On the lack of training

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In response to the introduction of this blog, I was told about ‘The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation’ project based at the University of Lancaster and conducted by  Karin Tusting, Mary Hamilton and David Barton. This is a project that looks at the writing practices of academics in the contemporary university workplace. More information about the project is available here.

I found the project very interesting. As an aspiring academic, I was curious to learn about the writing practices of those who are ten steps ahead of me. However, in the end, what stroke me the most as I read through the slides from a recent presentation of the findings of the project and what made me consider publishing this blog post was not the description of what academics do. It was the void in training in writing for academics that became clear from what the academics who had been interviewed for the project say.

Most of the academics who were interviewed for the project say that writing is central to what they do, that they have to engage in many different forms of writing such as writing for publications, administrative writing, writing as a part of communication with students and other staff and that they have received little or no training at all in any of these forms. Writing was the skill that they had to develop on their own. This certainly resonates with my own experience!

I find that in academia writing is the skill that is assumed and little support is available for developing it. To be fair, feedback from supervisors on the drafts of a PhD thesis can be seen as training in writing but this is training mainly in organizing ideas and writing them clearly and with style. But what about developing productive and sustainable writing practices? The only help that I received with it from my university was a guest lecture by Hugh Kearns called ‘Turbocharge your writing’, which was absolutely amazing but which left me hungry for more. Fortunately, there are plenty of books and online resources available out there that teach how to approach writing as a process but wouldn’t it be great if also workshops were offered?

Developing productive and sustainable writing practices and learning to organize ideas and write them clearly and with style are important but, as the findings of ‘The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation’ project suggest, much more is required of academics in terms of writing. However, from personal experience I can say that there is little understanding that there is more to writing than writing up the research output. Similarly, there is little understanding that even with writing up the research output, it is not only about linguistic correctness and scholarly thoroughness.

I still remember the response that I received to my suggestion to introduce training in writing that I gave to a member of staff within my department who could potentially instigate the development of such training. I was told that such training was already available and was referred to the training in writing introduction, literature review, etc., using citation software, proofreading as well as the service of the language center. I have attended most of this training and found it absolutely invaluable. However, I cannot but feel that it has helped me only with a certain aspect of writing and that there is much more to be talked about and learned about writing. I still find it interesting that it was so difficult for me to communicate this idea to this member of staff.

Do you agree with these observations or is it me just being obsessed with writing? What was your experience with mastering the skill? Please answer in the comments below. I do really wonder what you think!

On my relationship with writing

I would like to start this blog by telling about my relationship with writing, and I cannot think of anything better for this purpose than sharing the poster that I presented at IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) pre-conference event in April 2015 in Manchester.

The pre-conference event was organized by Research Special Interest Group within IATEFL and was called ‘Developing as a Researcher’. The event was expected to provide a platform for sharing experiences of, as you may guess, English language teachers and others associated with the field of English language teaching developing as researchers. More information about the event is available here.

By the time the call was issued for submissions for the event, I had already started to see writing as central to doing research and there was nothing else that I wanted to discuss more about my development as a researcher than my development as a writer. I felt that I had a story to tell and I prepared and later presented a poster turning to probably one of the most popular genres of visual story telling – a comic strip. Here the poster is:

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The poster is rather self-explanatory but if you wonder what exactly I was trying to tell through it, here is a video of me presenting it. This was my most spontaneous stage performance done with zero preparation. I am also telling about this poster and the experience of presenting it, having given it more thought, in a short chapter within ebook by IATEFL Research Special Interest Group due to be released sometime next yer.

Nearly two years have passed since I created this poster and looking at it now I cannot but feel amazed by my optimism. In the poster, I claim that I no longer hate writing but instead love it from the depth of my heart. I wonder whether my optimism was due to having successfully completed all the writing assignments that I had to do by then and having not yet really started the next one, which was going to be longer than probably everything in total that I had written by then. 3,000 words that I had written for the thesis (see the last line of the frame in the lower right corner) is not much to make a judgement on.

Nowadays I spend most of my days writing the thesis, and my relationship with writing feels to me more like a marriage. Around four years ago, I said ‘I do’, or rather ‘I will’ meaning ‘I will write this thing’ because it seemed like a nice idea and a cool thing to do and these days I have to bear the responsibility of the choice that I made back then, which was probably not that well thought through as it should have been. Some days I feel that the choice was a really good one and I feel deeply in love with what I do. On other days, I curse myself for having put myself into this.

In general, I think that my marriage with writing is a good one. There are more bright days than gloomy ones. But it is definitely not as perfect and trouble free as the poster may suggest.