Academic Writing: Process, Practice, and Humility
Recently, I accepted a scholarly writing assignment, a policy brief for a university-based think tank. As I approach submitting the initial draft for peer-review and then revision before publishing, the experience has helped me continue to think about ways in which teaching students to write present challenges for both teachers and students.
My writing assignment matches well the scholarly cited essay assignment in my upper-level writing/research course — a course where students tend to struggle with breaking free of reductive research paper approaches to writing.
In my first-year writing (FYW) seminar, I have very broad goals for students. I see FYW as transitional and foundational. The writing assignments are designed to help students confront and move beyond the assumptions and approaches they have acquired in K-12 coursework (transitional) and then begin to establish an awareness of writing that will serve them well in academic settings and beyond (foundational).
The FYW seminar allows me to practice my beliefs about writing and teaching writing — such as providing students with a great deal of choice in writing topics and form (we directly reject the five-paragraph essay and challenge template approaches to writing and the writing process).
But in the upper-level writing/research course, both the students and I must navigate the realities of scholarly writing, including the narrow parameters of academic citation and structured/prescriptive writing templates. I explain to my students that often academic writing follows templates that are rigid and even clunky, but scholarly journals and other publications allow very little deviation from those requirements.
The upper-level course also asks students to better understand that citation style sheets are guidelines for more than citation, such as tone, sentence and paragraph formation, and integrating sources (we specifically examine the stylistic difference between MLA, what they are often familiar with, and APA).
These are undergraduate students, and much of what I ask them to consider and produce is another type of transitional and foundational — transitioning from writing like a student to writing like an academic/scholar and foundational for scholarly writing in graduate school or the so-called real world.
I accepted the policy brief assignment near the end of my spring upper-level writing/research course so I was able to share with the students the assignment as a sort of justification for their cited essay assignment.
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