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Researcher Development

Researcher Development

Academic writing for research degrees

I will begin with a little background on myself. I am a PhD researcher in the area of Education and Applied linguistics, at the University of Exeter, looking specifically at what and how children and teachers understand about grammar. Professor Debra Myhill, a writing expert, is supervising me. Also, I co-deliver the ‘Academic Writing’ webinar at the Doctoral College; in addition, I am a part-time lecturer in Academic English at Anglia Ruskin University. Despite being fortunate to be teaching ‘Academic English’ and having access to senior colleagues, I felt that it was important to involve other academics, including those from STEM disciplines. And so I conducted a needs analysis survey to investigate what they believed was needed in a future course on academic writing. Twenty-five academics participated; one was from UCL, while the rest were from the University of Exeter. Kelly Preece, Head of Academic Development and Skills, at the University of Exeter’s Doctoral College, helped provide information on student needs – what is it that postgraduate students needed to write for their Masters and PhDs? What were some of the challenges they faced?

The research-led approach adopted makes this course truly unique and should help to enhance students’ knowledge and understanding of genre and writing and ultimately their learning outcomes on their postgraduate degree.

Being armed with empirical data, I have developed evidence-based goals and learning outcomes.

The goals of this course are to:

  • Think critically about the writing process
  • Think about discipline-specific writing expectations
  • Critically re-evaluate writing practices in the light of the expectations
  • Develop an understanding of the role of ‘genre’ in influencing writing
  • Use grammar consciously for clarity and expression of ideas
  • Adopt critical thinking and writing strategies for organising written texts

This ‘small course’ is designed to help you develop some of the fundamental skills in academic writing and academic genres. Its goal is to equip you with skills to not only write, but to ‘think’ in an academic sense about the expected conventions and standards of your discipline. You will be challenged and asked to critically self-reflect and to think aloud regarding your own thinking, understanding, practices and targets. To help you on your journey, I have developed various activities, involving self-reflection and writing, such as worksheets and blog posts. Doing these will help your development.

In this online course, you will learn about various topics. Feel free to go through these in an orderly manner, or to dip in and out. However, to help develop a fundamental understanding of academic writing and academic genres, I would suggest that you go through the course methodically.

I hope you enjoy and benefit from this course.

We all have to learn it! It’s a myth that some people write well without being taught. We all learn to write, whether it’s in a formal way or just by reading writers we admire and reflecting on what they do that we admire.

Professor of Theology and Religion, University of Exeter

We have all had goals and targets in life, from how to learn to ride a bike to driving a car to swimming – just reflect for a moment: how did you learn these skills? As for writing, we need explicit teaching to write well. It is a fallacy to believe otherwise. Crucially, thinking forms one large part of this. But, how can you get there? What things do you think you need to do?

Bear in mind this comment, which touches on a number of aspects:

I’ve studied/taught in three completely different disciplines (Philosophy, English, Education) but have never used a conscious strategy to acculturate to the expectations of a discipline. For me, I think this has probably come from extensive reading in the area and wanting to adopt the voices of established writers. So perhaps integrative motivation was important here. I would expect different people to experience this differently though.

Associate Professor of Education, University of Exeter

Reading can be a gateway to opening up our minds to the world of academia. There are, however, some obstacles and the blog post below may help you identify some of these.

Do not be scared to write. This blog post is about writing fears and the future.


In order to develop your writing skills, I would like you to reflect on your individual writing targets. You can download this Individual Writing Targets worksheet to help you.

Shahan Choudhury

As a young secondary school student, I had an ambition to become a good teacher. I have always had a passion about learning and being involved in education. This has led me to where I am now: currently, I am studying for a PhD in Education (English Language), under the supervision of Professor Debra Myhill, University of Exeter. My research involves both teachers and students, where I am looking at their understanding of grammar, which is an area that is under-researched. Also, I am investigating how students write using various grammatical concepts.

After obtaining my bachelor’s degree (BSc in Management Studies, Brunel University), I entered the teaching profession in 2003. Initially, I began training in the secondary sector. However, due to my passion for English Language teaching, I moved into primary, where I have over five years’ experience in English primary schools. I have undertaken work as a paid researcher of English in a Bedfordshire secondary school, where I investigated the challenges of reading and writing.

At present, I am working as a part-time lecturer of Academic English and Professional Skills at Anglia Ruskin University, London. Prior to this, I worked on pre-sessional programmes at the University of Southampton and UCL IOE, teaching Academic English. My first university teaching post was at a Saudi university (2010 – 2016).

My heart is in education, and I aim to help others in the process by developing educational research so it can be used to improve outcomes.

If you have any comments, feedback or suggestions to update this resource, please contact me.

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