Five Key Issues in Academic Writing: Writing Scholarly Articles in English

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Handoyo Puji Widodo (Discipline of Linguistics, University of Adelaide)

Introduction

Academic writing is a complicated task that involves cognitive process (mind interaction) and social activity (interpersonal interaction). One form of an academic writing task is writing scholarly articles in English, which has recently been a passport to being accepted as a member into a particular academic community of practice (CoP) or getting promoted (a job promotion). Writing scholarly articles in English has been a global issue because English has played a leading role as a global lingua franca, and consequently, most of the scholarly publications are written in English. It has also recently been a national issue on a tertiary institution level in Indonesia. This national issue challenges Indonesian faculty members to help undergraduate and postgraduate students write publishable scholarly articles.

Needless to say, Indonesian students unfamiliar with this task are socio-cognitively and psychologically burdened by the task. For this reason, this article highlights five key issues in academic writing that faculty members need to incorporate into their academic writing program whose goal is to help students write scholarly articles. These key issues include (1) critical thinking, (2) authorial voice—self voice and expert voice, (3) plagiarism, (4) linguistic resources, and (5) feedback—role of a critical peer or partner.

Critical Thinking

To begin with, critical thinking plays a crucial role in shaping how written text sounds intelligibly academic. It also shapes how writers articulate ideas that demonstrate originality or novelty. I define critical thinking as the capability of grasping, analyzing, and evaluating arguments or ideas. Critical thinking is also defined as the ability to present, synthesize, and develop these ideas cogently and coherently. Ideas here may be derived from student’s prior knowledge or experience and the existing sources. Thus, critical thinking is seen as a socio-cognitive practice involving intrapersonal (between a reader and her or his own mind) and interpersonal (between a reader and text). The ability to critically think helps students unpack and make meaning of text; in a way, they can construct and deconstruct ideas to make intended meaning clear to their audience.

Students can capitalize on their critical thinking ability through (1) critical reading and (2) annotated reading.

Critical reading activity involves synthesizing, challenging or problematizing, and evaluating ideas or arguments in text. Annotated reading activity includes (a) identifying and grasping conceptual, empirical, practical, contextual, policy driven, and analytical gaps; (b) summarizing main points in text; (c) making ‘dialogic’ conversation between reader’s mind and text; this activity is the key to making meaning of text; and (d) elaborating on the existing ideas or arguments in text. These two reading tasks assist students to tap into their critical thinking ability. This ability assists students to take an authorial stance toward a particular argument or view.

Authorial Voice: Self Voice and Expert Voice

The second key issue in academic writing is authorial voice that can be categorized into self voice and expert voice. Self voice refers to ideas that writers articulate based on their own knowledge and experience, but expert voice is concerned with arguments presented by well regarded authors.

Authorial voice involves three tones of positioning: ideational positioning, interpersonal positioning, and textual positioning. Firstly, the ideational positioning corresponds to what point of reference and values writers hold. Secondly, the interpersonal positioning deals with how a writer becomes aware of her or his relationship with the reader. Finally, the textual positioning pertains to how writers articulate their ideas through different linguistic resources (e.g., lexical and syntactic resources). These tones of positioning are the key to building writerly voice or identity.

When composing scholarly articles, students need to strike a balance between self voice and expert voice in order to take a solid authorial stance toward a certain line of arguments articulated by well regarded authors.

Solid authorial voice can be achieved by the use of varied linguistic resources and critically grounded writing. The use of wide-ranging linguistic resources includes varieties of words and sentence patterns (grammar), and critically grounded writing is activity that expresses critical ideas supported by a line of expert voice (grounded voice). I argue that a wide range of linguistic resources as well as critically grounded writing facilitate critical thinking and authorial voice. Without a sufficient critical thinking skill, students cannot express grounded authorial voice. Thus, both critical thinking and authorial voice are inextricably intertwined.

Plagiarism

Thirdly, plagiarism has been of major concern in academic writing.

Plagiarism is seen as serious ‘sin,’ academic dishonesty, and act of cheating in writing because it involves ‘stealing’ others’ or own ideas.

As a rule, what constitutes plagiarism includes that

  • writers do not acknowledge that the sources of information or ideas are taken from others’ or their own work;
  •  writers do not cite others’ or own ideas properly (both in-text citations and bibliographic referencing); and
  • writers do not paraphrase original ideas or arguments in text.

I contend that there are a number of reasons for plagiarizing, including that

  • students do not receive sufficient academic literacy or writing training;
  • they unwittingly plagiarize their own or others’ work;
  •  students are lack of linguistic resources; for this reason, they do not make any significant lexical and syntactic changes to text;
  • they have cultural and educational values or backgrounds, which favor memorization drills or practices; and (e) writers consider cited ideas as common knowledge.

To help students avoid plagiarizing, faculty members should provide sufficient academic writing training and guidelines detailing the nature of plagiarism as well as equipping students with sufficient language training (e.g., paraphrasing skills). Both sufficient academic writing training and language training assist students to become aware of academic conventions because ethically, students need to respect others’ and own work.

Linguistic Resources

The fourth key issue in academic writing is linguistic resources defined as language realizations through the manipulation or use of lexis (words) and syntax (grammar in context). In academic writing, lexical and syntactic resources are bound to context.

At the lexical level, students need to know word choices and collocations—certain words collocate. For this reason, they can make use of different corpora (e.g., COCA, British National Corpus, Springer Exemplar) and online dictionaries (e.g., Cambridge, Macmillan) to ensure whether words are used in a particular context and if these words collocate.

At the syntactic level, students need to know how particular grammatical patterns are used in an appropriate context; student can use corpora that can show how words are syntactically constructed in context.

If students have a wide spectrum of linguistic resources, they can articulate ideas or arguments cogently and coherently. Assuredly, students can voice their own ideas, strike a balance between self voice and expert voice, articulate ideas critically, and be able to avoid plagiarizing.

The best ways to enrich linguistic resources are doing extensive reading, carrying out a corpus oriented survey, and looking unknown words up in a reliable dictionary.

Feedback: Role of a Critical Peer or Partner

Finally, feedback in academic writing is a mediating means of providing critical support to students. Feedback is also a way to build a supportive academic community of practice (CoP) in which writers scaffold one another. Therefore, faculty members should play a role as a critical peer or partner.

Generally, there are two types of feedback: global and analytical.

Global feedback deals with the appropriateness of topic, goal, context, and readership of written work. Analytical feedback touches on idea sufficiency, depth, and breadth; idea originality or novelty; idea coherence; rhetorical moves (idea organization); idea cohesion; and proper use of linguistic resources.

Feedback can be carried out through a one-to-one feedback dialog between a teacher and a student as well as a teacher-to-class conference between a teacher and groups of students. It is important to bear in mind that feedback should not be viewed as a platform for blaming student’s incompetence or ‘hunting for mistakes,’ but for giving meaningful scaffolding (support) to fine-tune her or his work and to meet particular academic conventions.

Conclusion

To summarize, critical thinking, authorial voice, plagiarism, linguistic resources, and feedback play a pivotal role in academic writing. These issues should be incorporated into academic writing programs at tertiary institutions. Therefore, faculty members are entrusted to design and implement a sound academic writing program whose goal is to assist students to write academically.

 

 

Author’s bio:

Handoyo Puji Widodo, currently working on a PhD in language materials development at the University of Adelaide, has published edited books and presented his work at international conferences. His refereed articles and book reviews have also appeared in refereed international journals. He is currently sitting on an editorial board member of numerous refereed international journals (e.g., The International Journal of Innovation in English Language Teaching & Research, Asian ESP Journal, TESL-EJ, The Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics). Widodo’s areas of specialization include language curriculum and materials development as well as language teaching methodology. Email: handoyopw@yahoo.com

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1 Comment

Filed under Academic writing, Education, Indonesia

One response to “Five Key Issues in Academic Writing: Writing Scholarly Articles in English

  1. Very useful tips here, Handoyo. This should make writing academic articles easier for interested teachers.

    Cheers,

    Brad Blackstone
    Chief Editor
    http://www.eltworldonline.com (ELTWO)

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