Academic writing is closely linked to scholarship in all its facets, from writing books, essays and dissertations to carrying out research and other academic assignments. One of the major stumbling blocks, however, for young scholars in graduate programs today is mastering the techniques of this skill, especially when they are writing for a targeted and informed audience. The conventions that are traditionally adopted by experienced academic writers have been debated for many years confusing young scholars even more. On the other side of the pendulum, there are some young scholars who come into the scene with hordes of experience in the area having penned many papers over the years. Others have logged in quite a few papers during their studies, while a good number have not made much progress beyond exams and weekly assignments. The situation becomes even more daunting when one is summoned to fine-hone their academic writing skills in a foreign language while pursuing graduate work in a distance learning environment, predominantly due to insufficient vocabulary knowledge and the absence of frequent face-to-face cooperation. Though there is a plethora of research on academic writing in the greater vicinity of the academic world (predominantly in brick and mortar institutions), very little research has been carried out to date in the context of foreign language pedagogy and distance learning, particularly with respect to Greek TESOL distance learning environments. This special issue seeks to fulfill this void by featuring research which blends academic writing with distance learning education.
The first two articles, namely, Greek students’ views on academic writing in distance learning within the TESOL context and Academic writing in distance learning programs: The tutors’ perspective, probe into the attitudes and perspectives of both students and tutors toward academic writing in Manoli, Zafiri & Zorbas / Research distance education offering many suggestions on how to best tackle the problem. More specifically, the first article explores the views and challenges of Greek adult learners pursuing a postgraduate degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) through a distance learning program at the Hellenic Open University (henceforth, HOU). While the participants delineate the major problems they normally face when structuring an academic assignment (e.g., in-text citations and bibliographic referencing, plagiarism, language problems, lack of explicit guidelines on behalf of tutors or conflicting feedback from different faculty members), they, also, point to specific practices they believe would help them improve as writers (e.g., tutor assignment feedback and explanation, a guide or even a training course in academic writing skills, extensive practice in assignment writing, personal involvement in research on academic writing). The second article focuses on the multiple benefits and problems of academic assignment writing as perceived by the tutors of the Course Design and Evaluation module offered through the MA in TESOL program at the HOU and concludes with suggestions for effective student preparation and training in academic writing.
The third article, A preliminary genre-based analysis of M.A. dissertation abstracts written in a Greek TESOL distance learning environment, delves into researching a specific genre which plagues the writing of many young scholars; namely, the MA dissertation abstract. Using Swales’ (1990/2004) CARS (Create a Research Space) model for the analysis of introductions of research articles, the author analyzes fifty MA dissertation abstracts from former HOU graduates in order to examine how MA students structure their texts and project their stance.
The fourth article, Academic writing: Conformity and beyond -A brief note, centers on offering “words of wisdom” to novice writers adopting a more esoteric stance. Grounding the discussion in the relevant literature, the author traces her experiences from the time she wrote her doctoral dissertation (where she picks up the thread of her argument) all the way to her current status as an experienced tutor at the HOU offering sage advice to young scholars based on the lessons she learned (albeit the hard way) throughout the course of her academic life.
The concluding article is a multiple book review essay on Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing (2012). The main argument of this book is “elegant ideas deserve elegant expression” taking on a different trajectory than the dominant stance toward academic writing, which normally construes this type of writing as verbal deadwood and stilted.
Polyxeni Manoli, Makrina Zafiri, and Vasilios Zorbas