October 2017
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REVIEW OF DISCIPLINE-SPECIFIC WRITING: THEORY INTO PRACTICE
Tetyana Bychkovska,George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, USA

Flowerdew, J., & Costley, T. (2017). Discipline-specific writing: Theory into practice. Abington, England: Routledge. 232 pages, paperback.

Supporting students in writing in a specific discipline, for example in engineering or business, through offering a specialized writing course is quite common in academia. However, developing and teaching a discipline-specific course might be a rather daunting and challenging task for language instructors. Discipline-Specific Writing: Theory Into Practice (2017), edited by John Flowerdew and Tracey Costley, offers practical ideas grounded in research from leading professionals in the field to provide support for course developers and teachers. Students taking courses in the areas of applied linguistics, teaching English as a foreign or second language, or English for specific purposes (ESP) will also benefit from reading this book. Each of the 12 chapters that follow the introduction comprises the theoretical discussion of a method or approach followed by a specific practical application of the research in pedagogy. Chapters end with discussion questions and activities to engage readers in creating connections to their own teaching contexts.

In Chapter 1, the editors provide the background to the book by defining discipline-specificity in its relation to writing, genre, and ESP, and introduce the continuous Curriculum Cycle framework. This framework, which consists of the main areas of consideration and stages involved in discipline-specific writing course development, outlines key curriculum components that are further discussed in detail in the rest of the book. Chapter 2 opens the discussion of discipline-specific writing by explaining how a discourse-based approach might be useful in conducting needs analysis for teaching undergraduate and graduate discipline-specific courses. Richard Forest and Tracy Davis provide readers with a toolkit for examining local institutional and sociocultural contexts and their discipline-specific practices, as the appropriateness of assignments and materials largely depends on institutional norms.

The next stage in the Curriculum Cycle, course design, is discussed by Helen Basturkmen in Chapter 3. She focuses on the dichotomy of writing for general and specific academic purposes and provides key considerations for selecting an appropriate level of specificity while designing a writing course. The detailed description of the curriculum design process at the end of the chapter provides readers with an insider view of the activities involved in course development. Moving to specific components of a course, Lindsay Miller and Jack Richards (Chapter 4) concentrate on integrating grammar in academic writing courses by outlining 12 key principles and exemplifying their implementation based on an English for Science course. The integration of another important component, vocabulary, is discussed by Averil Coxhead in Chapter 5, who offers practical suggestions on how to choose appropriate vocabulary, integrate it in the curriculum, develop materials, and provide feedback and assessment.

Frequently referred to in previous chapters, the genre-based approach to teaching academic writing is examined in Chapter 6, where Sunny Hyon provides a sequence of six activities that allows instructors to introduce the notion of genre and offer practice to students in terms of recognition, production, and evaluation of genre features. The genre-based approach is also influential in the next four chapters, which focus on specific disciplines. Jean Parkinson in Chapter 7 explores the peculiarities of teaching a laboratory report for science and technology, providing an example of teaching this genre through the rhetorical move analysis. In Chapter 8, Damian Fitzpatrick and Tracey Costley focus on writing in the social sciences and how annotated bibliographies can provide writers with more effective engagement with sources. Writing for business is examined in Chapter 9, where Julio Gimenez discusses the results of ethnographic research about how students and faculty members conceptualize writing. The research informed the design of seven text-oriented activities presented at the end of the chapter. Finally, in Chapter 10, John Flowerdew and Simon Ho Wang address teaching writing for publication, revealing students’ perceptions on learning through exploring genres, registers, textual mentors, and language reuse.

From the genre-based approach, the volume transitions to the discussion of other methods applied in discipline-specific writing courses. In Chapter 11, Laurence Anthony discusses the data-driven learning (DDL) approach, which is based on learners’ use of the target corpora. Available corpora and concordance tools, as well as the example of DDL implementation in teaching biography writing for STEM students, provide readers with a comprehensive summary of the DDL method. In the next chapter, Christian Chun focuses on the critical literacy approach, which allows learners to view writing as a representation of social relationships, power, and identity. Using an example from a business communication class, Chun presents how the critical literacy approach can be implemented in discipline-specific writing instruction. Chapter 13 concludes this volume with the discussion of assessment by Jane Lockwood, who after providing findings of previous research on assessment in ESP turns to the detailed description of the postentry assessment for first-year undergraduate students, allowing readers to examine the activities that accompany test development.

Although only several main approaches and examples of discipline-specific writing are included in this volume, given limited space Discipline-Specific Writing: Theory Into Practice is a comprehensive and quite exhaustive guide to developing and teaching discipline writing courses. The main advantage of this book is that general theoretical principles in every chapter are supported through specific examples derived from English as a second or foreign language contexts in different geographical locations. The implementation of approaches in diverse contexts demonstrates that the edited volume is relevant for practitioners throughout the world. Also, the activities and tasks reflect a student-centered approach to teaching that allows writers to be in charge of their learning and develop critical analysis skills. The effective structure of the book and the chapter progression that walks readers through every stage of the Curriculum Cycle provides invaluable information for both novice and experienced discipline-specific writing practitioners.


Tetyana Bychkovska, who received her master’s degree in applied linguistics from Ohio University, currently serves as the Writing Center ESL specialist at George Mason University. She is interested in second language academic writing, corpus linguistics, and English for specific purposes.

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