What is good academic writing? Innovation, creativity and originality in student assignments – Jeanne Godfrey

What is good academic writing? Innovation, creativity and originality in student assignments – Jeanne Godfrey – j.godfrey@leeds.ac.uk

PG written assessment marking criteria in the ‘excellent’ band often contains phrases such as:

‘Integrates all the material in a sophisticated and creative way’
‘Makes an of original contribution to the issue.’
‘Displays a high level of scholarship and originality attainable.’
‘Able to synthesis and employ ideas in an original way.’

However, precisely what subject tutors and markers mean by ‘creativity’ and ‘originality’ in relation to their specific discipline and assignment types is often unclear to EAL students and, I think sometimes unclear to EAP practitioners also. On EAP courses we do talk to our students about using critical analysis and synthesis to reach individual perspectives, but I would suggest that we still lack data on, and examples of, the specific ways this can be achieved in different disciplines, for different assignment types at different levels of study.

Moreover, although we do discuss with our students what it means to reach individualistic insights in answer to an assignment, we usually do so in the context of successfully actualising the required assignment genre. I think however, that in addition to enabling student access to the academic writing ‘genre rules’ (whether within an AGAP or ESAP) we would also benefit from gathering data on what other aspects of creativity and originality in student writing can contribute to excellent-level work, including innovation with the genre norms themselves. Christine Tardy (2016) in her small study shows that excellent student academic writing can be that which breaks with genre norms, and that tutors perhaps consider creative content and evidence of logic more important than normative writing. Tardy recognises that we need a lot more data in this area and that in our field ‘despite …insistence that genres are not constraining templates, very little scholarship has directly explained how writers effectively flout or bend genre conventions’ (Tardy 2016:341).

So, the aim of this scholarship project is to collect and analyse data in response to two questions, posed in Godfrey and Whong (2020):
1) what other, non-genre aspects of typical texts might contribute to ‘good’ student writing (for example reader engagement).
2) whether and in what ways non-typical genre moves can contribute to ‘good’ student writing.

I thereby hope to contribute to our knowledge of (1) what kinds of writing innovation and creativity tutors reward that is outside or beyond that of an assignment demonstrating original insight within the typical genre, and (2) ways in which student writers are and are not rewarded for bending or breaking the genre norms of their assignment.

In terms of project mechanisms, the aim is to work in collaboration with subject tutors and look at student writing in a range of disciplines. I would envisage that the methodological frameworks for this scholarship will involve the concepts of communities of practice, cultural capital, and academic literacies, as well as aspects of creativity theory and ideas from psychology in relation to individual tutor marking. The main data collection methods are likely to be text gathering and analysis combined with questionnaires and semi-structured interviews with subject tutors. Ideally the method would also involve student author questionnaires and/or interviews.

Tardy, C. M. (2016) ‘Bending Genres, or When Is a Deviation an Innovation?’ In Artemeva, N., and Freedman, A. (eds.), Genre Studies Around the Globe: Beyond the Three Traditions. Canada: Inkshed Trafford publishing.