October 2017
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BOOK REVIEWS
REVIEW OF ACADEMIC WRITING STEP BY STEP: A RESEARCH-BASED APPROACH
Steven Thurlow, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Candlin, C., Crompton, P., & Hatim, B. (2016). Academic writing step by step: A research-based approach. Sheffield, England: Equinox. 207 pages, paperback.

Academic Writing Step by Step: A Research-Based Approach is notable for being the last materials project of the late Chris Candlin, a true giant in the discipline of applied linguistics, and his two writing collaborators, Peter Crompton and Basil Hatim, who are based at the American University of Sharjah. As befitting the many and varied interests of its creator, the work is suitably ambitious, promising on its back cover to “use a new methodology for teaching academic writing, informed by discourse analysis, genre theory and by recent research in text analysis.” To fly such distinct methodological colors marks a promising beginning and entices the reader to explore further.

From a cursory glance, however, the format of the book appears similar to many other titles in the crowded world of university-preparation materials. Each of the 10 chapters cluster around short, research-based articles, mostly from the “popular” sciences area. These authentic texts have been chosen to illustrate and practice the sequential processes involved in reading, developing ideas, vocabulary, and grammar prior to writing a research-based academic paper. In practice, this means that each chapter addresses a key writing requirement of research-based papers and teaches writing skills using a range of discourse-based learning activities. Where the book could be said to depart from the standard approach is in its hybrid methodology. Using discourse analysis techniques sourced from both English for specific purposes and systemic functional linguistics, it unpacks for its readers how argumentatively based academic texts are created.

Despite the publisher’s claim that this resource is suitable for a range of teaching and self-study contexts, the work is clearly designed for use as a textbook in a semester-long course of study at the preuniversity or, possibly, first-year university level. In this regard, I believe it would work well with each of the 10 units providing enough content for at least 5 hours of work for a high-level class.

Examining one chapter in depth (Unit F: The Critique and the Persuasive Synthesis), I note the attention to detail when building context for the focus reading about daydreaming. Less awe-inspiring is paragraph analysis based on multiple-choice questions before a slightly jarring mix of grammar areas in the “Grammar in Context” section (conditional clauses and ellipsis). The following “Text Organization” section is more valuable and deconstructs the argumentative reading by identifying the components and functions of sections of the chosen text. The final section of the chapter focuses on writing a persuasive synthesis, which is another critical skill but one I felt was a little rushed through.

Academic Writing Step by Step: A Research-Based Approach works well as a staged, thoughtful treatise on how research-based academic papers are put together on many levels. The layout of each chapter is clear, and the focus on promoting functional awareness of textual elements is especially welcome. Also, one of the longer units on “Logos, Ethos, Pathos and Logical Fallacies” gives new insights about how to teach these notoriously slippery concepts in a learner- and teacher-friendly way. In the final unit, the book culminates in an extended piece on the development of a draft student paper, working through structural issues and the sequencing of information for an essay on the topic of animal experimentation before presenting a final, very usefully annotated, long model text.

Without a doubt, the book’s chapters provide readers with very useful guidance on writing skills, such as summarizing, synthesizing, and persuading readers. However, because of its heavy reliance on textual sources, it is crucial to choose appropriate texts. This, I feel, is one area where there could have been some potential to extend beyond the popular science–type articles the authors have selected. Whereas texts from sources like Newsweek and The Guardian are indeed appealing and accessible to readers at the level targeted by the authors, I believe other more traditional academic readings could have been introduced into the work to provide a more textually vibrant mix. In saying this, I acknowledge the line between quality journalism and academic writing may not always be so clear and is increasingly blurred. I also felt the repetition of the topic area of animal experimentation throughout, although potentially reassuring for student writers for scaffolding purposes, is an area that would not work so well with students from some cultural and disciplinary backgrounds.

Overall, Academic Writing Step by Step: A Research-Based Approach is a valuable work and will work well as a class textbook, particularly in preuniversity English for academic purposes courses. As such, it offers a lasting tribute to one of its creators, Chris Candlin.


Steven Thurlow is a PhD candidate and academic skills adviser at The University of Melbourne, Australia. He has worked in the fields of teaching English for academic purposes and academic skills advising, both in Australia and internationally, since 1999. His research interests include writer’s voice and examining the intersections between academic and creative writing.

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