Review ~ English for Academic Study: Writing

A good solid British English Academic Writing book for classes of good Intermediate and above undergraduate students.
Reviewed for Teflnet by Alex Case
English for Academic Study: Writing

English for Academic Study: Writing

The entire ELT industry seems to go through sudden enthusiasms for particular kinds of book, and after the VYL (very young learner) and ESP (English for Specific Purposes) booms it now seems to be the turn of EAP (English for Academic Purposes). Garnet Education can hardly be seen to be jumping on this bandwagon, however, as EAP has always been their speciality. In fact, they have also been pioneers in the more specialist field of ESAP (English for Specific Academic Purposes) and many of their books are already on their second editions. 

This new edition of English for Academic Study: Writing is at first glance the most conventional of all Garnet’s titles, being an undergraduate-level Academic Writing book. Things which set it apart in that crowded marketplace include the fact that it is mainly British English and that it specifically designed for the classroom, with no claims to be suitable for self-study. One kind of flexibility that they do claim is being able to skip the topic-based parts of the book, which would demand buying the accompanying Reading and Writing Source Book. While this is indeed possible, and was in fact how I used the book, it would involve skipping 15-20% of the book and so might cause some protests by whoever is paying.

After a unit called “Introduction to Academic Writing”, the seven topic-based unit titles include “Sustainable Energy” and “Telemedicine”. As with these two examples, the units mainly have a scientific and/ or business bent, rather than being based around humanities like geography or anthropology that often make it into IELTS and other Academic Writing books. Each unit also has a writing focus, for example “organizing and supporting ideas” with “The Business of Science” in Unit 3. “Writing in examinations” in Unit 4 is something that is often ignored in Academic Writing books and I’d never heard of the useful (if complicated) “SPSIE (Situation, Problems, Solutions, Implications, Evaluation) approach to organisation” in Unit 5. As in that unit, the book mainly focuses on the paragraph and whole text level, with lots of useful analysis, discussion and practice on introductions, conclusions and overall structure. The main contrast is Unit 8, where a whole stack of comparing and contrasting phrases are given in table form with the rather brief and impractical task “Think about how you can use some of these expressions into [sic] your essay. Discuss them with your partner.” There is a similar table in Unit 7 for cause and effect language, but in that case there is a concrete exercise to do (linking the ideas given using the phrases).

There are also times when more phrases could have been useful. For example, Unit 6 presents the two structures for definitions “…may be defined as (definition)” and “(definition) may be defined as…”, but none of the much more useful phrases such as “(name/ dictionary/ book) defines… as (definition)”, and this includes missing some good phrases in the example texts.

Despite quite a few examples like these of exercises where things are presented rather than discovered, in general the book takes a discovery approach with students being asked to work out “Why do the writers introduce an alternative view?” and “Analyze how this organisation has been applied in the following sample text”. Even working in pairs and groups, my students usually needed a lot of help working out the answers to such general questions, and I often even had to write an accompanying worksheet giving them hints and/ or breaking the discovery down into smaller stages. This was true even with students at around IELTS 6.5 level, and the book is frankly impossible with the IELTS 5.0 students that the back of book claims it is suitable from.

The book ends with a two-page glossary, six peer evaluation sheets, and “Assessing my progress”. The Teacher’s Book has advice on things like giving feedback and explaining why students are speaking in a writing class, then detailed instructions on how to teach each unit, including “Methodology notes” like “Organizing peer feedback”. There are also photocopiable materials like model answers and a guide to the incredibly complex suggested marking code.

The main selling points of this book are the two things that set it apart that I mentioned above. The most important one is that it is British English, something that is difficult to find elsewhere when even the big UK ELT publishers publish mainly or entirely American English Academic Writing books. Although at least half of the activities where students work together need some work to make them manageable and/ or useful to do in class in pairs or groups, in general it works better as an actual classroom text than many other Academic Writing texts. The very manageable amount of material and number of topics in the book also really help with this.

The main drawback of the book is the accompanying Reading and Writing Source Book. Not only does it mean another book for students to buy and lug around, from what I’ve seen it’s not something I’d necessary recommend, as the texts are not themselves very good academic models. This is understandable given how long and difficult real academic papers on these topics would be, but means that there is far less useful language in them than would be the case with, for example, more models of essays on the topics. However, with classes needing British English and/ or not much class time this book (without the accompanying Source Book) would probably still be my first choice.

Reviewed by Alex Case for Teflnet September 2013
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers

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