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Van Guyte, Els. (2013) Writing: Learn to Write Better Academic Essays

Reviewed by Dr. Qian Zhang

8 September 2014

The book is part of six-book series from the Collins’ Academic Skills Series and published in 2013. In addition, the series has won the Innovation in Learner Resources award at the British Council ELTons 2014. This self-study course book is designed for “students on pre-sessional or Foundation courses as well as for first year undergraduate students.”

The book is divided into 11 chapters and covers six areas: 1) the writing purpose 2) the expectations of the academic reader 3) content and research 4) academic principles 5) language points and 6) the writing process. A short essay and a completed university essay are included in the appendices with comments on the strengths, weaknesses and differences between the two examples. illustrating the differences with authentic material can help students understand university expectations and practices. Four chapters are dedicated to the importance of language elements in academic writing development, for example, how to use the appropriate vocabulary and tenses to improve accuracy, formality, structure and paraphrasing skills. There is no doubt that good understanding of sentence structure can improve reading comprehension, but Chapter 7 appears to only focus on the skills of analysing sentence structure and identifying structural and argumentational signposts, for instance, showing seven basic sentence types (subject / verb / object).

Each chapter follows the same structure: 1) aims 2) a self-evaluation quiz 3) information on academic expectation and guidelines on how to develop academic skills 4) practical exercises 5) tips 6) glossary and 7) remember section. Self-evaluation quizzes can be effective in helping students to identify what they already know and what they need to learn. However, there are no answers or explanations after the quiz and it is unclear how students can identify their strengths and weaknesses by doing this exercise.

Overall, for a self-study course book, it seems to lack interactional elements. The whole book is presented in black and white with many different font styles. It is text-heavy as there are no pictures, images, audios or videos included, although text boxes and shaded grey are used to highlight different texts. Students might find it difficult to engage with the materials and the exercises due to the way they are presented and the lack of interactivity.

It is suitable for students on pre-sessional or Foundation courses but I am not sure it is suitable for first year undergraduate students as Home/EU students will be struggling with the terminologies used to explain language points, such as ‘pre-modifiers’, ‘head noun’, ‘conjugated verbs’, ‘grammatical framework’. Many example texts are either from IELTS or TOEFL, which Home students are not familiar with. Furthermore, those texts do not always meet university academic writing requirements because students will be expected to write within specific disciplines. In addition, the book would benefit from including critical thinking as a key area.

In short, the book does provide the basic skills that students need to move from IELTS or TOEFL performance to university study. However, students may be unwilling to engage with the exercises due to the text-heavy feature. Unfortunately, I was unable to find out the innovative factors in this text.

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