Academic writing

All students face the frustrating situation of the blank sheet over the course of their studies. Most of the times, it is not because they have no idea what to write about, but rather how to do it and how to start. Let’s face it: writing meaningful things in a nice and proper academic English is a pain – especially when you are not a native speaker. This post is about my experience with academic writing both in Belgium and the UK so far.

As I set out to write this, I am wondering if it is allowed to write about writing with a bad writing style (or would this just prove my point that it IS difficult and that I really need to work on it?). And then, I think that: 1° this blog is NOT a piece of academic writing; 2° it is most certainly not going to be formally published or peer-reviewed; 3° my dear readership knows me and has mercy and 4° you can write anything on the Internet, can’t you?

My experience tells me that, if you are an undergrad or master student, most of the time, you don’t even have a clear perception of what academic writing is or what is expected from you. As you get into a PhD, expectations get higher and so does your level of uncertainty (since you did not really learn how write with your previous degrees).

I did my Bachelor and Master degrees in Belgium. Most of the teaching in my Bachelor was in French and we did not have to produce many essays or formal reports: the big chunks of assessment were exams, twice a year. The number of courses given in English and reports to produce increased in the Master. However, we hardly ever had to write formal essays, let alone do proper referencing before the dissertation. After four years came the time to write this dissertation, and we did our best to make it more or less consistent and match the awfully long list of formatting criteria. Then we printed it and swore never to lay an eye on it again.

Things seem quite different in the UK system. Essay writing is very common here and students have to do it very early in their curriculum. They are confronted quite early with the concepts of referencing, plagiarism and argumentation. However, it seems that students still wish they had a formal explanation of what an essay or dissertation is composed of and what is expected from them.

The difficulty is also increased here by the fact that students come from very different backgrounds (different countries, languages, education systems…).

To wrap up, since I have personally been struggling a bit with my writing, I thought I would give a couple of links to help those who find themselves in the same situation (mainly at the PhD level but master and undergrad students should find that useful as well):

– Developed specifically for students from Glasgow Uni, Edinburgh Uni and Caledonian Uni, eWriting is an amazing resource to improve your writing. I attented a seminar by the creator of the site and I really learned a lot. Register with your GUID and get started!

– other useful links about PhD writing: Writing Tips, Elsevier Author Training Webcasts, other authors guidelines.

– And finally, just to have a laugh at me talking about my Master’s dissertation (in French) : AWT TV Interview.

Hope this helps!  How about your own experience with academic writing?


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