Monthly Archives: October 2016

Writing Across Borders 2017, Bogotá

If I can manage to get some funding, in February 2017, I will be presenting at, an international conference on academic writing and literacies. This will be my first WRAB conference. I’ve copied my abstract below.

I would be very grateful for any comments, suggestions, ideas and thoughts relating to the content of my abstract, to the conference itself, to Bogotá, and to the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana.

 Proposal for Wrab 2017 (Bogotá)

640px-flag_of_bogota What makes writing ‘academic’?

Building on studies in the field of Academic Literacies (Scott & Lillis, 2007), which have mainly adopted ethnographic approaches to provide thick descriptions of how academic writing works, this presentation further expands the sociological lens proposed by Lillis (2013) and introduces a socio-philosophical perspective (Archer, 2000; Bhaskar, 1989). This allows me to argue that what makes writing ‘academic’ requires an account of how agency interacts with structure (i.e. how the writer interacts with the socio-historical conventions that tend to determine what counts as ‘academic writing’) and of the contested notion of affordance (since Gibson, 1977). I foreground the extent to which academic writing (understood as both an activity and a text) is a social practice and reflect on the implications that such a view commits us to, including the need to foster diversity in what counts as ‘academic writing’. I trace some key historical and contemporary moments in the development and range of academic writings in Europe, specifically (but with comparative nods to non-European scholarly traditions), with the intention of highlighting the de facto diversity of genres and modes of scholarly writing, and the range of academic purposes which they fulfil. This will allow me to claim that such diversity warrants full recognition in our pedagogic, publishing, and research writing practices because by ignoring diversity, we risk losing sight of what ‘academic’ means, including the creative, reflective, and socially-engaged significance of ‘academic’ writings. By foregrounding diversity rather than conformity, I am able to reflect on the role that writer agency can play in influencing scholarly practices. This reflection will further propose ways in which we – as students, teachers, publishers, and writers – can shape the kinds of academic writings that we wish to engage with (Bazerman, 1988).


Archer, M. S. (2000). Being human : the problem of agency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bazerman, C. (1988). Shaping written knowledge : the genre and activity of the experimental article in science. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press.

Bhaskar, R. (1989). Reclaiming reality : a critical introduction to contemporary philosophy. London: Verso.

Gibson, J. J. (1977). The Theory of Affordances. Hillsdale: Erlbaum ; New York ; London : Distributed by Wiley.

Lillis, T. M. (2013). The Sociolinguistics of Writing. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Scott, M., & Lillis, T. (2007). Defining academic literacies research: Issues of epistemology, ideology and strategy. Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4(1), 5-32.


Multimodality and fairness in #acwri

Could a multimodal approach to academic writing be a harbinger of fairness in recognition of a diverse 21st century literacy landscape?

Some key quotes and reflections from recent #acwri readings

This post is linked to others on multimodality here and here. It helps me keep track of readings, but it may be of interest to both teachers and learners of academic writing including Research Writing, EAP (English for Academic Purposes), Academic Literacies, and Writing Studies. All bolds are mine (they refer to key words in my research).

Multimodality refers to a field of application rather than a theory (Bezemer and Jewitt, 2010, p. 180 cited in Archer and Breuer, 2016, p. 1).

Most research on academic discourse has been based on the analysis of written text and as a result, most classes on the teaching of academic writing have concentrated on language (p.1)

What is seen as ‘academic’ writing is contestable and always emergent (p.2)

[…] the writer does not have complete freedom to change genre characteristics – especially if the writer is not a long-standing member of the academic community (Bhatia, 2004, 2010; Hyland, 2004 in Archer and Breuer, p. 3)


Me discussing multimodality with a group of EdD students using ‘Unflattening’ by Nick Sousanis to explore how argument can unfold in a visual mode.

When comparing academic texts emanating from different academic contexts, one can see that students from English speaking backgrounds tend to focus on creating linearity in texts that contain content that is topic relevant […]. Other academic approaches, for example, in France, Germany, Russia, Arabia, do not cohere to this rule of linearity but prefer to present a wider picture of the topic or of taking different perspectives on them. Reading these texts is more demanding , and could result in academic communities being seen as elitist, trying to ‘keep out’ readers that do not belong to the academic community. These traditions tend not to ‘sell’ ideas as does the English academic community, but rather to ‘tell’ them […] and the text is understood as working as a “stimulus for thought or even intellectual pleasure” […] (p. 3)

On the one hand, it would be in their learners’ interests if they [teachers] could help them to conform to the expectations of the institution. On the other hand, by doing so, they are reproducing the ideologies and inequities of the institution and society at large (p. 4)

The cartoon argument below sharply brings into focus the claims made in a recent  Times Higher Education article in which the writer argues that the priviliging of writing in academic assessments leads to inequalities and discrimination.

I would also argue that priviliging writing leads to missed opportunites for exploring diverse epistemological commitments and perspectives because different modes afford different things: this cartoon, for example, connects more directly, in my view, with our embodied experiences of education than a verbose academic abstract or quote might do, and if one of the purposes of academic communication is to trigger action – see Threshold Concept # 1.5: Writing Mediates Activity – then, arguably, this visual stands a far better chance of generating discussion (at least).


I also find the comments posted in response to this article indicative of profound political and ideological orientations towards education more broadly, and to academic writing (literacy), specifically. I’ve copied these comments below hoping to hear what others think:

unfair_assessment_commentinequalityInterestingly, Commentators #2 and #3 seem to be unaware of the fact that it is possible to “rethink the relationship between modes, for example, the interaction between image and writing in a text” (p. 7) and that a fairer, more just and more inclusive approach to academic writing consists in “recognising student ‘interest’ […] and agency as people who choose how to represent meaning from a range of possibilities […]” (p. 7).

These commentators also seem to assume that writing (i.e. language) is the best and only way to put forward an argument and be ‘scholarly’. This view is challenged by many in the field of literacies and writing studies such as Archer and Breuer (Eds), by Andrews (2010), and Andrews, Borg, Boyd Davis, Domingo and England (Eds) (2012). In their extensive body of research on what argumentation is and what the best way of advancing it might be given the range of modes available to us, they strongly argue that relying on language alone limits our academic expression.

Archer and Breuer’s edited collection provides many examples which extend our conception of academic writing beyond its propositional remit (i.e. language) and towards its mutlimodal affordances whereby mode is undersood as a “socially shaped and culturally given resource for making meaning” Kress cited in Archer and Breuer, p. 5).

I’m ending this post with a visual reflection on why education matters.


On the value of Education


Archer, A. and Breuer, O. (2016) ‘A Multimodal Response to Changing Communication Landscapes’ in Multimodality in Higher Education (Archer and Odilia Breuer Eds.) Brill: Leiden/Boston: 1-17

Andrews, R. (2010) Argumentation in Higher Education: Improving Practice through Theory and Research Routledge

Andrews, R., Borg, E., Boyd Davis, S., Domingo, M. and England, J. (Eds) (2012) The Sage Handbook of Digital Dissertations and Theses, Sage

Sousanis, N. (2015) Unflattening, HUP

Photo credits: I am ashamed to admit that I dowloaded these straight from the Internet and now can’t re-trace their origins. If anybody objects to me using them here, please let me know and I will either credit them (if you know their source) or take them down.

The first rule of writing

There isn’t one best sentence structure; instead, your choice should depend on the readers you’re trying to reach, the material you’re trying to communicate, and perhaps on your own voice as a writer (

Confession: I’ve not YET read any of the books that @StephenBHeard often blogs about, but I do follow his #acwri posts, and the above quote resonates with my thinking. I’ve re-blogged today’s post by The Scientist Sees Squirrel below.

People love rules – in writing as in everything else.  Lists of rules litter the internet: “Five rules for better paragraphs”, “Seven habits of successful writers”, “Ten top tips for clearer writin…

Source: The first rule of writing