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Scaffolding the development of academic writing


academic writingAn effective way to demonstrate the style of writing expected in your discipline is to show students a model or exemplar answer. Ideally this should be an assignment written by a student from a previous iteration of your unit, keeping in mind that this requires the written permission of the student.

This is best done in tutorials to allow students to ask questions and discuss various aspects of the text with each other. However, it can also be done in a lecture, preferably giving students the opportunity to discuss the text in groups or pairs, and can also be done online with the use of a discussion forum, which is especially useful for distance students.

Exemplar assignments can be annotated to highlight features such as:

  • Effective development of argument, including the use of evidence to support claims or ideas
  • The language used to make the text cohesive, including linking words such as ‘however’, ‘therefore’ and ‘consequently’ which are used to link ideas within and between paragraphs
  • Effective paraphrasing, citation or referencing (including the use of reporting verbs such as: “According to Thompson and Smith….”)
  • Use of structure or style which is typical of the discipline, which may include features such as:

– hedging e.g. “This data seems to suggest that….”

– passive voice e.g. “Participants were then divided into two groups.”

– use of figures e.g. graphs or tables

Some teaching staff are reluctant to use model texts because they feel it makes it too easy for the students. The reality is that, even with a model, each student will still face the significant challenge of conducting their own research and constructing their own response to the question. Making more explicit the expectations of the markers and taking some of the mystery out of the assignment process ensures that all students start on a more equal footing, regardless of how much or how little previous exposure they have had to academic texts and academic writing within your discipline.

Learning Skills has initiated a project to collect and annotate a range of real student assignments from various genres across a variety of disciplines. All of the exemplars will be displayed on the StudyWISE academic literacy iLearn resource, and will be annotated to highlight some of the key characteristics which make them effective examples of academic writing.

If you would like to have some assignments from your discipline annotated and displayed on StudyWISE to assist with the scaffolding of your students’ academic writing, please contact your Faculty Learning Adviser.

Written by : Joshua Dymock, Learning Adviser  Learning Skills Team

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