Review ~ 50 Steps to Improving Your Academic Writing

A step-by-step guide to creating well-written and well-structured academic appropriate writings for non-native speakers of English including: avoiding plagiarism, the differences in academic writing versus other forms of writing, using unfamiliar words, and other special topics necessary to create solid work.
Reviewed for Teflnet by Kayla Noel
50 Steps to Improving Your Academic Writing

50 Steps to Improving Your Academic Writing

50 Steps to Improving Your Academic Writing offers students a step-by-step guide for creating well written and well-structured academic appropriate writings for non-native speakers of English. While addressing issues to writing and common problems students face when understanding the various steps involved in creating quality writing including: avoiding plagiarism, the differences in academic writing versus other forms of writing, using unfamiliar words, and other special topics necessary to create solid work. Speakers of other languages are able to focus on their specific needs and goals in order to improve their academic writing and the book is a great academic aid for students and teachers alike.

50 Steps to Improving Your Academic Writing is, as stated in the introduction, “…primarily intended for students who are new to or inexperienced in academic writing (5)” and focuses on university-level academic writing. It is primarily a self-study book made for students to use on their own, but teachers can also use it to help plan lessons.

The book is divided into several sections. The introduction shows the student what the purpose of this particular text is and also gives an overview of the structure of the text so students know what to expect and how to use the book. There are then ten units containing five steps each. The units range from the very foundations of writing, including understanding academic writing and its purposes, to finalizing one’s writing. The steps break down each unit into manageable chunks, which aids in accuracy and fluency in writing. Each step also has a particular structure including the following: Reflection, Contextualization, Analysis, Activation, Personalization, and Extension. Each step presents its own methods of contextualizing and creating critical thinking opportunities that are essential for good writing.

The author seems to have taken an inductive approach to learning and based on the structure and content of the book it seems the student can adapt it to their personal style of learning as well. A lot of application is encouraged throughout the various sections and activities in the text, which are all student-focused. The author even states, “In order to improve your writing, you must constantly try to apply the knowledge and skills you gain.”

One strength of the text is definitely its inductive and student-centered nature. Since students can work at their own pace and have less teacher involvement, this creates a sense of responsibility and accomplishment in their own learning. While the text is learner-centered, instructors can easily use the text as a supplement in their courses (while one should avoid using it as the main textbook for a course). A really important dimension in this text is the separation between written and spoken text, which is often something people forget about when writing academically and professionally in today’s world. A little bit on the differences between spoken and written language in general are introduced as well, which may open up students’ eyes to different types of language that exist, yet are often used without much thought.

50 Steps to Improving your Academic Writing is written at a level appropriate for university-level students and is written in a language that is not ambiguous or too wordy. The chapters are well organized and contain a lot of information about time management, plagiarism, and various methods to organizing writing including using connectors, modal verbs, and organizing content. The book touches on a lot of topics that we normally don’t think about when writing, or may forget to teach when teaching students how to write. The text has a lot of good quality authentic information that is easily applicable and very practical. The presentation of the material is done in a consistent format throughout the text, which eases use of the book. The methodology is contemporary and as stated, employs a student-centered approach to learning.

One weakness of the text is the lack of specification of the level of proficiency needed to successfully use it. The text caters to a proficient English speaker of at least the Intermediate-low to Intermediate-mid level according to ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. The author does mention that this book should appeal to students who have a basic level of writing in English, but some of the sections may look and be intimidating to ELL’s who are new to writing. Some may consider the lack of thematically-related units a weakness, but for this particular text the units are all organized in a manner that is easy to follow and each unit has a definitive topic; hence, it is still easy to follow.

Personally, I would keep this text as a reference for my students because it does provide a lot of information on many aspects of writing, including topics I may have assumed my students knew which helps keep my teaching style and approach in check. The text allows for development of communicative competencies in English, specifically in academic writing situations at the university level, where it is often wrongly assumed that students have a lot of writing skills such as citations, using connectors, and structuring a paper.

Reviewed for Teflnet by Kayla Noel
January 2013 | Filed under ESP Materials, Skills: Writing

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