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Our guest blogger is Siân Lund from the Royal College of Art PG Art and Design college in the UK. She has been the EAP (English for Academic Purposes) Coordinator for almost 6 years. She has a background in language education and is passionate about exploring diversity in communication with a special interest in acculturation processes. At the RCA she is responsible for providing Academic Literacies support for all students at MA and Doctoral level as well as promoting pedagogic strategies for enhancing learning.

By Siân Lund

While building up support in academic literacies skills for our students, I was struck by distinct epistemologies of Art and Design disciplines and how this impacts on the way students develop their research and writing. Through interviews with staff, I recognised the importance of a reflective process of enquiry underpinning the research process in these fields. Tutors often expect the students’ experiences, inspirations and reflections to become part of the writing with individual perspectives and interpretations. Combining this creative and often very personal approach with more conventional and critically objective elements of academic writing has caused difficulties for many students. We are often asked ‘how can I combine my individual journey and voice with criticality and academic writing?’ At the risk of opening a huge can of worms here around terminology, I am thinking of ‘objective discussion’ as a genre along a spectrum of ‘academic writing’. Sometimes a tutor’s conversation with students which involves encouragement to use personal perspectives, narratives and a creative approach in the writing process can lead to a struggle for students to combine these elements with critical, more objective discussion. 

Not wanting to go down the rabbit hole of exploring what researching and writing in an Art and Design context might mean, it feels necessary to set this context for the annotated bibliography that I am including here.

My colleagues and I have developed support materials specific to our students which firmly place emphasis on the ‘multiple modes of knowing’ of which embodied knowledge is ‘part of an ongoing and developing practice’ in Art & Design study (Orr and Shreeve 2018, p.19).

For this reason, our workshops have focussed heavily on the process of enquiry and how a varied reflective and dialogic process can evolve into a piece of writing with different elements. As a basic response to the emphasis on process-oriented research, I developed a booklet to respond to common areas of difficulty for students: Tools for Communication Academic Skills. The support we offer, therefore, is complementary to the following links to other writing skills centred on this spectrum of needs for Art and Design students. My reflections on the support offered relates to how these sites can complement a process-oriented approach to research and writing, and ground the process in concrete examples of the generic aspects involved in research writing.

Manchester University  – Academic Phrasebank – SIGNPOSTING LANGUAGE

As their introduction suggests, this provides the ‘nuts and bolts of writing’ as a phrasebank of structures. This is a very well organised, extensive collection of phrases drawn from a large corpus of academic writing from Manchester University dissertations. It is organised according to communicative linguistic functions ‘originally pioneered by John Swales in the 1980s’ (notes in the website link above). This format also helps students to become aware of what their choice of language is doing and what purpose it serves. For example, we often talk about the need to avoid over-generalisations and ‘be careful’ with the claims they make. This phrasebank shows writers what this actually means in concrete terms. When examples of language structures are pointed out to students in this way, many have enjoyed the linguistic approach and say it helps them to understand what is meant by more abstract research terms such as ‘engage with the literature’. If you can see the phrases used by writers who are ‘engaging with the literature’ (see: being critical/using evaluative adjectives to comment on research) and use similar phrases, you have made the first steps towards filling in your own content.

Manchester University Academic Writing Support

Again, the Manchester Academic Writing support pages offer a wealth of examples with very clear explanatory commentary. For example, the ‘Writing paragraph’ section explains how to work towards effective paragraph writing and then takes you through why some examples are better than others. Much of the guidance is organised in a series of drop-down step-by-step features. So, for example, the reading guidance takes you through different types of reading needs with helpful questions leading you towards reading skills advice that is most suitable for your needs.

Hull University Skills Guides

Hull University Skills Guides provide excellent video tutorials with very clear, fun visuals, amongst other guidance. The reflective writing tutorial in particular has been very popular with our students and some professional staff development for the way in which it breaks down the steps involved in thinking reflectively in order to move your writing away from description.

This site covers all the bases of typical questions asked by our students and mentioned by tutors as areas for improvement. The explanations are very clear, and followed by excellent illustrative visuals. This can be seen in the critical writing section which clearly compares descriptive and critical writing and then provides a table for quick comparison.

Academic Skills Queen Mary University of London

This is linked from the Queen Mary ‘Thinking Writing’ pages which align with our workshop emphasis on processes in thinking skills. The academic skills pages provide several resource guides in PowerPoint format with clear advice and well-illustrated examples. There is also a series of podcast interviews with students and tutors discussing various skills and learning experiences.

Monash Research and Learning Online

Here Monash University provides extensive advice and examples through their well-organised and clear pages for online learning. These pages can be used as quick question and answer guides or as background explanations to key terms in academic writing. Some sections are aimed at undergraduate writing but the guidance is so thorough that it can be useful as lead-in advice for postgraduate writing. Example essays and assignments with clickable commentary also provide clear and concrete examples of very typical feedback.

The Graduate Research and Writing advice covers each area in such clear detail that this is an invaluable resource which we recommend to our students alongside our workshops—great use of online software for variety of use. 

University of TorontoAdvice on Academic Writing

Not specifically for PG research but this site provides very sound advice on methodologies for reading, note-taking, researching etc.

University of Reading – Study Advice Video Tutorials

Very high quality and thorough guidance provided via Study Advice Video Tutorials for a variety of writing types and levels (see Dissertations and Major Projects).

Cardiff University – Writing at Postgraduate Taught Level

This site provides well-navigated and specifically online support for research and writing skills. The information given is generic and provides examples of typical academic writing techniques.

These sites can be used by students of any discipline and are presented in different styles, so some sites may appeal more to particular learner types. I think it’s worth mentioning that the aims of most of these appear not to provide a ‘quick fix’, but to offer food for thought and reflective methods of learning. They offer writers a chance to step back and consider what they are hoping to achieve in their writing, and how the functions of discourse can provide tangible examples of possible choices.

One reviewer commented that these sites will be useful for almost all doctoral students—maybe the list we use for Arts and Design researchers could be adopted by those supporting doctoral writing in other disciplines. We are also interested in hearing about other online resources that you’ve recommend to doctoral writers—please share the details via Comments.