be the core component in the academic writing structure: The Content. For the IELTS. with main ideas prominently and clearly stated. Relevant arguments are presented in an interesting way.

should take the thesis and develop it in a logical and coherent manner. students also need to acquire an inherent understanding of how the inner parts of an essay work.B. This view is supported by W. That more paragraph work is needed is evident in comments made by examiners. and the conclusion should complete the text in a way that leaves the reader with the clear impression that the purpose of the essay has been achieved. body. namely a beginning. and conclusion. who write that "The development of organised and logical paragraphs cannot be assumed even for advanced writers…since this aspect of writing is often ignored or treated in a simple way at lower levels…" (p. supporting sentence. such as the topic sentence. What this means in practical terms is that teachers need to ensure that students gain a proficient understanding of how these basic academic writing components work in orchestration within a given text to achieve the overall effect intended by the writer. Kaplan in their Theory & Practice of Writing. which students need to be made aware of if they are to conform to "acceptable writing behavior. which all too often state that even linguistically strong candidates appear…unaware of the importance of paragraphing. 3 . and transition words. This means focusing learner attention on the paragraph. should gain the reader's interest and state the purpose of the essay. and be able to produce these components in various combinations effectively according to their particular need. the thesis. with far greater attention paid to the various components of the paragraph. Within the essay. In addition to gaining a working understanding of the outer shape of an essay. following on from the introduction. each of these parts performs a specific function. which is to say." From the outside." It is generally expected that the introduction. Grabe and R.Writing as a text possessing a clearly definable “outer shape” with equally identifiable "inner parts. details. and an end. 353). which is considered to be the fundamental building block of the essay. an essay appears to possess three distinct parts. examples. for instance. which we refer to in academic terms as the introduction. the body. concluding sentence. It is therefore incumbent on teachers that more time be spent on paragraphing. middle.

such as improving handwriting (many students do not like the way they write and that simply helping some students to improve their hand-writing is enough to completely change their attitude to writing composition). is to work on improving student attitudes toward writing in general. More often than not. when it comes to academic writing. picks up the pen and starts to write. 4 . 2. therefore. Planning. and easily distracted. on account of time. I mean that they bring to the language learning classroom an attitude that they cannot write well and that it is useless to even try. and their writing in particular. and can be grouped into four general areas: attitude. Planning Another problem that teachers regularly come across is an absence of planning. for most students. writing both at the paragraph and essay level. planning. and evaluating. These two attitudes have a significant effect in the classroom and are in part largely responsible for any lack of student focus. One of the most important roles of the teacher. by self-critical. as the time invested usually leads to significant improvement in the quality of their academic writing. is that they are often self-defeated. it is not surprise that what is produced is usually of little academic merit. Attitude One of the common problems that both native and second language learners have in the classroom. overly self-critical. this includes both preplanning (idea generating) and planning (selection and ordering of ideas). is a key area to focus on. By self-defeated. I mean that they feel what they write is worthless.A brief summary of some of the common problems learners face when attempting to produce acceptable content in academic writing The problems faced by both native and second language learners in regard to content are not greatly dissimilar. what occurs when a learner is assigned a writing task is that the learner sits for a while looking somewhat blank and then. or at best an inadequate level of planning. 1. In this situation. which may mean focusing on special areas.

this is the area requiring the greatest amount of work. Evaluating The final problem that learners have difficulty with is self-evaluation. and China. What becomes evidently clear is the fact that any approach to teaching academic writing will need to deal with the problems that arise when learning to write directly. to cultivate intrinsic learner motivation. it is the responsibility of the reader to understand what the author is trying to say). where they are going. according to L. Flower in his article "Writer based prose: A cognitive basis for problems in writing" is the inability of students to move from “writer based” to “readbased” text. even if a student has some idea of what to write. which means that a systematic approach to academic writing is needed. Korea. Here. or frustrates with too little. Writing The third problem – more so for second language students who lack fluency – is the actual writing. as in many cases. In particular. and how they are going to get there. and to be guided in the process as studies show that positive feedback on content from teachers helps students to develop their writing abilities. Furthermore. students will need to be made aware of where they are. they often struggle to get their ideas across effectively. One of the main reasons for this. whilst in others countries such as Japan. This means that students need to understand how language works at both the paragraph level and essay level and to develop a feeling for the language.3. For most learners. which may require substantial classroom focus in non writer-responsible languages (English is a “writer-responsible language”. students need to be provided with the necessary tools to enable them to evaluate a text’s strengths and weaknesses – especially their own. students need to be encouraged to rewrite. 5 . students need to learn to write with an awareness of audience. Therefore. to help avoid writing text that bores with too much detail. 4.

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