Book Reviews

By Keith Jebb, Lisa Hayes, Philippa Armitage, Diana Pritchard, Kate D'Arcy, Tracy-ann Green, John Beaumont-Kerridge, Michael Faherty and Christine Smith

Writing in the Disciplines: Building Supportive Cultures for Student Writing in UK Higher Education.

Lisa Clughen & Christine Hardy (Eds.)

Emerald (2012)

Review by Keith Jebb

The book could be seen as a bit of a mess, but if I don't mean that as a compliment, I do mean that it reflects the situation it is intended to grapple with: the state of student writing in Higher Education in the UK. There is a general acceptance by the authors in this book, that there is at least a mismatch between academics' expectations of students' writing abilities and skills, and what students bring to the table. Clughen and Hardy's essay 'Writing at University' (pp24-54) acknowledges this with evidence of attitudes on both sides of the divide. One of their conclusions is that HE institutions should:

provide and ensure the delivery of preparatory courses on academic writing for those FE students who are most likely to benefit and are expecting to progress to HE, having entered the UCAS system (p.54).

This is fine if the issue was merely academic English, but issues encountered by academics, in particular in the post-1992 sector, cover a number of the competencies expected of level 4 students in the national curriculum (reprinted in Hardy and Helen Boulton's essay 'Writing at School' (p.9)). It's not just the old chestnut of grammar, it's the basic ability to articulate an argument, as opposed to relaying information, where so much of the fault lies. And it is not for Universities to sort this out. It could be argued (but there is no time for it here) that the information-delivery bias of the national curriculum in practice amounts to a disenfranchisement of large sectors of the population.

That said, there is a lot useful material in this book. At the heart of it is Patrick O'Connor and Melanie Petch's 'Merleau-Ponty, Writing Groups and the Possibilities of Space' (pp. 75-97), which uses Merleau-Ponty's concept of the 'embodied writer' to analyse how students relate to their writing. To get students (and academics) to see writing as an active rather than a passive activity — think of the classic notion of 'writing-up'; the very last thing one does after the real work of research — they advocate writing groups, where writing is embedded and embodied in a social and dialogic context. If there's one overall thesis in this book — which takes a number of divergent but for the most part complementary approaches — it's this emphasis on writing groups and the mutual support and platform for discussion that they provide.

In particular, Clughen and Matt Connell's 'Using Dialogic Lecture Analysis to Clarify Disciplinary Requirements for Writing' makes the case for the social space of writing and presents a number of strategies and techniques for developing it. This is something that is fairly obvious in the creative writing sector, and is one of the functions of the writing workshop (there are others), but it is good that there is only one brief reference in passing to creative writing in the whole book. There are wider concerns here.

Which is an apt point to return to the mess. There are dozens of little errors in this book, from mistakes in punctuation, to uncoordinated sentences to missing words. Nothing that a decent proofreader wouldn't weed out, but characteristic of the current time-pressured and REF-pressured state of UK academia. Yet so much of this book is about giving students (undergraduate and postgraduate) time to write, not 'write up' or just get things down. It is a book that should not become just another disposable outcome of the academic machine, when so much of what it says provides cogent, often implicit, criticism of the machine itself.

Increasing Student Engagement and Retention Using Social Technologies: Facebook, E-portfolios and Other Social Networking Services

Laura A. Wankel and Patrick Blessinger

Emerald Group Publishing Limited (2012)

Review by Lisa Hayes

This book is the seventh volume in a series entitled 'Cutting Edge Technologies in Higher Education' which addresses a variety of social media issues. The book is composed of ten chapters (approximately 300 pages) contributed by a range of authors. The chapters are divided into two parts, the adoption of social media, and the application of social media, and present case studies, surveys and literature reviews to examine how social media technologies are being used to 'improve writing and publishing skills in students, create engaging communities of practice, and how these tools are being used for e-Mentoring and constructing online reputations.'

The book addresses a hot topic in higher education, and does so by presenting a range of different approaches, all claimed by the editor to utilise the spirit of social constructivism – that is active engagement of students in the learning process, use of all types of models for learning and with the role of the teacher being seen as expert guide. The abstract (chapter one) provides a brief, albeit useful synopsis of social media and an overview of the content of each chapter, enabling the time-pressed reader to pick and choose appropriately.

Chapter two presents a hypothetical model course, which utilises a portfolio approach not confined to a campus, but through open source technology, in which anyone with Internet access can participate. The authors envisage a world where 'information and learning escape the walls of academia'. The chapter is usefully theoretical, but some may find it lacks clarification on transforming theory into practice.

Chapter three considers how social media can enhance learning by discussing three paradigms of learning. Page 68 and 69 present a useful consideration of where the 'e' (electronic) really matters in learning and the chapter continues to deliver examples of social media enhanced learning platforms drawn from small research projects. These provide some useful illumination and go some way to support chapter one's theoretical slant.

Chapter four considers foreign language students and how social media can be utilised in electronic writing tasks to support engagement. Focusing on a small study in Canada, opportunities and challenges are explained of students using writing six blogs in structured tasks. A succinct conclusion presents that the design of the learning environment matters more than often anticipated or believed.

Chapter five describes a research study which compared the use of Facebook by higher education students alongside data collected related to psychological dimensions. The data presented in the chapter is dense, and the readability is therefore diminished, which in turn, limits the reader's ability to consider what benefit the content may have to their own practice or institution. A clear and succinct conclusion is lacking, adding to a slight sense of confusion in the whole chapter.

Chapter six's complex title belies an intriguing exploration of an engineering course which melded social media, an adaptation of Bloom's taxonomy and a Human Metrics test to group students according to different personality types. This complexity is not carried into the conclusion however, where a very simple premise is presented – students like the use of Internet-based tools.

Chapter seven addresses how learners can be engaged in contextualising grammar by using computer-aided learning, including social media, amongst a range of other technological approaches to learning. The chapter focuses a great deal on strategies related to contextualising grammar; however, this does not limit applicability to other contexts. A highly detailed explanation of the tasks and a clear conclusion make this chapter relevant for course designers across a range of disciplines.

Chapter eight considers how to utilise technology for end-of-term assessments. The authors consider how wikis, blogs and podcasting could be used as an alternative to more traditional approaches to final assessment in what they term the 'technology-enhanced final project'. The chapter clearly presents three case studies as well as 'tips for implementation'. The authors present an extremely useful exploration into an emerging field. Chapter ten also addresses this area, but in a more general context, and provides a useful table on page 269 summarising how technologies can be utilised to support students in writing-intense courses.

Chapter nine discusses the use of technology to enhance teacher education through technology-enhanced field experience. This approach included social media interviews, video case analysis and web conferencing. The chapter provides a descriptive and interesting case study of a model of in-service teacher training that seeks to utilise technology effectively but is at times thwarted by the everyday experience in school classrooms.

The book is firmly rooted in American higher education establishments, but demonstrates applicability globally and across a range of contexts. It is a useful tool for dipping into appropriate chapters. A consistent theme throughout, is that technology should always be used to enhance learning, and not simply because it is de rigueur. A thread binding many of the chapters is that technology should be embedded effectively and be informed by clear curriculum design, an important message, in the current educational context which can sometimes forget this fundamental premise of learning.

A Handbook for Deterring Plagiarism in Higher Education

Jude Carroll

Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (2007, revised 2013)

Review by Philippa Armitage

The title itself suggests that this book may be useful in offering ways to combat plagiarism. If it can be deterred in the first place this would reduce the need for detection. While the book also looks at penalties as a deterrent, the focus of this review will be other forms of deterrent.

The book starts by discussing the definition of plagiarism, which Caroll shows that is not understood in the same why by students and staff. It is important to be able to offer a clear definition of plagiarism so that it then becomes easier to design it out of assessments, and to apply penalties if it occurs as an offence in an academic piece of work.

The book also states that plagiarism is different to copyright, as it not only covers written text, but also ideas of others.

Several reasons are considered as to why plagiarism occurs. In reviewing the issues, the author suggests the Web as one reason for this. When first published in 2002, Carroll suggested that copying from the internet was not the most common form of plagiarism, as students were more likely to copy from other sources including books, journals and the work of other students. In this revised version Caroll states that statistics indicate that this has changed, and internet sources are now more easily available, and are used and copied more often by students.

Also considered is the use of what is often referred to as contract cheating. This is where the student does not write the work that they submit. Caroll discusses the use of essay banks, ghost writers, and even students paying for other students to write their work. It is also noted that this is not just seen at degree level, but that essays are available from GCSE level upwards.

The book also looks to international students and the way that their previous learning may contribute towards plagiarism. While the same rules need to be applied to all students in order to achieve consistency, the points made in the book relating to the different learning background for international students should be taken into account when teaching the skills of academic writing at the start of a student's learning at the University.

Carroll considers that plagiarism (and even purchasing assignments) can be deterred by careful design of the course. Probably one of the most interesting points made is that if the assignment task is interesting and appealing to the student, they are more likely to engage in this and less likely to purchase their assessment. As assessment purchase is difficult to detect, being able to set an engaging assessment may make the academic's job easier when marking the work.

Carroll also notes that a student is less likely to plagiarise or commit any other offence if they are clear on the assessment requirements.

A quote from the book relates a story of 'a student in an exam interpreting the instruction to 'discuss' as an invitation to ask their neighbour, 'What do you think?' The student did so – loudly' (p41). This anecdote shows how an instruction may be misinterpreted.

Another point addressed in relation to the assessment itself is the essay title. Essay banks are more likely to include essays on general topics or using general questions. If the title can be specific or original then there is less opportunity to find anything pre-written.

The book also has actual examples of points that students and tutors have made in relation to plagiarism. These examples can offer an insight into what students are concerned about in relation to plagiarism. Many students worry about accidentally including plagiarism, so that they are concerned about trying to include any of their own original ideas in case someone else has already used the idea previously and it looks like they have copied. This shows the importance of teaching students, not only that plagiarism is not acceptable, but also what is acceptable both in the use of sources and in obtaining help/assistance from support staff and other students.

Carroll shows that teaching the skills needed to write academic work can help to avoid plagiarism and other academic offences, as initial incidents of plagiarism for students at the start of their course often occur because they do not know how to write correctly in order to avoid this. Practicing these skills without fear of the work being assessed will help the student with the rest of their course. Often reviewing each other's work can help the learning process.

Checking the students' understanding of what plagiarism and other academic offences are will also give a guide to what further advice and instruction is needed.

The book also discusses detection of offences and penalties for these. This covers things to look out for which may suggest an offence such as use of different fonts, referencing systems and spellings, as well as penalties in relation to the stage of study, the extent of the offence and the intention of the student.

This book would be useful to anyone who is involved in teaching, setting assignments or assessing plagiarism. The focus is on the positive aspect of learning and ways in which to design out plagiarism by use of engaging, original and current tasks which the students will want to be involved in.

Education and Immigration

Kao, G., Valquera, E. and Goyette, K.

Polity (2013)

Review by Diana Pritchard

This clever book delivers on its label. Contextualised in a succinct overview of the trends and theories on immigration and education, it examines the education experience of children of immigrant families in the USA, identifying the factors which shape the distinct processes and outcomes. But it also does so much more than its brief dry title suggests. It engages with escalating debates about migration and, specifically, the role of education in the processes of 'Americanization' and assimilation. These are key policy issues given that over 38 million (13% of the US population) are immigrants, understood to be those who are 'foreign born'. They come to the USA from increasingly diverse countries of origin and a growing proportion originate from Latin America, particularly Mexico, and Asia and to a lesser extent from Europe and Africa.

The study compares the data and stories of the education of a sample of post-1965 immigrant families who represent an array of migration status, race, ethnicity and prior education backgrounds. The reasons why immigrant groups have better educational outcomes than others is explained in relation to an interaction of factors, namely, their country of origin, ethnicity, levels of professionalism and English proficiency, neighbourhoods settled in, and the racial classification assigned in the country.

The study documents how the education attainment of legal immigrants has become higher at the same time that undocumented immigrants have lower attainment levels. The authors emphasise the role of selective US migration policy which establishes who is granted legal entry to the country, in defining differences between groups. This is evidenced by comparisons with the children of a South Korean business manager entering the USA on a work visa with prior English language skills and who will have different experiences of education from  the children of Guatemalan refugees who fled violence, who arrived illegally in the USA and who remain undocumented in low-wage service positions. In such a way, even before arriving, immigrants have 'different opportunities to succeed educationally and economically' (p.22).

But differences are also perpetuated after immigration. The neighbourhoods where migrants settle, and the networks and social resources these imply, either provide opportunities or perpetuate barriers. At local schools children are 'racialised' – placed into perceived racial categories - by people in education services such that children of African immigrant families are assumed to share cultural backgrounds with children of Afro-Caribbean descent. Not all are treated alike. The effect of this 'model minority' stereotyping has a self-perpetuating effect, defining the responses to and setting levels of expectation and aspiration  among immigrant children.

In other respects this book effectively challenges assumptions and stereotypes. Its nuanced analysis reveals the importance of overcoming racial or ethnic stereotypes by showing that within broad immigration groups there are large variations. Hmong and Vietnamese are less successful than other Asiatic groups, but this is more a consequence of the agricultural origins of these immigrant families. Similarly, amongst the Latin Americans, the Cuban and Argentines have been accorded special immigration policies which ensure that amongst them are educated groups whose families reach high education outcomes. The authors conclude that racial groups should not be 'romanticised or demonised' and that simplistic cultural explanations are inadequate to explain educational outcomes.

Although Education and Immigration [CM1] is about the USA and is aimed at university students, it has more general appeal, enhancing a more general understanding of the shifting nature of migration and the capacity of national education systems to overcome barriers to equality of opportunity. This reviewer was particularly interested in the findings about the consequences of new circulating migratory patterns. Some immigrant children, such as South Koreans, neither come with families who aspire to stay in the US nor necessarily want to be part of the middle class and mainstream US culture. In this regard the book provides a valuable contribution to the wider sociological debates about 'assimilation' in the U.S., highlighting where migration is a means to achieve socioeconomic stability and mobility, whereby migrants may opt to preserve identities with their country of origin and which span frontiers.

The ultimate merit of this study is perhaps how the findings contribute to busting myths on themes no less significant than the ideal and aspiration of the 'American Dream', the country's promise as a 'land of opportunity' and the role of education as a path to social mobility and assimilation. In this respect this is an exemplary piece of research (despite its lack of clarity about research methods and occasional leaps in the construction of logic) because it is present-focussed, empirical data that speaks to wider policy and international relations debates.

Assessment for Learning in Higher Education

Kay Sambell, Liz McDowell and Catherine Montgomery

Routledge (2013)

Review by Kate D'Arcy

A book entitled 'Assessment' is not one which you might pick up as light bedtime reading. Lecturers, teachers and other professionals involved with the policy and practice of assessment strategies may not want to think about assessment any more than they absolutely have to.  Nevertheless, here is a book that can help you do it better. In addition, the authors do an excellent job of making it an engaging read. They suggest that the book is a practical guide to Assessment for Learning (AfL) which is designed to help busy practitioners put AfL into practice, and I would suggest that this is exactly what they do.

This is a book that can be read from start to finish, but it is also one that you can pick up when you need some ideas about designing assessment, summative and formative assessment strategies, peer and self-assessment, or how to give good student feedback. In the eyes of the authors, AfL is a model which is holistic and can facilitate learner-orientated assessment, and they have designed their AfL model on a set of principles that are grounded in research and practice. Each chapter reflects this approach – it is structured carefully, it contains important theoretical elements as well as examples of how you might actually put the ideas into practice. Case studies from different university teachers in various disciplines are offered to give real, working-life examples of how to implement AfL. Each chapter also concludes with discussion points. This book can therefore be used by an individual teacher but also by a whole team.

The authors suggest that 'students should realize that assessment can be an opportunity for learning, rather than just something to be endured and suffered' (p.151). I would suggest that this book is therefore an opportunity for staff and student learning as it supports teachers to support their students to participate in more inspiring assessment processes. Ultimately, implementing some of the ideas and practices within this book should improve and promote student learning. As assessment and feedback are key elements of the NSS, and ones which students still do not rate particularly highly, we cannot deny that this is of central importance to teaching in higher education.

University Teaching in Focus: A Learning-Centred Approach

Lynne Hunt and Denise Chalmers (Eds.)

Routledge (2012)

Review by Tracy-ann Green

This book is aimed and marketed at early-career researchers; however, I am sure even more seasoned academics, as well as relative newbies, would find the book both thought-provoking and challenging. The central tenet of the book is the development of a 'learning-centred approach' to higher education, which is summed up quite nicely in the introduction with: 'There is no one path that works for everyone.' This premise is maintained throughout the book, and rather than providing a set of rules and techniques to follow, the authors raise questions and issues that you are encouraged to reflect on in terms of your own setting, with helpful case studies from other institutions.

The book is subdivided into four sections that focus on:

  • Teaching
  • The curriculum
  • Students
  • Quality and leadership.

The first section on teaching covers the basic ground of learning theories, effective classroom teaching, discipline based teaching, teaching graduate attributes and the effective use of assessment. The section on the curriculum looks at the areas of designing curricular, online and blended learning, research-led curricular, problem based learning and work-integrated learning. The section on students covers the areas of inclusive teaching, international students and indigenous knowers and knowledge. The section on quality and leadership covers quality in university teaching, scholarship, and leadership in teaching.

Although the book is designed as a collective whole, the individual chapters could be read in isolation and in any order. There is clear signposting within the chapters to refer you to where additional information is contained within the book if it is required for a particular chapter. As with any such book that has multiple contributors, the style and pace of the chapters vary quite considerably. Each of the chapters, though, follows a similar layout: an introduction to the core arguments, the main body of the chapter interspersed with 'your thoughts' activities designed to encourage reflection on your own practice, and a conclusion with prompts for further consideration in your own work. This helped to provide a sense of consistency despite the different voices of each chapter. The four sections of the book were not of equal size, however, with the section on teaching and the section on the curriculum taking up two thirds of the book and the sections on students and quality and leadership left with the remaining third, leaving me to wonder if this was a hint by the editors of the relative perceived importance of these areas?

In terms of content, I found the chapter on problem-based learning especially intriguing and I am already working on ways to incorporate more of this element into my own teaching. The chapter on Indigenous knowers and knowledge was highly Australia-centric (the editors are based in Australian universities, leading some of the book to have a distinct Australian flavour), though would certainly be of use to anyone teaching indigenous students. There are good attempts throughout the chapters to link together theory and practice, which in the main are successful. There are a number of illustrative examples of where the theory behind each chapter was put into practice, though some chapters could have done with more of these, for example the first chapter on learning theories was a little dry for my taste and would have benefited from more real world examples. The inclusion of a list of the case studies used in the book was a nice touch though and would enable you to quickly locate yourself to relevant chapters.

Overall, this book acts more like a 'springboard' of ideas and a checklist for reflection on your own practice. You will most likely find yourself with more questions than when you started reading the book, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. I personally now have a set of tasks and challenges I have set myself and am looking forward to addressing these within my own teaching.

International Students Negotiating Higher Education

Silvia Sovic and Margo Blythman (Eds.)

Routledge (2013)

Review by John Beaumont Kerridge 

It would appear that the origins of this text grew from a development of discussions that began just prior to 2006. This shows in the substance of the papers included. The book is divided into four parts – policy, teaching & learning, language and the counterbalance of home students abroad. The audience is intended to be Higher Education professionals, managers and academics both in the UK and internationally. In these respects, the book is well placed. The offerings of each of the contributing papers are well thought out and robust. There is a significant variety of research methods, as well as a wide range of issues which are addressed. It must be remembered also, however, discussing such a topic as international students and their experiences is going to be difficult when the debate of the basic concept, '…Is a student a customer?' in UK Higher Education has not been concluded.

Key issues are considered from a variety of perspectives. For example, the effect of culture shock for international students upon arrival at a Higher Education institution is considered from the viewpoint of their loss of their home country citizenship along with the rights and protections this affords. The regulatory frameworks of immigration can negate the feeling of freedom in terms of intellectual pursuit, a condition unlikely to affect a UK home student. This brings into contrast the ethical issues of care at a very subtle level which are the responsibility of all service agencies within a Higher Education institution. UK university management is questioned, raising the issue that the concept of internationalisation is not clearly defined and as such developed policies do not take account of the differences that will arise at a level of the student experience. This is both from the management of an institution as well as curriculum engagement.

The papers providing the investigations into the teaching & learning aspects bring into focus even more the cultural differences of international students with both their peers and tutors. Examples are provided where, at a grassroots level, informal segregation is permitted to occur within group work i.e. students being allowed to self-select group membership. On one level this disadvantages international students since they do not mix with other UK-based students, and also deprives them of one major objective of studying in the UK, that is to study with other UK students. The concept of Cosmopolitan learning is appropriately raised in this text and well discussed. It is however an evolving topic, so will no doubt feature in future investigations.

The issue of 'Western-style education' is questioned in terms of the student perspective when comparing teaching and learning approaches. Whilst this issue is not new, investigations provide a helpful understanding of the effect upon international students. For example, students feeling uncomfortable when asking questions of tutors, having no set text book, relatively long assignments and the continuing challenge of what is meant by 'critical evaluation'. What is helpful are the discussions which outline the process international students go through from their first arrival to completion of the course. Either directly or indirectly, evaluations evidence early stress levels, in contrast to those who are successful, exit with higher levels of confidence. Certainly the pedagogic approaches discussed allow the reader to realise much more is needed regarding engagement of student learning in addition to guidance. The balance of tutor intervention is critical in terms of providing an appropriate interactive environment. Student experiences are presented that show a good understanding is needed of an international student need to develop, both on a personal and academic level, and what can happen when the policy, design, or tutor activity are not appropriate or fit for purpose.

Two papers are offered with respect to the issues of language and international students. They present a useful insight into issues that are often overlooked. For example, the different meaning of words from their dictionary definition. The spectre of English for academic purposes is raised and the difficulties this presents. The discussion certainly offers consideration of a change that is needed for student support for this crucial area. This section could have probably benefited from more contributions, particularly for example of the importance of English for academic purposes since this has such a wide impact across so many subjects.

The final counterbalancing section on home students abroad gives a variety of experiences from the very positive to the very negative. This is a useful contrast to this very complex area, and helpful insights for those who are assisting students wanting to study overseas.

Overall this text raises some very useful discussions on internationalisation, offering some challenging views. If these were to be taken into the decision-making forums of Higher Education institutes, it could probably result in the improvement of the holistic experience for all students.

Writing in the Disciplines: Building Supportive Cultures for Student Writing in UK Higher Education

Lisa Clughen and Christine Hardy (Eds.)

Emerald (2012)

Review by Michael Faherty

One of the better chapters of this book summarises some of the early findings of the British Academic Written English (BAWE) project at Coventry University, a collection of almost three thousand written assessments produced by both undergraduate and postgraduate students across more than twenty academic disciplines. As that collection clearly shows, students studying the various disciplines are not only expected to produce very different types of written assessments but they are also expected to write those assessments in very different ways. Discouraging a 'one size fits all' approach to academic writing support, the principal investigator for this project, Hilary Nesi, concludes, 'Strategies that will gain a student high marks in one context can be irrelevant or even undesirable in another. Students need to develop the ability to write differently to meet different expectations, especially as these expectations grow more diverse at higher levels of study, and beyond the university into the world of work.'

Apparently, American universities have mostly moved away from centralised academic writing support services and towards a Writing in the Disciplines (WiD) approach, embedding support within specific writing cultures and the specific expectations of those cultures, while British universities have been rather reluctant to move in the same direction. This approach to writing support, argue the editors of this collection of nine essays, is not about teaching students to write like academics, but offering them opportunities to think, talk and write like biologists, historians and lawyers. In the best chapter of the book, Lisa Clughen and Matt Connell suggest that students need to be welcomed into the culture of the discipline they have chosen to study as soon as possible, offered, for example, opportunities to examine both the form and the content of their lectures and encouraged to talk about their subject in a similar manner, both in small groups and in their written work. As Clughen and Connell note, referencing an essay feels quite different when students feel included in the discussion, not excluded from it, inside the culture and not outside it.

A couple of other chapters also offer excellent examples of how students can be supported to write within their disciplines, including a chapter by Sarah Haas on how to use story cards to help Science students understand academic writing as storytelling and a chapter by Erik Borg explaining just how different academic writing is in the discipline of Art and Design and offering a number of examples of expressive approaches to writing. Since the book's subtitle is 'Building Supportive Cultures for Student Writing in UK Higher Education', it is somewhat disappointing, though, that so few disciplines are covered here. How might tutors build supportive cultures for student writing, for example, in the disciplines of Archaeology or Architecture, Economics or Engineering, Mathematics or Medicine? And given the book's title, the inclusion of some essays seems questionable, including the chapter by Patrick O'Connor and Melanie Petch on the Writing Group for Research Students at De Montfort University, which tries far too hard to push the square peg of Merleau-Ponty through the round hole of writing a postgraduate dissertation, where even cake assumes phenomenological significance:

Often, although not exclusively, we find that those bringing along their work for peer review will also bake or bring food for the group. This might seem like a trivial act, but through this act of feeding and nurturing others, the embodiment of writing might be realised most profoundly. Food becomes a Eucharistic gesture where participants give thanks for the feedback they have received on their work. The exchange of food seems to replicate the exchange of knowledge.

While writing a postgraduate dissertation probably often feels like a somewhat 'disembodied' experience and a writing group for research students is no doubt an excellent example of a supportive, though obviously multidisciplinary, culture, students writing dissertations still exercise their brains a bit more than they do their bodies and sometimes cake is just cake.

Developing Employability for Business

Maryvonne Lumley & James Wilkinson

OUP (2014)

Review by Christine Smith

Do you ever ask academics at other universities what they have on their reading lists? 'Developing employability for business' (Maryvonne Lumley & James Wilkinson, OUP, 2014) is newly published and was recommended by an academic at a UK university for use with employability modules.

Written primarily for students, the project-based content could be worked through by a student independently but is designed to support curriculum content on employability and professional skills. Readers are encouraged to reflect on their own skills as they progress, with activities including audits, projects and exercises.

Not only aimed at business students, it is 'your guide to developing the attributes needed for successful job hunting and to making a successful transition into the workplace'. Taking a broad view, the book ends with looking at long-term employability, not stopping at graduation but rather when the first graduate job starts.

Detailed and practical, the writers strive to get a balance between theory and skills, challenging the reader to engage with self-reflection and development whilst also encouraging students to start now and take responsibility for their career. Case studies and comments from employers, students and graduates bring a sense of the realities of the current graduate recruitment market. In a competitive market the book emphasises how employability skills are the differential and takes the reader through how to make them the person who is the desired candidate. Much of the book is taken up with looking in detail at specific employability skills, with an acknowledgement that the content in section 3 such as CVs, cover letters and interviews is probably what most would expect to see in a book about employability.

Where would this resource best fit? Difficult to answer without knowing what already exists within each curriculum. Possibly as a textbook for an employability module or equally, and potentially more powerfully, used at strategic points throughout a degree/post-grad programme to reinforce a cyclical spine of developing employability skills through the course.

The Good Paper – A Handbook for Writing Papers in Higher Education

Lotte Rienecker, Peter Stray Jorgensen, with contributions by Signe Skov


Review by Cathy Malone

Information literacy is considered a key graduate attribute and now an established central component of undergraduate education. This combined with the rise in approaches and assessment that foster learner independence has led to a popularisation of the undergraduate research paper. This is the focus of The Good Paper, a more accurate subtitle for which would be 'a handbook for writing research papers in Higher Education'. This focus on 'the conditions and requirements of independent investigative (scientific) research papers' is the real strength of this book (Rienecker et al 2013: 19). At 400 pages, it is a comprehensive student writing handbook and an explanation of the purpose of undergraduate research.

The Good Paper is the result of a longstanding collaboration between writing consultants and the Director of the Copenhagen University Writing Centre, and information specialists from the Royal Library of Copenhagen. This brings together in one text a range of expertise and approaches to developing one particular genre. Information specialists have clearly informed chapters on 'Formulating A Research Question', 'Literature and Information Search for your Paper', 'Sources in Your Paper', 'Data in the Paper', and 'Theory, Concepts, Methods and Research Design'. A process approach to writing support informs chapters on 'Writing Processes of Research Papers' and 'Reading and Note taking', as well as a final chapter on 'Supervision, Independence and Ownership'. There is also a strand of linguistic text-based analysis obvious in 'The Paper's Structure and Elements', 'The Paper's Argumentation' and 'Clear and Academic Language'. However, the book goes beyond bringing in different experts like visiting speakers. There is a genuine synthesis and close collaboration here, with practical writing activities suggested throughout covering every stage of research and writing, reflecting a commitment to writing as a means of exploring and developing understanding of a subject. Advice on writing is research-informed and the writing prompts throughout are detailed and challenging. This is combined with a healthy eclecticism at the level of technique and practical suggestions for engaging students in generating and developing text. There is a similarly detailed and academically robust use of exemplars of student papers interweaved throughout the book.

The unifying feature of The Good Paper is its definition of genre. The authors suggest all readers start with chapter one, which provides an academic foundation for the rest of the book. It provides a working definition of genre, distinct from text type, and speech act, identifying the genre of research papers as 'a genre with more similarities than differences across fields: a genre with reappearing elements... where argumentation and documentation constitute the two central learning goals for the writer' (Rienecker et al 2013: 15). The authors work on the basis that undergraduate research papers share features that cross subject boundaries; as such they are similar to Research Reports identified in BAWE research (Nesi & Gardner 2012). The Good Paper presents the research paper in a map of other common undergraduate genres and text types, and explores in detail the characteristic features of a good research paper. The book uses a pentagon model (see figure 1) to present an understanding of research writing and as a means to guide the writing process.

Rienecker et al 2013 

Figure 1: Rienecker et al (2013)

A brief scan of the contents list immediately marks this book out as quite different from most Study Skills books available from UK publishers. It is refreshing to see the detail and depth of analysis that is included. There is an intellectual rigour that you rarely see in books aimed at undergraduate students. Notions of argumentation, rhetoric, and meta-communication are introduced and explored. It is assumed that students can understand these concepts and need a working knowledge of them as they shape and define writing at this level. There is also a linguist's close attention to language. Early on the authors state that 'language is more than writing correctly, language is also content and meaning and it indicates whether the paper has been written in the right genre and in a scientific and scholarly manner' (Rienecker et al 2013:23). Within chapters there is an integration of theory and practice, and writing practices are suggested that are research informed. The authors model applying theoretical frameworks with some precision to unpack different layers of the text, and overall the authors' ability to critique is a real strength of the book. Complexity is not avoided here, but used as a means to develop student writing, both to understand the qualities of a highly graded paper and the processes students need to engage with to write their own.

Any criticisms I have of the book are really minor. This is a long book and as a direct translation of the Danish version, it demonstrates occasional infelicities of style. I am unsure how tolerant home students will be of the tone of the book. More substantially I think there is a slight loss of focus when this model is applied to other text types and undergraduate papers, such as the essay.

A great bonus for tutors is the fact that all the writing activities in the book are also available via the publisher's website ( These activities range from simple freewriting activities to 'writing and thinking about your paper's argumentation as a dialogue'. This is a very generous means of support for subject tutors interested in embedding writing development in their courses. While freely available, these resources make most sense when used in conjunction with the book. There is also an associated website, Scribo, which presents a student version of these resources. The result is a book I would happily recommend to staff and students. The focus on a single genre here is really successful and results in a book that makes a valuable and welcome contribution to the field.


Nesi H.& Gardner S. (2012) Classification of Genre Families in University Student Writing. Applied Linguistics ELTJ .

Rienecker L. Jorgensen P.L., (2013) The Good Paper - A Handbook for Writing Papers in Higher Education Samfundslitteratur Denmark


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