Saturday, 24 July, 2021

Dismal State Of Academic Writing

Kushal Pokharel


In ordinary parlance, academic writing encompasses non-fiction writing produced to fulfil the requirement of the academic work. What separates academic writing from other forms of writing is its inherent focus on evidence to explain an issue. Writing in a clear and concise manner adhering to a formal structure lies at the heart of academic writing. Ranging from term papers, internship and research reports to thesis are popular forms of academic writing widely used in universities. While this type of writing has slowly started getting priority in our academia, students have found it increasingly difficult to produce such writing. The problem is so severe that in many cases, students have often resorted to plagiarism (academic theft) and developed various psycho-social problems. Students’ low appreciation of their academic institutions is also alarming.

Thesis requirement
Growing fear of academic writing warrants great deal of attention from policymakers including academic institutions. While the thesis requirement has become an integral part of graduate level curriculum in our context by now, the submission rate is pretty dismal let alone the quality. Writing thesis or project reports is terrifying for students. Consequently, the number of students lagging behind in submitting academic reports on time is growing. The pertinent questions are : Why has academic writing been conceptualised as a very difficult work? What sort of role has the teacher or the supervisor been playing to ameliorate the invisible fear among students?
Role of supervisor or a teacher is extremely important to better the situation. In the absence of effective supervision, students get lost in their assignments. Not only mentoring students for producing a quality writing piece but also understanding their emotional and social needs will be vital. Teachers or supervisors entrusted with the task of guiding students for their academic writing have been found to have performed their roles below par in our context.
This is evidenced by the growing complaints of students towards their supervisors be it relating to not giving adequate time or unnecessarily imposing heavy academic burden on students. In some cases, students also have resentment for their supervisors not understanding urgent personal and social matters. While personal issues cannot be a pretext for escaping the assignments, supervisors need to address the genuine concern of students. In the absence of proper handling, students are likely to discontinue their work which ultimately remains as a systemic failure.
Equally crucial is the issue of enhancing the competencies of the existing supervisors. It is distressing to note that a large number of university professors lack a strong academic credentials in the form of quality academic publications. With a very pathetic situation of academic research and publication at our universities by and large, the ability of the instructors to guide the students have become questionable.
And supervisors have their own grievances. The biggest challenge for students appears in terms of internalising the unique style and tone of this writing. Accustomed to free writing, producing an assignment with higher word counts that too in a standardised format only adds to the misery of students. Although they seem to have understood the basic principles of academic writing, they struggle when it comes to actual writing. Say for instance, students might not have much difficulty in understanding the concepts of research, the structure of writing research reports. However, they often panic while drafting a good introduction or a literature review for the report.
The larger apathy of students towards intensive reading stands as a great obstacle in the journey of academic writing. Collection of reading materials from various sources and engaging in an organised reading is pretty exhaustive for students. Consequently, students miss their deadlines in report submission. In worst cases, students even lose their academic degree in the absence of fulfilling the course requirement pertaining to academic writing. The desire of the students to get things done in quick time stands at odd with the norms of the academic writing.

Practical assignments
In light of the above, some policy level clarities have become urgent. Policymakers have an uphill task of ensuring that the illegal trade of thesis and research reports are banned. Ensuring the quality of our academic reports has become urgent with the growing number of duplicate and unstandardised academic reports at universities’ libraries. Breaking a deep rooted nexus of students, educators and businessmen requires a serious policy rethinking. Whether academic writing can be optional for students or should it be made compulsory in our context where the students’ general response is pretty unwelcoming. How about assigning students some other academic course-based works or practical assignments in replacement of the ardent task of thesis writing?

(Pokharel is a social science faculty and a researcher.