February 2017
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WRITING FOR ACADEMIC/PROFESSIONAL PUBLICATION: WHAT CAN ESP OFFER?
Ismaeil Fazel, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

In this brief piece, I aim to argue for and emphasise the need and opportunities for ESP professionals to play a more proactive and leading part in responding to the growing worldwide demand for courses and workshops on writing for academic and professional publication.

Academics, professionals, and practitioners are increasingly encouraged and expected to share and disseminate ideas worth sharing within their professional or scholarly communities of practice and beyond. From another perspective, in today’s communication era, the communicative needs and demands of academics and professionals are continually changing and expanding. Changing times have ushered in new communicative needs and demands, an important one being writing for publication in English—which is the de facto language of academic and professional publication.

The mounting importance of, and burgeoning interest in, publication preparation pedagogy has been increasingly recognized and has even resulted in the introduction of a new term in English for Academic Purposes (EAP): English for research publication purposes (ERPP), leading to a special issue on ERPP in the Journal of English for Academic Purposes in 2008. Since then, references to ERPP (as a subfield of EAP) seem to have gained increasing currency. ERPP was originally defined by Cargill and Burgess (2008) as follows:

English for Research Publication Purposes (ERPP) can be thought of as a branch of EAP addressing the concerns of professional researchers and post-graduate students who need to publish in peer-reviewed international journals…While EAP programs in universities can address some of these needs in a general way, the real-life, specific issues for academics whose L1 is not English wishing to publish in English are often broader and more complex. (p. 75)

As indicated in the quote above, the chief, though not the sole, clientele of ERPP courses comprises EAP academic writers. Some pedagogically sound initiatives in this area include ERPP programs by Cargill and O’Connor (2013) as well as Corcoran and Englander (2016), among others. The point that I would like to drive home in this paper, though, is that more attention needs to be paid—particularly by ESP professionals—to pedagogical support geared toward both academic and professional spheres. Needless to say, academic and professional publication includes, but is not confined to, research publication, which has thus far received considerable attention from experts. Academic and professional publications, in fact, run the whole gamut of content and form, from articles to reviews and commentaries. Some TESOL-related examples along these lines include long or short pieces published in various publication venues, including practitioner-oriented journals (e.g., TESOL Journal), research-fronted academic journals (e.g., The Journal of English for Academic Purposes), or even newsletters and blogs affiliated with professional associations (e.g., ESP News; the TESOL Blog). Quite clearly, not only researchers but also—perhaps equally if not more importantly—professionals and practitioners in different fields and occupations can potentially benefit from sharing and learning from ideas worth sharing and novel views of their local or global peers. The dissemination and communication of novel views and ideas is often best achieved if published and accessed via various print or online platforms.

Given the premium placed on publications, there has been a growing demand among academics and professionals for courses and workshops on writing for academic or professional publication. In response, workshops and courses have increasingly been offered, often through language support centres. Yet, as Flowerdew (2013) reminds us, “those teaching on such courses usually do not have the sort of specialist training” (p. 315) that this undertaking demands. Such workshops often—though not always—tend to be generic and not tailored to the needs and wants of attendees. Rather than focussing primarily on the know-how (i.e., practical aspect) of writing to publish, such workshops often address the know-what and the know-why of scholarly publication, which while worth knowing, fall short of attending to the needs and demands of academic or professional attendees. By and large, my anecdotal experience and observations suggest that pedagogical interventions to instruct and hone writing for publication are generally perceived to lack the expected efficacy. On that note, findings emerging from my longitudinal (18-month) multiple case study on socialization of doctoral students into writing for publication, at a Canadian university, have also highlighted the need for further support and scaffolding in responding to the writing-for-publication needs of doctoral students.

Against this back drop, the question here arises as to what field has the cachet, or rather the research-informed base and expertise, to best respond to the increasing need for the design and delivery of writing-for-publication programs. As rightly asserted by Flowerdew (2013), “A well-prepared cadre of ESP practitioners would be in a position to claim this territory” (p. 315). The potential yet crucial role of ESP in filling this gap has also been noted by Hyland (2009).

But why would ESP be in the best position to fill this void? For one thing, ESP, with its flexibility and dynamism, has the capacity to assess and address the communicative needs of those attending writing-for-publication courses. As earlier noted, a common anecdotal complaint about publication preparation programs is that they often are not tailored to the needs and wants of the attendees. ESP approach and its salient features—notably its focal emphasis on needs assessment—make it an ideal candidate in this respect. It goes without saying that, when it comes to publication preparation programs, more than anything, learners’ needs should take the centre stage. A one-size-fits-all approach, as with other similar pedagogical programs, would fail to address learners’ particular needs and demands, which can vary from one context and group to another. For example, graduate students and their professors may, quite conceivably, have different needs and demands in terms of publication preparation and training. By the same token, professionals across different fields (e.g., medical professionals as opposed to engineers) can have different needs in terms of publication preparation and pedagogy. Besides its need-driven agenda, ESP has also been gaining ground in such areas as genre-based pedagogy, which can potentially offer valuable insights to be used in devising publication preparation pedagogy. Yet another strength of ESP is its emphasis on the ongoing involvement of stakeholders in the process of program design and delivery. There are obviously other distinct benefits to adopting an ESP-based approach, which space precludes mentioning here.

Overall, there is a case to be made for giving ESP a more central and formative role in designing publication preparation and pedagogy. ESP, with its solid and well-researched precepts and pedagogy, has what it takes to best equip academics and professionals with the knowledge, skills, and competencies needed for academic and professional publication. This can also open up new opportunities for ESP professional and practioners to be involved in the design and instruction of publication preparation pedagogy.

This is, however, not to say that the existing workshops and programs in this area are not helpful or informative. Rather, the point here is to call for further involvement of ESP professionals and practioners in writing-for-publication programs. There is clearly a growing demand for training and preparing academics and professionals for publication. This demand can be perhaps best fulfilled by drawing from the principles and pedagogical practices of ESP. I would like to end with echoing Flowerdew’s (2013) call on ESPers to take on a more proactive role in this area:

There is an urgent need, therefore, for ESP practitioners to up their game. This is a field where there is an important need and it is an area that offers unique challenges and opportunities for the ESP profession to demonstrate its value. It is time for ESP practitioners to respond. (p. 315)

References

Cargill, M., & Burgess, S. (2008). Introduction to the special issue: English for research publication purposes. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 7(2), 75–76.

Cargill, M., & O’Connor, P. (2013). Writing scientific research articles: Strategy and steps. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Corcoran, J., & Englander, K. (2016). A proposal for critical-pragmatic pedagogical approaches to English for research publication purposes. Publications, 4(1), 6.

Flowerdew, J. (2013). English for research publication purposes. In B. Paltridge & S. Starfield (Eds.), The handbook of English for specific purposes (pp. 301-321). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hyland, K. (2009). English for professional academic purposes: Writing for scholarly publication. In D. Belcher (Ed.), English for specific purposes in theory and practice (pp. 17–38). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.


Ismaeil Fazel is a PhD candidate and a sessional lecturer at the Department of Language and Literacy Education of the University of British Columbia, Canada. His main research interests are academic writing, EAP, and language assessment. He has published in journals such as English for Academic Purposes and TESL Canada. One of his recent publications is a coauthored encyclopedia entry on English for specific purposes (Abrar-ul-Hassan & Fazel) in the TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching (in press).

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