Reviewed by Adina Pirtea
2 October 2018
Sowton, C. (2016) Contemporary Academic Writing. A comprehensive course for students in Higher Education.
Chris Sowton’s name is likely to be familiar to many EAP practitioners given his extensive material writing on the various academic skills and particularly on writing and grammar course books.
It may be that the main focus of his new course book is academic writing but the beauty of it lies in its comprehensive approach to key language skills as the tasks encourage learners to analyse and discuss with their peers about a variety of academic writing features.
The carrier content is based on twelve topics regularly seen in language course books and international English language tests, and each unit includes an original reading text as well as writing, grammar and language points. The course book has a ‘companion website’ that provides the audio files of all texts and very useful unit-by-unit teacher’s notes with answer keys, suggestions for supplementary activities and various task settings.
Each unit has the same, solid eleven-part format ranging from introducing the topic and the text to understanding the various lesson points, creating new texts and consolidating knowledge. The structure may seem repetitive but this can support students in creating and strengthening their autonomous learning and critical thinking skills.
As for the layout and design of the book, it may be felt that there is too much text on the page at times. Nonetheless, the selection of contemporary-style photographs is attractive and the text and background colours make it easy for users to distinguish between task instructions, examples, and theoretical notes.
One criticism could be that there is no unit focusing on paraphrasing and summarising or on referencing. Some of the original texts that have been created for this book do include references and thus are good examples of in-text citing. Paraphrasing is mentioned in unit 3 under ‘reporting what others have said’.
This course book’s notable feature is the collaborative, ‘guided self-discovery’ approach that stimulates learners to identify the what, how, and why of an academic text structure in English, starting at the sentence level and going beyond it to the paragraph and essay levels.
Given that the target audience are learners at the B1-B2 CEFR levels, the course book appropriately caters to the needs of this category of students who need a clear overview of the elementary notions of writing before they can transition to more complex concepts such as nominalisation or synthesis.
Tutors working with this book will find it straightforward to use overall and perfectly suited for groups of intermediate learners, although it could also function as support for one-to-one sessions or tutorials. The course book is also versatile in that it does not necessarily have to be covered in a chronological order (units 1 through 12) as the units are fairly compact and stand-alone. This would be fairly useful in the case of mixed-ability groups when some tasks can be assigned to specific students only.
Overall, this is a useful resource coming from a reliable author who stays focused on his target audience for each title he writes.
BME Course Coordinator
BIA – University of Birmingham