Academic writing

Proposal of the final goal of the curriculum of academic writing in English. Determination of teaching skills in micro and macro languages. A proposal for a design methodology that will allow the teacher to assess the success of graduates in the program.

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1. Introduction to the Problem

2. Statement of the Problem

3. Purpose of the Research

4. Literature Review

4.1 Analysis of the sources

4.2 Literature Review Outcomes

5. The Rationale of the Methodology

6. The Micro and Macro Skills Necessary for the HSE MA FL Students

7. The Case Study Design

8. Design of the Quantitative Study and Illustration of the Quantitative Study

9. Illustration of the Case-Study Design

10. Discussion

10.1 Limitations

10.2 For Future Research

10.3 Conclusion


1. Introduction to the Problem

The English language has become a language of global communication and is considered the primary language of academic studies and research, not to mention the language of political, cultural, and business communication (Crystal, 2012; Goodal & Roberts, 2003; Sung, 2014). Swales--who during 30 years has been observing international research publications and conducting studies on the issue of dominance of English as a research writing language--noted that 31% of all publications composed in the world in 2004 were published in US journals (2004). The figure has skyrocketed since the time of his research, and now the percentage of journals written in English that are indexed in the SCOPUS amounts to 80% (Van Weijen, 2012). In fact, the first 64 of 29713 journals--ranked highest on SCImago Journal Rank by the number of citations in May 2017--are published in English.

However, although the benefits of having English as an international medium of scientific communication are hardly deniable, more and more scholars (including native English users) have been expressing their concerns of the extra burden concerning writing in non-native language placed on non-natives. Northam et al. (2010) conducted a survey of editors of scientific journals to determine the importance of different features of manuscripts offered for submission. In this survey, the journal editors were able to select three reasons that they rejected manuscripts in their experience. Despite claiming that content is more important than presentation, the editors' top response regarding the rejection was Poorly written (35.8 per cent) (Northam et al, 2010).

Another concern that has been expressed is that the dominance of a single language deprives some scholars of opportunity to provide valuable insights and more unconventional perspectives. Swales, for example, reports that the status and contribution of the non-native speaker of Englishbecome somewhat more central than it used to be (Swales, 2004, p.52). Flowerdew, in his turn, refers to the situation as impoverishing in terms of knowledge because those outside the dominant center can test the theories currently prevailing in mainstream science outside original contexts, and can bestow a number of alternative views on what is currently taken for granted in Western Societies (Flowerdew, 2001).

As recent surveys on the effort put by non-native scholars in a bid to get published in mainstream journals have shown, on average, more than half of the participants feel disadvantaged in competition for the space in international journals because of their writing skills and language problems (Kourilova, 1998; Sasaki, 2001; Yongyan, 2002; Lillis & Curry, 2006). These perceived discursive limitations speak about the growing importance of academic English writing curriculum in college-level education.

According to the international profile of industry-relevant competencies and skill gaps in modern graduates, Oral and written communication skills, multifaceted in their nature, are consistently ranked as some of the most important in graduates and are suffering wide gaps in required and actual performance levels across many countries (Jackson, 2010). The survey, conducted by Jackson in the UK, Australia, and the U.S., suggests that inadequate instruction of writing remains the pressing issue even in countries such as the USA where writing instruction has long been a standard curriculum component (Abrams, 2017).

2. Statement of the Problem

Recently, Dr. Debra Josephson Abrams, the US Department of State English Language Fellow at the Higher School of Economics for 2016-2017, was asked by Dr. Elena Solovova, Head of HSE School of Foreign Languages, to conduct research into writing benchmarks and into English language academic writing micro and macro skills. Because the studies on academic writing conducted in the Russian context are few and far between, and because the academic writing curriculum in Russian universities is in its nascent state, currently, Russian students are disadvantaged by the lack of training in the English language academic writing skills necessary to enter global academic community. Consequently, Russian students are not adequately facilitated in developing the skills necessary to share their research internationally.

3. Purpose of the Research

This paper is intended to contribute to the research conducted by Dr. Debra Josephson Abrams mentioned above. It is also concerned with the specific writing demands the HSE MA FL Program imposes on the graduate students and is aimed at informing the English language academic writing curriculum currently being devised by the HSE MA FL faculty.

Therefore, of the four language skills traditionally recognized in various theories of language acquisition (reading, writing, listening, and speaking), writing skills will take the central role in this paper.

Accordingly, we will focus on the importance of English language academic writing skills and will set out to determine micro- and macro-skills necessary for academic success of Russian students. The main focus of the paper will cover students studying for an MA in Linguistics in the Higher School of Economics (HSE MA FL Program). The sampling should not under any circumstances be considered representative of the students studying in other universities of the country but rather is intended to set a starting point for further research and application of the findings.

The purpose of the paper, thus, is to achieve the following aims:

(1) to suggest the ultimate goal for the English language academic writing curriculum at the graduate level of the HSE MA FL Program

(2) to identify the micro and macro English language academic writing skills the students in the HSE MA FL Program must have for academic success in global academic community

(3) to determine the micro and macro English language academic writing skills the students in the HSE MA FL Program must have to meet the writing demands of the HSE MA FL Program

(4) to suggest the design of the methodology that will allow the HSE FL faculty to assess whether the skills determined by the analysis have influence on the graduate students' overall success in the HSE MA FL Program

4. Literature Review

academic writing language teacher

4.1 Analysis of the sources

To accomplish the first two aims of the paper, we have used three main sources:

Considerations and suggestions from the proposal Making New Things, Trying New Things: Creating a Higher Education Writing Curriculum in 21st Century Russia, researched and written by Dr. Debra Josephson Abrams;

Impressions of Russian academic-writing practitioners regarding the experience of integrating academic writing courses in their settings;

Analysis of the literature on academic writing, published in English.

In this chapter of the paper, we will analyze the relevant literature on English language academic writing we have been able to locate. To begin, it is worth noting that although it was evident several decades ago that there were no comprehensive studies investigating both micro and macro skills (Silva, 1993), some researchers still note the lack of holistic research on writing as a mix of micro and macro skills (Nguyen, 2016). Therefore, this paper will build on various pieces of research in academic writing.

Research into writing in English has had a number of purposes. Some researchers are interested in writing as a product: they look into a finished written text, `a product', and investigate invariable features of the passages themselves. Other researchers have been interested in writing as a process, or in determining what the stages are (such as planning and revising) through which a writer is going when composing a piece. Still others--the most recent trend--have been looking into socio- and cultural contexts, in which the process of writing occurs (Cumming, 2001; Manchn, 2009). These last two groups of researchers have put a significant amount of attention on where and under what kind of influences the writing is happening, giving a solid portion of their interest to academic writing happening in universities. Consequently, in this paper we are going to refer mostly to the findings of these two groups to determine what micro and macro skills are essential for academic success. Also, in selecting the sources, we have focused on the papers dealing with the graduate level of education, which also has narrowed the scope of the studies.

So far, the most cited work that defines the micro and macro writing skills has remained the work by Brown (2004). Brown identifies such micro-skills as abilities to

produce graphemes and orthographic patterns of English;

produce writing at an efficient rate of speed to suit the purpose;

produce an acceptable core of words and use appropriate word order patterns;

use acceptable grammatical systems (e.g., tense, agreement, pluralization), patterns, and rules;

express a particular meaning in different grammatical forms.

Note: Adapted from Brown, H. D. (2004). Language assessment: Principles and classroom practices. Allyn & Bacon.

At the graduate level of the HSE FL Program, it is assumed by the curriculum that most of these skills are more of a concern of general English writing section of the general English writing course offered by the HSE MA FL Program, and thus it is assumed that little support with these skills is necessary for students, especially considering the availability of compulsory general-English practice classes, offered throughout the major portion of the period of tuition. However, further in this paper we will suggest testing this conclusion in the context of HSE MA FL Program to learn whether some high-order micro-skills are still necessary to include in the Academic Writing course. (The analysis of the literature on academic writing, conducted in the preliminary research papers by working group of HSE graduate students indicate that some grammar-vocabulary skills influencing style and word-choice could still be relevant to train even at the graduate level.)

Then, Brown identifies such macro-skills as the abilities to

use cohesive devices in written discourse;

use the rhetorical forms and conventions of written discourse;

appropriately accomplish the communicative functions of written texts according to form and purpose;

convey links and connections between events and communicate such relations as main idea, supporting idea, new information, given information, generalization, and exemplification;

distinguish between literal and implied meanings when writing;

correctly convey culturally specific references in the context of the written text;

develop and use a battery of writing strategies, such as accurately assessing the audience's interpretation, using prewriting devices, writing with fluency in the first drafts, using paraphrases and synonyms, soliciting peer and instructor feedback, and using feedback for revising and editing.

Note: Adapted from Brown, H. D. (2004). Language assessment: Principles and classroom practices. Allyn & Bacon.

This list is more extensive and requires abilities that go beyond what can be captured by grammar and lexis mastery. Since the purpose of this research is to identify the set of skills required within a certain context (in this case HSE Master's Program in Linguistics, Teaching English, and Cross Cultural Communication), we are going to look at the studies focused on graduate level writing and to figure out whether all of the skills listed by Brown have been considered necessary for graduate academic outcomes.

Unfortunately, the studies conducted in a Russian context are scarce. In one of the existing studies, Butler et al. investigate Russian students' and teachers' perceptions of academic English writing and offer several insights into cultural context that may impede clear written communication. (Interestingly, one of the reasons for unclear communication, which has been given, is disregard that Russian academic writing instructors are facing in non-linguistic universities). The work also offers tantalizing insight into the skills needed to succeed in writing, alluding to the US practice of writing across curriculum. Among the most important skills mentioned in the paper are analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating research, and describing, comparing, contrasting, and critically examining disciplinary content. A related article by two other Russian scholars Suchkova and Dudnikova (2015) offers more insight into Russian academic writing setting. In the article Learning to Teach Writing through Writing, as part of the work on the course (and the course book) on English language academic writing, the scholars refer to the written papers collected from the students of Samara State Pedagogical University, Samara State Aerospace University, and Povolzhskaya Academy of Social Sciences and Humanities. Unfortunately, the paper does not share the analysis and details of the procedure, but it does provide some insight into arguably the biggest sampling of Russian-students' papers mentioned in the literature that we were able to locate. Over eight years of their observations and analysis, the scholars were able to identify the following problems pertinent to student's written work:

inability to structure a text properly: divide it into meaningful parts, formulate the main idea clearly and develop it,

lack of cohesion or coherence,

inconsistent register,

poor vocabulary and primitive grammar,


Note: Adapted from Suchkova, S., & Dudnikova, G. (2015). LEARN TO TEACH WRITING THROUGH WRITING. English Review: Journal of English Education, 1(2), 159-170.

The issues identified and skills proposed by Russian scholars add to those Brown offers and are consistent with the majority of findings that appear in papers devoted to writing-as-process.

Writing-as-process research can give more clues about macro writing skills imperative for academic writing success. Susan Peck MacDonald in her book `Professional academic writing in the humanities and social sciences' (1994) explains several stages a writer needs to go through on the way to obtaining expert writing skills:

Nonacademic writing

Generalized academic writing concerned with stating claims, offering evidence, respecting others' opinions, and learning how to write with authority.

Novice approximations of particular disciplinary ways of making knowledge.

Expert, insider prose.

This description suggests that the skills pertinent to the second stage (generalized academic writing) identified in the list imply the full mastery of micro-level skills proposed by Brown, thus confirming that mostly micro-level skills should be a concern of a nonacademic writing course.

To better understand the practical application of the stages proposed by MacDonald and better deduce the skills this application reveals, we can refer to Jonathan Hall (2006) from Rutgers University, Newark, who used MacDonald's model to create a writing course. In his essay, Toward a Unified Writing Curriculum: Integrating WAC/WID with Freshman Composition, Hall gives an overview of the skills developed during the writing course at Rutgers University. The model curriculum we find here highlights four areas that students need to work on to achieve academic success: critical thinking, discipline-specific critical reading skills, ability to produce discipline-informed mixed-mode documents, and familiarity with the current state of knowledge on a particular topic. This curriculum has three levels of difficulty (Elementary, Intermediate, and Advanced) with a more specific subset of skills depending on the level. Most of these skills support Butler's insights into the English language academic writing skills Russian students need and thus should be tested for HSE MA FL Program needs.

Another important assertion that Jonathan Hall makes is that writing instruction should be integrated into all disciplines. In other words, it seems impossible for Hall to leave full responsibility for writing development to English department. This suggestion can be applied in the HSE MA FL Program by integrating a sound writing curriculum and clear writing goals into the content courses offered by the program. This view is supported by the ETS research into the writing skills necessary for academic success in college. This view is supported by the ETS research into the writing skills necessary for academic success in college. The research has investigated 190 academic departments in 34 universities in the U.S. and Canadian universities with high levels of foreign-student admission. According to the survey, even within the same institution, there is no agreement on the writing task demand among different departments. In other words, WAC and WID are essential, yet there must be university consensus on what to teach. Consequently, the skills identified by this literature review will be confirmed by the analysis of the context in which writing occurs (HSE MA FL Program).

As we have seen, current research emphasizes that writing at the college level imposes serious cognitive demands on the students. Although there is no clear vocabulary term, the research on skills required for successful writing in colleges at the graduate level comprises such notions as research writing, reading to writing, or writing from sources. Lung, building his analysis upon the research conducted in 1981 by Johns, supports the necessity of the cognitive skills, stating that non-native writers in college come unprepared, with low-level skills in critical reading and synthesis (essential prerequisites for successful research writing). He stresses that for many students, writing in college turns out to be their first experience of writing expository passages and synthesizing information while writing from sources (Lung, 2014). For the purpose of this research, this latter insight is important since it can inform how much emphasis must be placed on practice in the HSE MA FL curriculum; thus, identifying whether adequate instruction has been given to the students at the undergraduate level, prior to their beginning of the HSE MA FL Program, can help pinpoint the specific skills of research writing and critical reading the students entering the program lack, and can serve as the needs analysis and assessment.

Additionally, in light of the above, the assignments in the HSE MA FL Program address students' needs for cognitive skills development. To do so, we can refer to the most general categorization of cognitive processes involved in the writing of L2 writers: organization, selection, linking, monitoring, and coping with language-related issues (Plakans, 2010). This generic view is useful as a starting point to identify the skills important for the student's local success (immediate needs).

Other researchers are more specific in identifying critical thinking skills required for college-level writing. Copious studies have been conducted to support the notion of insufficient critical reading skills. The first group of studies suggests that a lack of critical thinking skills can have a negative impact on task comprehension. Because the students understand the task, prompt, or instructions incorrectly, they use questionable (or less effective at best) writing processes, thus producing textual outcomes of poor quality (Allen, 2004; McCulloch, 2013; Wolfersberger, 2013). The second group of studies reinforces the idea that college writing quality depends on critical thinking skills, which unavoidably pose a challenge for different stages the writer has to go through when writing from numerous sources. These challenges demand a special skillset from the writer, including selecting the right sources, determining ways to achieve various writing goals, choosing how to express personal views, and determining the strategy to compensate for badly understood ideas (Shi, 2010, 2012a, 2012b; Allen, 2004; Petric & Harwood, 2013; Thompson, Morton, & Storch, 2013). The third group of studies identifies one more source of apprehension for students that can impede academic success. It turns out that some students may feel not confident enough to believe in themselves when encountering sophisticated text written by the original authors. Rather than engage actively in transforming the ideas from the source they read, they abandon paraphrasing entirely. These students resort to direct quotations in order not to distort the original meaning and secure authorial standing--or writing voice--through the original wording and diction (Hirvela and Du, 2013).

Overall, what we also learn from the several studies mentioned (see e.g. McCarthy Young and Leinhardt, 1998; Hirvela and Du, 2013) is that at the graduate level, the ultimate purpose of a writing course is to take students from the point of "knowledge-telling" (enumerating different facts and ideas discretely with little attempt to scaffold their own arguments) to the point where they successfully contribute to the content area research by incorporating sources as an evidence-frame for their own argument and by connecting paragraphs so as to indicate a clear conceptual progression of their original ideas (McCarthy Young and Leinhardt, 1998; Hirvela and Du, 2013). Aside from providing insight into the required cognitive skills to realize the transition, these studies imply that cohesion and coherence are important writing skills, which warrant special attention.

The most striking concern of researchers involved in investigation of coherence and cohesion is that students submit copy-paste work, which contributes to the strayed focus of the overall paragraphs or passages. David Gugin analyzes the traditional approach of teaching writing in EFL/ESL classes and suggests an alternative. Citing the works of Page (2006), Hinkel (2012), and Mayville (2012), he explains that the traditional model of writing instruction is based on the idea that a certain degree of sentence level proficiency has to be reached before the student can move to the paragraph level. He then warns that such an approach may lead to the grammar-first approach in which the grammar is writing and writing is grammar (Gugin, 2014). His argument thus proceeds to view a paragraph as the basic unit of discourse (the definition borrowed from Fawcett, 2013; and Kirszner and Mandell, 2011). According to Gugin, this view would allow the students to use organization-before-grammar philosophy and reverse the student's focus towards form rather than accuracy. Although he creates a compelling argument, he does not provide formal empirical evidence of the effectiveness of his research. To his credit, however, he offers a good overview of the criticism of his approach and examples of his own classrooms. Hence, in the context of HSE MA FL Program, we can test whether our participants share Gugin's students' assumptions that writing is a grammatical exercise in which the coherence and meaning play a secondary role.

Many other studies examining the issue of coherence, cohesion, and general organization of a paragraph and passage in academic writing have been conducted using Contrastive Rhetoric theory. This theory identifies reader-responsible writing (in which writers employ sequential syntax, which leads to implicit rather than explicit cohesion) and writer-responsible writing (in which the writer assumes full responsibility for guided delivery of main ideas). Also, the lack or misplacement of a topic sentence, referred to as a delayed introduction of purpose," can render the writing incoherent (Connor, 2005). These findings are consistent with other studies that suggest that such organization is dictated by writing conventions in English-speaking countries, which besides placing emphasis on clarity, brevity, and precision of expression, also value a clear structure, in which a paragraph must exhibit inductive/deductive logic, as opposed to "intuitive discourse-organization" (Limbu et al, 2013, p.12). In fact, writer-responsible writings are said to use syntactic structure, which is referred to as parallel syntax. The basic logic is to present a sentence that begins with a known idea and then to progress with presenting an unknown idea. Such seamless connection allows ideas to be conveyed to a generic reader with any educational background. In reader-responsible writing, on the other hand, a sequential progression (a new idea is followed by a new idea, which is followed by another new idea) is observed predominantly. In this case, since the writer does not feel the responsibility for offering necessary guidance, very little attempt is made to present ideas to the audience coming from non-exclusive educational background (Limbu et al., 2013). This in turn impedes understanding and adds to ambiguity. Therefore, the ability to practically apply writing conventions of writer-responsible culture can be considered an important skill in college-level writing.

To understand the micro skills involved in cohesion and coherence, we have explored the cohesion issue within the sentence., We have noticed that the descriptive works on syntax in English for Academic Purposes tend to value parataxis (coordination) less than hypotaxis (subordination) (Halliday, 2013). This preference can be explained as consequential from parallel syntax and sequential progression, and it therefore reinforces the ideas put forward by Contrastive Rhetoric. It is hence essential to determine what exactly constitutes the cohesion and coherence through the lens of writer-responsible writing.

For this purpose, we can refer to the three empirical studies outlined below, which investigate various means of connection of ideas. In the first study, Crossley examines different elements of cohesion as determinants of the rating the essay will receive. The study suggests that the quantity of cohesion devices may not necessarily reflect the quality of the piece. The study also accentuates that overlaps in semantic and syntactic features both within the sentence boundaries and beyond is conducive to a higher rating. Besides, the study reveals negative determinants of the high score: coordinating conjunctions and the pronoun to noun ratio (Crossley, S et al., 2016). This implies that other means of substitution (such as syntactical) are an important skill for academic writing.

The second study further strengthens the idea of favoring syntactical cohesion. This paper centers on the use of linking words and expressions in academic passages composed by English users (expert and novice writers) and EFL learners with high English level (including Russian students among many European participants).The conclusions made by the authors suggest that abundant use of connecting devices is ingrained characteristic of novice writers--regardless of their first language (Leko-Szymaska, A. 2008). The study thus confirms that expert writers utilize syntactical substitution to demonstrate conceptual progression.

In the third study, Hussain Al Sharoufi offers a novel framework for academic writing instruction, which revolves around cohesion. His framework, called Lexical Cohesive Trio emphasizes the importance of giving students a clear explicit instruction of lexical blocks. His trio consists of three main cohesive elements: anaphora and cataphora, transitional signals, and lexical phrases. He claims that consciously applying his trio, students will be able to make logic visible and thus improve their cognitive control over texts they produce. His empirical evidence (a research conducted on 30 English majors from Gulf University for Science and Technology, Kuwait) supports his idea that incorporating all three elements in the framework of teaching writing can give non-native English users a clear roadmap to depend on while creating texts of academic genre (Al Sharoufi, 2014). Hence, the three studies suggest that more often than not successful coherence and cohesion are attained through syntactical connection of ideas rather than by linking words.

Finally, we have looked at the issue of writing from the perspective of international academic English test providers, particularly of Educational Testing Service, the designer of such major tests as TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and GRE General (the test designed to assess the skills of native English user who are aiming at getting graduate degree). Through these two tests offered world-wide, ETS has received more than 30 million students' essays. Aside from what has already been mentioned, ETS offers official test-taking guides and style, usage, and mechanics guides. In these guides, the ETS mentions four features that consistently spoil students' works: punctuation, parallel structures, misplaced modifiers, and passive voice (Educational Testing Service, 2012). Since these specific grammar-and-style issues are prevalent in both native and non-native written work, we can conclude that proper usage of these elements is a highly complex skill, and it thus requires special attention in the English language academic writing course at the graduate level.

Ultimately, the studies on writing skills have informed our research in the following ways. First, they have increased our awareness of non-native students' writing needs and obstacles they may encounter at the college level. We have learned that writing in a foreign language is a multifaceted, individualized, and contextualized experience, the training of which necessitates cooperation between language and content departments due to frequent absence of clear writing goals in the curriculum of content subjects and due to a lack of apparent agreement on writing task demands between content departments of the same institution. We have also learned that such cooperation is necessary to ensure the high quality of the task construct, which plays a significant role in the way the student will approach the task.

Second, the studies--particularly the studies on research writing needs of non-native graduate students--have underscored the necessity to carry out similar studies in the HSE MA FL Program. These studies will be essential since they will allow HSE FL faculty to obtain a well-rounded picture of the skills the students need to develop and will help to design a more informed context-specific writing program that will factor in all the particularities the MA FL Program context has. According to the existing research, we have learned that students in many countries, including international students coming to the U.S., typically lack prior training in critical reading and have little experience of working with textual sources. Further research into writing-from-sources skills of HSE MA FL students will be instrumental in adjusting the existing international practices for the Russian context and in determining whether the students have perceive that writing is an exercise of grammar application..

Third, the studies have enabled us to gain insights into writing processes at the graduate level, which involves multiple sources of apprehension and serious cognitive investment, including organization, selection of resources, and linking of resources, as well as monitoring and coping with language-related issues.

Fourth, the studies have allowed us to come to a tantalizing conclusion that writing micro-skills identified by Brown are considered to be an issue of writing courses preceding graduate level of studies. Further research into the texts produced by the graduate students in the HSE MA FL Program may reveal that this assumption is incorrect and that graduate students require explicit instruction and help with micro skills suggested by Brown.

4.2 Literature Review Outcomes

The literature analysis has allowed us not only to obtain and systematize our knowledge on the subject but also to accomplish the first two aims our research has put forward.

First, on the basis of the analyzed sources, we have suggested that the ultimate purpose of the academic writing course at the graduate level be the attainment of skills that go beyond summarizing and paraphrasing: the transition from knowledge-telling patchwork to meaningful construction of an evidence-based argument. Therefore, we narrowed the list of skills to those pertinent to the suggested purpose, assuming prior mastery of the skills necessary for the English language academic writing at the undergraduate level--as suggested by the working group in the HSE FL department concerned with identifying skills at the undergraduate level.

Second, all the sources mentioned in the beginning of the chapter, including the findings put forward by the international and Russian studies, have allowed us to compile a list of skills necessary for successful academic writing at the graduate level. For the purposes of this study, we have divided the skills according to the definition of micro and macro skills given by Brown. Brown (2004, p. 121) refers to micro skills as the skills pertinent to the small language units "in more of a bottom-up process" and to macro skills as the skills that have their focus on the large units "involved in a top-down approach". Accordingly, we have put the skills in the following table, bearing in mind two considerations. First, since the line between micro and macro skills is arguably subtle, the division of the skills into micro and macro is not ultimate (and--at times--not possible), so the academic course designers who may wish to use the skills outlined here are invited to rearrange the composition of the table so that it better suits the needs of each individual course. Second, since there is no agreement among the researchers on the terms used for some of the skills, we have omitted overlapping definitions that have appeared by various names in various kind of research.

Table 1 - The English Language Academic Writing Macro Skills Necessary for Global Academic Success

Writing stage

Macro skills

Working on Content

Discipline specific critical reading skills



Evaluating research

Determining ways to achieve the writing goals

Building argument and producing discipline-informed mixed-mode documents

Writing with authority

Working on Organization and Development

Conceptual progression of ideas

Coherence and Cohesion

Using substitution and repetition

Working on Language

Compensatory strategies for language related issues

Task comprehension

Clarity, brevity and precision of expression

Table 2 - The English Language Academic Writing Micro Skills Necessary for Global Academic Success

Writing stage

Micro skills

Working on Content





Stating claims

Offering evidence

Respecting other's opinions

Critically examining disciplinary content (Selecting the sources)

Choosing ways to express personal views

Putting together argument

Using sources as evidence for the argument

Working on Organization and Development

Using Anaphora and cataphora

Using Transitional signals

Using Substitution with lexical phrases

Using Parallel syntax

Using Hypotaxis

Working on Language


Using Precise Vocabulary

Using Complex and Parallel structures

Using modifiers


5. The Rationale of the Methodology

So far, through the analysis of the sources, we have established the micro and macro English language writing skills necessary for graduate students' success in a global academic community. Our research has also highlighted that the context in which English language academic writing takes place plays a significant role in the acquisition of English language academic writing skills and that the context-specific empirical data--gathered from studies conducted in Russian universities--that could support the international findings are virtually non-existent.

Therefore, to succeed in the aims (3) determining the micro and macro English language academic writing skills the students in the HSE MA FL Program must have to meet the writing demands of the HSE MA FL Program and (4) suggesting the design of the methodology that will allow the HSE FL faculty to assess whether the skills determined by the analysis have influence on the graduate students' overall success in the HSE MA FL Program, we need to take a look at (a) the alternative ways to determine the English language academic writing skills necessary for graduate students in MA FL Program, and (b) address the need to conduct research on generating availability of the said data and establishing the correlation between academic success and English language academic writing skills.

For (a), we are going to look at the curriculum of the HSE MA FL Program's content courses to determine what kind of writing demands each content area puts on their students. Consequently, we will identify the writing-heavy courses in the HSE MA FL Program that assign various types of tasks and that assume full mastery of the English language academic writing skills necessary to successfully cope with those tasks. We will then analyze the tasks to determine what kind of skills the students need to have and to identify whether there are any types of English language academic writing skills that are unique for the context of the HSE MA FL Program.

For (b) we will look at the ways to determine the correlation between the skills identified for the aim (3) and the position of the student in the rating system of the HSE (the HSE has a system that reflects overall academic success of the students in the HSE, based on the overall academic performance of the students in all subjects taken by this student). We will design an MS Excel spreadsheet that will allow the HSE FL faculty to insert the grades assigned for English language academic writing skills identified in (3) and determine the correlation between a particular skill (or a set of skills) and the position of the students in the HSE rating system.

Then, to support our quantitative findings and generate more context-specific data, we will also identify which qualitative method is suitable for the HSE MA FL Program needs and will suggest the design of the study necessary to equip further research with the required empirical data.

To begin, we have looked at the methods of the existing research in international practice. The methods of research over the last several decades have been gradually evolving. In fact, the methodologies adopted by the researchers to conduct investigations into English language academic writing skills for non-native English language users have gradually shifted from handing out large-scale questionnaires and conducting massive experiments to the small-sample case-studies with the emphasis on profound analysis of the interviews conducted with the participants and data received directly from them (Manchn, 2009). In fact, case studies on L2 academic writing falls under the category of the most numerous investigations conducted in applied linguistics (Duff, 2008).

Still, though, some researchers point to disadvantages and inconsistencies in case study research. However, as the qualitative researchers agree, most of these perceived disadvantages are a result of confusion (Duff, 2008). Thus, before we can proceed, we need to address the most popular points raised by the detractors of the method. First, to avoid confusion, it is important to note that case study is inherently different from case work, or case method, or case history (Merriam, 1998) in that the latter three terms carry a pedagogical role, while case study is a research tool. Another point of confusion may be the definition of the context. By context in case study, qualitative researchers understand a systems perspective (Patton, 1990, p. 78) linked to the phenomenon/phenomena being observed. Last, as one of the seeming disadvantages of case study, some researchers note the lack of external validity, meaning that the results may not be transferred to populations and thus generalizations are not possible and not valid. However, long-standing history of case-study research has consistently emphasized that analytic generalizations in case study research are supposed to be applied not to populations but to theoretical models (Duff, 2008, p.50). The transcending nature of theoretical models has allowed qualitative researchers in applied linguistics to test the hypothesis they have made as a result of qualitative studies and thus achieve transferability of the results (the term predominantly used instead of the term generalizability). Most important, a case study will not be a stand-alone effort. The design of our methodology can offer a solution to the problem of the lack of quantitative data. There has to be a tradeoff between the study of one or two variables in many cases and the study of many variables in one or two cases. (Lewin, 1979, p.286) Since the two methods can naturally complement each other, for our purposes we have considered the combination of the two approaches (quantitative and qualitative), the suggestion that many researchers consider a way to strengthen data obtained through one dominant way or the other (see e.g. Duff & Lazaraton, 2000).

The utility of case study research lies in the fact that various case studies can be carried out with the same subject. Plus, qualitative research places emphasis on observing a phenomenon in its context (in our case, as in many cases in applied linguistics, such context can be a classroom setting, the HSE, or HSE FL department), one of the main considerations for our case. Perhaps for these two reasons, Gall, Gall, and Borg (2003) refer to case study research as the most widely used approach to qualitative research in education (p. 433). They illustrate the method as the in-depth study of instances of a phenomenon in its natural context and from the perspective of the participants involved in the phenomenon (p.436). This perspective describes the conditions suitable for the study we are going to suggest. The participants will be set in the natural context (MA FL Program), and their perspectives will be gathered through multiple sources (read more on the sources of the data further in the chapter).

Another case-study practitioner and methodologist in the field of education, Yin (2003) states that a case study probes into a phenomenon in its real-life context and is particularly useful when the line between the context and phenomenon itself is not apparent. Provided that our research will be the first that will be carried out in the context of HSE, we will be able to investigate to what extent English language academic writing skills are influenced by the context; thus, this point of view corroborates the selection of the methodology.

The method is also relevant because of the three intrinsic characteristics of case study, as noted by Yin (2003). First, such inquiry is able to accommodate situations in which the researchers have more variables of interest than data points (pp. 13-14). This is a particularly important point for our study since the field has only recently emerged in Russia, so the amount of information the researchers need is enormous.

Second, such inquiry requires the use of various sources of evidence, the data coming from which have to converge (Yin, 2003). The researchers typically refer to such convergence as triangulation, which basically means that if several points of evidence lead the researchers to the same conclusion, it increases the likelihood of the conclusions made by the research (Bromley, 1986; Stake, 2005). This ensures that within the same context, the results will be transferable.

Third, such inquiry will add new perspectives to existing theoretical propositions--which is exactly what our study is aimed at. Consequently, this approach can offer a new perspective on theoretical and practical findings of the research conducted internationally and can be used to inform the English language academic writing curriculum in the HSE MA FL Program.

One of the most relevant points that case research practitioners point to is the fact that case study research is exploratory by nature, that it has innovative potential, and that it can play a significant role in building new theories (Duff, 2008). Such kind of learning-by-doing will be particularly pertinent to our situation, since the data that will be gathered will have the potential to trigger new hypotheses, the validity of which can be determined in further studies through other kinds of method design, such as a large-scale experiment. Duff calls the case-study approach data-driven and an approach that attempts to develop hypotheses, models, and ultimately theories on the basis of the findings from the data (p. 44).

By the same token, we may learn over the course of the case study that the theoretical propositions we have discovered through the analysis of the literature in the Literature Review may not be entirely applicable to the students in the HSE MA FL Program. Such counter-evidence will be another valuable insight into the nature of Russian context, which our methodology is able to provide. It will help conduct needs analysis and inform the English language academic writing curriculum in the HSE MA FL Program.

Regarding the number of participants, the researchers typically select more than one subject. In analyzed studies, the number of participants varies from one to six participants, with most of the studies choosing to research four or six cases (apparently due to representativeness reasons) (Chalhoub-Deville, 2006). Qualitative researchers refer to them as multiple (or, sometimes, collective) case-studies (Stake, 2005).

In summary, our design of the methodology case study method, as formulated by Duff, will allow us to generate both data and information, which will reciprocally affect one another: we will be able to use research practice to inform the theory and vice versa; the data we are going to collect will help evaluate our assumptions, while our interpretation of the data may prompt us to collect other data; and the presentation of the results may improve our research analysis and overall understandings of English language academic writing at the graduate level in the HSE MA FL Program (Duff, 2008).

6. The Micro and Macro Skills Necessary for the HSE MA FL Students

As we have conducted our research, it has surfaced that we need to check our findings from the literature review against the writing demands that HSE MA FL Program has. One of the perspectives that we have identified as helpful in this respect is looking into the content course curricula of the various disciplines offered by the Program. Among those, we have selected the curricula that have writing assignments the final grades of which have a considerable influence on the final accumulated grade. Consequently, we have found that four content disciplines--we deliberately have narrowed our search to content courses because our task was to find samples of authentic academic writing--invest final writing assignment with 50 percent of the weight of the grade for the course. We have then analyzed the assignments that students have had to submit in the classes to determine the skills that students in the HSE MA FL Program are required to demonstrate. Furthermore, we have added writing of the Preliminary Research Paper and Master's Thesis as the separate courses since the grades for these two assignments appear on the transcripts as the grades for the courses taken by the students.

Since the HSE MA FL Program is constantly improving and the professors are free to change the requirements for their courses, the results that we have arrived to after our analysis are applicable for limited amount of time and should thus be regarded as for demonstrational purposes only. Therefore, we suggest that further research resample the assignments and verify the requirements.

The results of our analysis of the assignments can be put into the following table. (Note that we have put all courses on history, English speaking culture studies, and similar courses into one unit The Country Studies since they are similar in types of course writing assignments.)

Table 3 - Correspondence of the English language academic writing skills to the types of the assignments required by the Curricula of HSE MA FL Program


Types of English language academic writing assignment

The skills that correspond to the assignments

Theory of Speech Communication

Argument analyses, review, Essay-report

Discipline specific critical reading skills



Evaluating research

Building argument

Producing discipline-informed mixed-mode documents

Conceptual progression of ideas

Coherence and Cohesion

Using substitution and repetition

Clarity, brevity and precision of expression

Note-taking from sources


Text Theory and Discourse Analysis

Text analyses, essays of different genres (including synthesis essays), Concept summary with extension (finding examples in authentic texts)

The Country Studies

Synthesis essays, reports

Research Seminar

Freewriting, summaries, a letter

Writing Preliminary Research Paper

Synthesis Essay

Writing Master's thesis

Literature review, Research writing

Additionally, we have looked into the prerequisites and the kind of skills the students have to be able to demonstrate to successfully cope with the courses, especially of the skills that are analogous to those the students have to demonstrate in writing assignments. For the Preliminary Research Paper and for the Master's Thesis, we have analyzed the official requirements for the papers and the guidelines the department offers for the academic supervisor's review.


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