“These Rules Take All the Life Out of My Work...”: Student Teachers Confront the Demands of Academic Writing

Jul. 18, 2016

Dr. Sara Kleeman established and directed a resource center for assisting students in their academic and pedagogic tasks at Oranim Academic College of Education. Today she is consultant for international programs and pedagogic coordinator at The MOFET Institute in Israel.

An academic article is a form of dialogue carried on in academic language with readers and other writers in which authors are required to be persuasive. They must convince the reader that their research methods and analytical approach fit the questions they posed, and that their interpretation of the findings is reasonable and their conclusions valid. And they must show the connection between the conclusions they drew and the existing knowledge in the field. Correct application of the rules of academic writing shows the writer to be a systematic researcher with expertise in the field being studied (Chittum & Bryant, 2014, Siclair, 2015).

Despite the necessity of being familiar with academic language and abiding by its rules, M.A. programs in many countries pay scant attention to teaching this type of writing. The assumption is that the principles of academic writing have already been learned and practiced while studying for the B.A. degree, yet many students at the master’s level experience difficulty with the task of writing (Chittum & Bryant, 2014).

This study investigates how master’s students who are also longtime teachers contend with the requirements of academic writing. The purpose of the study is to identify points of difficulty in order to find appropriate methods of support. To this end, the authors interviewed teachers pursuing a master’s degree at a college of education in Israel. The interviewees were chosen from a population of students who made use of the college’s writing assistance center. The students approach the center on their own initiative or are referred by lecturers and department heads, and receive various types of help on different levels.

During the interviews, the authors identified a number of patterns, including students who were used to different ways of expressing themselves and found it difficult to comply with the principles of academic writing. They felt that academic language is dry, and that it constrains and distorts their writing. Other students were surprised to discover how incomprehensible, disorganized, and unpersuasive their writing is to an outside reader. Another noticeable pattern was adherence to external rules (fonts, spacing, headings) yet difficulty in focusing on a specific research question. Suitable guidance and instruction must be tailored to each of these patterns, and others that were identified.

Chittum, J. R., & Bryant, L. H. (2014). Reviewing to learn: Graduate student participation in the professional peer-review process to improve academic writing skills. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 26(3), 473- 484.

Updated: Jul. 18, 2016