Tackling the writing problem: bridging the gap to higher education academic writing

Do you know how many of your students are overwhelmed by the demands of academic writing?

Do you know how many of your students are overwhelmed by the demands of academic writing?

Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Many students struggle with the transition to higher education academic writing. The scale of the problem is unknown as many institutions are not fully aware of how the issue is impacting student performance. However, a large number of tutors confide that they frequently encounter written submissions that lack basic grammar and punctuation, let alone referencing and formatting. 

Poor writing is easy to identify, harder to quantify. Rarely outside creative writing classes will tutors break down marks by things like sentence structure, conciseness and avoiding clichés. Nevertheless, the ability to write well is a critical factor in determining academic success, not least a future career. 

Effective academic writing communicates clearly while adhering to conventions. Style is not substance; however, weak writing often indicates a weak argument. Even incisive ideas with robust supporting data can suffer under strained syntax. This impedes student performance, lowers grades and threatens to increase drop out rates.

Some students may be concerned that seeking help is an admission of failure. Institutions should make it clear that all students can benefit from tutoring, from first years to postgraduates, mature students and international students. Everyone deserves writing support without stigma.

Writing support checklist

So what can your institution do to encourage students in their academic writing and provide the tools and feedback they need? Here’s a checklist of the things you can implement:

  • Establish dedicated resources and access to knowledgeable tutors. Many institutions set up Writing Development Courses as an efficient and cost-effective focal point for students (and tutors) to refine their writing.
  • Create style guides for all new students. These should cover everything students need to know (e.g. grammar, style, footnoting, writing for multiple audiences etc.) and will be a valuable reference point throughout their studies.
  • Set a diagnostic writing exercise in the first year. A standalone test or review of five essays, for instance. This will enable tutors to identify and prioritise the key areas for each student to improve.
  • Provide specialised tuition in separate disciplines. Individual departments can offer in-house writing courses; especially valuable where disciplines have unique considerations or conventions regarding how information is communicated.
  • Give academic credit for writing courses. Institutions can reward students by making progress in Writing Development Centre courses count towards overall grades.
  • Share feedback before assigning grades. If students receive feedback on the quality of their writing before being graded, they have a chance to strengthen their argument. This could take the form of reviewing proposals for a submission before the submission itself.
  • Widen student participation. Review how your provision supports all students, whether they are part-time or distance learning online.
  • Provide a clear scoring guide. Tutors can improve performance in job interviews if they can work towards predefined criteria. Similarly, knowing to what extent writing contributes towards grades should help students to prioritise their skills.

You can learn more about how you can access additional support that will complement your in-house team’s strategy for helping improve students’ academic writing. A free, one-hour webinar from Pearson is taking place at 2pm on Tuesday 30th July. Led by two of the leading experts in the field of academic writing, Christa Ehmann and Allyson Tearnan, this one-off opportunity will give you the opportunity to hear how, through focused and high-quality feedback provided by experienced and highly educated tutors, Pearson’s online essay review and tutoring service can offer a robust solution to students’ academic writing needs, giving them confidence in the quality of their writing. 

Pearson is passionate about helping students become confident with their academic writing. Request our free guide, which gives you a glimpse into the breadth and depth of support we can offer your institution towards tackling this common challenge, and learn more by signing up for your free place at this webinar.

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