TEACHING ACADEMIC WRITING

 Третьякова Галина Викторовна, к.п.н., доцент,
Финансовый университет при Правительстве  РФ, Москва
 
ABSTRACT
 
This article deals with the topic of teaching academic writing. The author will briefly examine some common problems learners face in attempting to produce acceptable scientific article. Finally, it presents different techniques used by lecturers teaching English for academic purposes.
 
KEYWORDS: training level, approach, academic writing, plagiarism, modernization.
 
  
As the latest researches show due to diversification of Russia social and economic relations with the foreign countries the development of academic writing skills in a foreign language is one of the leading direction of training specialists in a university. This problem became vital even at the end of the twentieth century. Nowadays the academic writing is the essential part of any curriculum of teaching foreign language but the problem is that there is no complex approach to it. [ 1 ] 
The results of the International program on the assessment of the students’ educational achievements (PISA ) state that the Russian students have failed to fulfill the tasks related to academic correctness, displaying the lack of analytical thinking, independence and initiative in choosing life philosophy. 
 
In this sphere we can find out the following contradictions between:
  • the necessity of high specialists professional training level fluently possessing the academic written speech in a foreign language and a low level of university graduates in written speech due to  secondariness of studying writing in speech activity;
  • the necessity of rising students’ training efficiency and not sufficiently working out the pedagogical conditions for that;
  • the necessity of applying innovative approaches for productive teaching academic writing in a foreign language and not sufficient scientific consideration of available textbooks for teaching academic writing;
  • the necessity of studying a foreign language at different levels of speech activity (reading, writing, listening, speaking) and the degree of their implementation in practice;
  •  between the contents, forms and methods of educational process and students’ demands in productive approaches to their professional development. "Academic writing is not the printed display of one's fully formed thoughts. It starts with flawed, incomplete, vague hunches, ideas and concepts. But, if you exploit its inherent 'revisability,' it allows you to come full circle, to revisit ideas long after you first thought of them, to explore the same things in different ways, to experiment, to revise, to repeat and reconceptualize--all of these are arguably central to the essence of scholarship which you exercise every day in other academic tasks . . .."[2]
 
 
 In the system of high education in Russia these contradictions must be solved as we think at the methodological level with the elements of practical implementation. As academic writing today is considered to be the important component of speech activity for the major of professions in theoretical consideration of academic writing skills development we can distinguish the following tendencies: academic writing contributes to implementation of knowledge in a foreign language via 
 linguistic and country-studying content of the educational material;
academic writing (for instance, in English) in its interaction with reading, speaking and listening creates the following integrative qualities: consistency, integrity and complexity of speech activity in the professional formation of the future specialist;
academic writing in a foreign language in the specialist’s professional training of any profile must fulfill different functions in student’s personal development.
The lecturers of the Language training department from Finance University under the Government of the Russian Federation realize the teaching academic writing in two stages: Firstly, we pay special attention to teaching spelling, Grammar, Lexicology and adequacy of their application; secondly, we teach official academic writing style on the basis of test assignments.
 
 The stages of teaching academic writing are implemented under the following pedagogic conditions: 
providing such a content, forms and teaching techniques when the learning a foreign language would become the integrated process of speech activity(reading, writing, listening and speaking), which is aimed to the improvement of academic writing skills;
setting up the content and functional  relationships among all the types of speech activity in order to provide the systematic and coherent development  of academic writing skills;
development interrelation of academic writing skills with the  students’ creative self-realization in their  speech activity;
the succession  of levels in initial, medium and higher acquisition of teaching foreign language;
differentiated approach to teaching foreign language with the account of student’s acquiring the language competences;
the constant addition of educational process by innovative methods of teaching academic writing via higher difficulty in a foreign language.
So, teaching academic writing we try to form the following students’ competences: 
  • acquisition the skills of text structuring at the level of its correct content organization within the sentences and passages;
  • the developed language skills from the lexical and stylistic points of view for the correct writing the articles and texts, and for different business and information papers as well; 
  • the ability to analyze the texts and assess the different discourses, either the own texts or other ones;
  • the ability to work with authentic sources and to give own arguments on assessing them. 
 
 As the formal style is considered to be the peculiarity of academic writing the students must use the scientific vocabulary appropriately, demonstrate clearness and preciseness in narration and not to abuse the spoken language and idioms. In this connection a teacher is to develop students’ skills to structure the text so that they could use these skills in their further scientific activity bearing in mind that this skill is one of the most important components of the academic writing. For that purpose the teachers provide insight into different texts samples and teach the students on the basis of these samples to express their own thoughts through such types of texts as narration, speculation, composition and so on. Thus, the students must know the major academic writing genres features, such as : a scientific article, a review, an abstract, an essay; be able to analyze the scientific articles from the point of view of the author’s research strategy. Starting writing the scientific article a student should take into consideration the topicality, relevant to the scientific interests and society’s requirements. Then the introduction comes which consists of:
  • background information or explanation;
  • an interesting story or event;
  • some surprising information.
Additionally, many research papers begin with a hook-a sentence or more to catch the reader’s attention: a quotation or saying, an unusual fact or surprising statistics, anecdote, a question- everything which makes the audience to find out the answer in the article.
After that the students are ready to write the outline. There are different ways to organize a research paper:
1. Introduction.
2. Past events.
3. A present situation.
4. Recommendations for future.
5. Conclusion.
Or:
1. Introduction.
2. Important idea/argument.
3. More important idea/argument.
4. Recommendations for future.
5. Conclusion.
 
The students may be suggested such a scheme as well:
 
1. Introduction.
 
2. An important argument
a. Support for.
b. More support for.
c. Counter argument.
d. A response to it.
 
3. More important argument.
a. Support for.
b. More support for.
c. Counter argument.
d. Another response to it and etc. [3]
 
And of course, the students are warned to avoid plagiarism. As for the language of the scientific thesis one should take into account that passive voice prevails here. The emphasis and different connectors (although, furthermore) play an important role as well. Writing a research paper one can’t forget about emphasis, paraphrasing, shortening of the original text, idioms, modal verbs, subject-verb agreement.
The conclusion summarizes the main points; this is what you want your reader to remember most. It does not introduce new arguments or important information, however, you may logically extend the arguments you made in the body of the article by making a recommendation or prediction. An academic essay is not a novel, there are no surprise endings. You might be able to tie your conclusion back to your introduction.
Reference section, also known as bibliography should be consistent, the formatting of the details should be complete and correct. This part of the research process is still very important. You might think of the bibliography as a library in itself. It is a very convenient list that contains the details about where you have gone as a researcher to learn and to gather new information, and it allows an interested reader to find the same information.
Here are just a few steps that might help struggling students get a grasp on academic writing:
 
1) Help Students Fall In Love with Reading
 
We don’t expect freshman academic writers to be excellent wordsmiths, but we expect them to understand the groundwork and the best way to become a better writer is to read.  As an English teacher (in the U.S. or abroad), your primary goal should be to make your students fall in love with the language and literature.  It’s like that old proverb about teaching a man to fish.  This means encouraging them to read everything.  Any reputable newspaper or website is going to have writing that’s very similar to the style expected by professors; they won’t find passive voice or overused adverbs in The New York Times.  Every foreign student should make a habit of reading something in English, they’re sure to find a topic they love.
 
2) Write and give feedback
 
Obviously, the best way to get great at anything is to practice over and over.  The first time a foreign student tries to put words on paper should not be in an academic environment.  As a teacher in a foreign country, you should have your students write every single time you see them.  And you should constantly be giving them feedback.  These students will be eager to learn and improve; you just need to guide them.
 
3) Try translating
 
Translating is a great way for foreign students to use skills they already have to develop new ones.  At first, it will be difficult and they’ll find themselves hunched over a dictionary, but that’s one of the best ways to learn new words.  It’s a tried-and-true way to have your students begin.  Don’t give them difficult sentences if they have no knowledge of the English language.  Instead, have them begin the same way you did in kindergarten, by translating sentences like “see Spot run” and then work up to more advanced sentences.  You can be almost certain that non-native speakers aren’t going to grasp American idioms or phrasing.
 
4) Use fill-in-the-blank activities
 
Fill in the blank sentences are one of the most effective ways to use a new language because the students can steadily progress.  At the beginning, give students sentences like: 
 
“The title of my _____________ is Global Warming in Southern California and the it’s _____________ to describe the ______________ of greenhouse gas emissions”.
 
Then as students progress you can remove more of the words until they’re able to write their own academic sentence from nothing.
 
 5) Focus on areas that are proven to be problems
 
Our  students almost always have problems with  pronoun usage and modifiers.  These are both areas of the English language that are different from most other languages, even other Latin-based languages, we’re one of the few languages without gendered prepositions.  They will usually struggle with argument-based and thesis-based writing because such strategies are so different from the type of writing that they’re accustomed to.  There isn’t any point having them diagram sentences or rigorously expand their vocabulary when more basic problems can be addressed.
 
6) Teach editing skills
 
Editing is one of, if not the, most fundamental aspect of writing and foreign students must know how to edit their papers.  In editing, it’s imperative that students understand not only how to fix their diction, but also how to make their arguments and writing stronger.  Have them begin by highlighting problem sections and circling words that seem out of place, after you do this with them a few times they’ll get the hang of it.  Then, have them write their argument on the top of the paper and make sure every sentence proves the argument.  Again, it’s important to master the basics of editing rather than shoot for the stars, there’s no point in teaching them the AP-style proofreading notations when they have a paper that’s full of dangling modifiers [4]
Non-native speakers are going to encounter problems continuously when they first try academic writing.  The English language  is so complicated, that the rules sometimes seem silly; why is the plural form of goose, is geese, but the plural form of moose is simply moose?  The most important thing when working with international students is to be patient and to make sure that every session bears results, no matter how miniscule. Methods of Academic Writing: "They Say/I Say"
"In our view, . . . the best academic writing has one underlying feature: it is deeply engaged in some way with other people's views. Too often, however, academic writing is taught as a process of saying 'true' or 'smart' things in a vacuum, as if it were possible to argue effectively without being in conversation with someone else. If you have been taught to write a traditional five-paragraph essay, for example, you have learned how to develop a thesis and support it with evidence. This is good advice as far as it goes, but it leaves out the important fact that in the real world we don’t make arguments without being provoked. Instead, we make arguments because someone has said or done something (or perhaps not said or done something) and we need to respond: 'I can’t see why you like the Lakers so much'; 'I agree: it was a great film'; 'That argument is contradictory.' If it weren’t for other people and our need to challenge, agree with, or otherwise respond to them, there would be no reason to argue at all.[5]
Having written the article one should complete the abstract, which is a summary of the key points of the paper; it must be concise and informative. The abstract is placed after or before of the body of the paper.In general it is between one hundred twenty or two hundred fifty words long.
A teacher suggests the great range of topics within the given discipline, monitors the structure of the article, its volume, the content, the correct usage of grammar and vocabulary, appropriateness to the scientific genre. The topic of the article should be connected with the characteristic features of the students’ future job. That is why academic writing develops simultaneously both the students’ cognitive skills: it learns to put forward the hypothesis, to analyze the information and the language practices: the ability to formulate the thought and present it via language means. "To make an impact as a writer, you need to do more than make statements that are logical, well supported, and consistent. You must also find a way of entering a conversation with others' views--with something 'they say.' . . . It follows, then, . . . that your own argument--the thesis or 'I say' moment of your text--should always be a response to the arguments of others."[6]
 The high education system’s modernization taking place in the Russian Federation lately is aimed at optimal improvement ways of teaching a foreign language. The process of teaching today is becoming tightly connected with the real possibility for university graduates to be integrated into international scientific environment where it would be necessary not only to display language knowledge but the research skills as well. Thus a special attention has been paid to written communication in the form of scientific articles, reports and business records recently in this process. It makes the task of students’ academic skills development extremely urgent.
Here in this collection of articles you can see the examples of students’ scientific papers. 
 
References
 
 1.Валеева Л.А., Сиразеева А.Ф., Морозова А.Ф. РАЗВИТИЕ НАВЫКОВ АКАДЕМИЧЕСКОГО ПИСЬМА У СТУДЕНТОВ НЕЯЗЫКОВОГО ВУЗА // Современные проблемы науки и образования. – 2015. – № 3.; URL: http://www.science-education.ru/ru/article/view?id=17956 (дата обращения: 04.11.2016).
2. Nation, I. S. P. (1990). The average L1 student matriculating possesses a vocabulary of approx. 20,000 base words. 
3. Fatham, A. K. & Whalley, E. (1990). Content is defined in terms of the selection and organisation of information, and is presented in contrast to form, which focuses more on the language used. p.178
 4. Barry, M. (2000). These guidelines, based on IGCSE marking criteria, are listed in Practice Tests for IGCSE in ESL
 5. Tribble, C. (1996). Writing research papers.Pp. 130-1.
 6. Roberts, P. (1997. Roberts lists criteria used to determine A, B, C, D, E, and F essays at university level. Pp. 49-51