Paper in proceedings, 2011
Achieving voice in academic writing projects: learning disciplinary text practices in Environmental engineering education
This study explores how disciplinarity and academic norms as well as genre conventions are mediated in the institutional encounter between disciplinary experts, in the
role of university teachers, and a group of international Master's students (as novice writers) who are to learn the genre of their academic field. In focus, there is a research driven individual writing project on sustainability issues in Environmental Engineering, which was launched as an academic writing project - a fairly common set up in writing-to-learn/learning-to-write interventions in higher education in Sweden.
The first study investigated how writing within such a socio-scientific and interdisciplinary field was made comprehensible by analyzing 14 cases of initial tutorials around an outline document for the academic paper-to-be: how did the participants establish a productive starting point for an open-ended and dynamic writing assignment? Through a
detailed, ethno-methodologically informed, exploration of the interaction and communication
around the outline documents, the study paid attention to participants' sense making practices and in particular to what semiotic-material resources they drew on in their communication.
The outline documents were used as an explicit mediating tool to orient to normative conventions of working and writing in the field. But, and perhaps more interestingly, the communication between the teachers and students brought in particular language use and ways of reasoning which relied on disciplinarity and the specific genre norms and conventions relevant for this particular field. The results point to how the students' writing is shaped from within an institutional practice. The work of finding a starting point for openended, academic writing projects of this kind involves appropriating ways of reasoning and arguing just as well as the ways in which text elements like 'the comparison', 'the trend' or 'the analysis' are part of the organization of an argument.
Those results raised further questions about what kind of achievement it is to be entering Environmental engineering and socio-scientific issues through academic writing and
by learning its genres. One of the forthcoming studies investigates how literature, earlier arguments and findings play out as the students and teachers continue to write their way into each particular environmental case: how are the students' sequential text drafts used as
resources for making disciplinary text practices and knowledge traditions practical?
The data for this study consists of approximately 30 hours of video recorded, sequential tuition
sessions. Text drafts just as well as notes and annotations used and produced in the tuition sessions are analyzed in combination with the corresponding video clips. The main research questions are:
• in what ways is citing topicalised across the sequential tuition sessions?
• what recurring concerns related to citing and referencing do the participants orient to?
• how is citing used as a resource for making genre specific norms and conventions of the discipline visible?