The Significance of Teaching Academic Writing as a Discipline-Specific Skill

The Significance of Teaching Academic Writing as a Discipline-Specific Skill

El-Sadig Y. Ezza (University of Khartoum, Sudan), Altayeb Alballa Ageeb (University of Khartoum, Sudan), Rayan O. Sirry (University of Khartoum, Sudan) and Emtithal Mubarak (University of Khartoum, Sudan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2265-3.ch001

Abstract

The purpose of the present study was to popularize the conscious initiation of novice scholars and postgraduate students into the writing conventions of their disciplines. In so doing, the study proposes the integration of writing courses into the disciplinary syllabus so that the students study writing developmentally throughout their stay in the faculty. A questionnaire, and an interview, were used to collect data from the study participants, who were lecturers and teaching assistants in different Sudanese higher education institutions. Data analysis revealed that the participants highly value the proposal to teach academic writing as a discipline-specific skill. It also showed significant differences in the participants' perceptions of explicit instruction of academic writing based on their disciplinary affiliation in favour of hard science specialists. However, the participants' research profiles did not show statistically different perceptions.
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Introduction

The theme of this paper arose out of a training course on academic writing organized by Khartoum University Advanced Training Centre (KUATC) and the English Language Institute (ELI) in the same University in Sudan. The course was part of a comprehensive training program that aimed at introducing Teaching Assistants and Lecturers (who were in the service of the University) to English for Academic Purposes (EAP). The course did not result from an analysis of students’ need for EAP skills as is the standard practice. They were simply conceived to require advanced academic writing skills to improve the quality of the dissertations and proposals they were drafting. Fortunately, the course turned out to be highly relevant to the candidates’ needs as evidenced by their enthusiasm for contributing to the extended classroom discussions, insightful solutions to the course tasks, engaging mini-presentations, and request for additional training to be organized in the future. Also, candidates who had been exempted from attending the course sessions as they already had acquired academic writing conventions through their multiple publications still decided to stay the course. What is more, trainees from the English departments were initially reluctant to enroll in the program for fear that it would repeat content that they had already studied in both under- and postgraduate courses. However, in the end they asserted that they had been mistaken in prejudging it.

Historically, most candidates studied English as a required university subject. On average, it consisted of two modules taught in the first and second semesters of the first academic year. The first module was a remedial program offered to facilitate the transition from secondary to tertiary English syllabus. By contrast, the second module was an ESP-based program intended to introduce the students to the English variety specific to their disciplines. However, given the fact that most disciplines were taught through the medium of Arabic at the bachelor level, it was apparent that both modules did serve no specific purpose since as reported in Ezza & Al-Jarrallah (2015, p. 176) the acquisition of ESP skills aims primarily to “overcome academic problems caused by the use of English as a medium of instruction.”

In the light of the vital role that writing plays in the academia in the manner reported above, this paper maintains that academic authorities at the University of Khartoum should consider integrating it longitudinally into the disciplinary syllabus as a follow-up or a substitute for the existing English course taught as a required university subject. Many local and universal practices can be invoked in support of the proposal. On the local level, even in the absence of systematic training in the conventions of academic writing, online research forums, e.g., researchgate.net, academia.edu, etc., indicate that young Sudanese scholars are actively contributing to the advancement of knowledge through their highly cited scientific research. This research mentality is equally true of the EAP trainees at KUATC and ELI who showed a vested interest in attending additional training in academic writing to acquire advanced skills they would need for current and future research endeavor.

On the global level, researchers maintain that writing is, in fact, a subject-specific skill that “helps to create the disciplines” by establishing disciplinary communities, and determining what will count as disciplinary knowledge (Hyland, 2004, p.5). Hyland goes so far as to argue that disciplinary communities are defined by their writing and that “it is how they write rather than what they write that makes the crucial differences between them” (p.3). Similarly, Carter (2007, p. 3888) theorizes that in hard sciences students are enculturated into the knowledge of the physical world through “disciplinary ways of doing” including laboratory experiments; but essentially, Carter contends, it is the lab report writing that converts “doing into knowing.” Thus, it is legitimate to maintain that introducing the students to the writing conventions of their disciplines would generate research-oriented academics. Also, Sudanese young scholars will approach academic writing as a subject-specific skill, unlike their predecessors who learned to write “by a process of slow acculturation.” (ibid, p. 385), i.e., through an apprenticeship that involved no direct instruction.

Key Terms in this Chapter

English for Academic Purposes (EAP): EAP provides training in English language skills needed for academic study; they include listening comprehension, fluency development, reading, grammar, writing, and vocabulary.

Discourse Community: A social network, built from participants who share some set of communicative purposes. They share an interest in certain topics and share knowledge about the topic.

Enculturation/Acculturation/Initiation: A process by which students learn the dynamics of their culture. The term is used in the writing literature to refer to the acquisition of disciplinary writing conventions either through systematic trainingor long-term socialization.

Hard Science: Any natural science (e.g., engineering, biology, chemistry, and medicine) that uses experiments to test theories.

Soft Science: Any field (e.g., sociology, linguistics, politics, and history) that investigate and interpret human and social phenomena.

Academic Discipline: A branch of knowledge that is taughtin higher education.

Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC): An instructional programmedeveloped to train the students to write in their disciplines, where teaching is collaboratively conducted by language teachers and subject specialists.

Genre: A specific arrangement of discourse elements that is mean to achieve a particular communicative purpose.

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