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An Approach to Teaching Academic Writing to International Graduate Students in Colleges of Engineering

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Professional Skills for Graduate Students

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Kate Caroline Batson University of Mississippi

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Kate Batson is an instructor in the Intensive English Program (IEP) at The University of Mississippi, having taught twelve different courses and served as the IEP Operations Coordinator the past two years. She is also the IEP in-house specialist on academic writing at the graduate level and works collaboratively with the College of Engineering and Graduate Writing Center to ensure an array of writing services are offered to international graduate students within the College of Engineering and other departments. She has presented at regional and national Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) conferences. She holds a BA in Latin American Studies and an MA in Spanish Linguistics from The University of Alabama, and an MA in Modern Languages (TESL) from The University of Mississippi. During her graduate studies at UM, she was Director of the Community English as a Second Language Program, staffed by UM TESL graduate students, as a free service to non-native speakers of English in the community.

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An Approach to Teaching Academic Writing to International Graduate Students in Colleges of Engineering

Communication skills used by all engineers include writing, reading, speaking, and listening. Whereas reading and listening focus on comprehension, writing and speaking are forms of expression. Engineers employ technical writing with the goals of being accurate, brief, clear, and easy to understand. Engineers use many forms of written communication: On the job, they compose technical memoranda, project reports, and proposals for new business; while in graduate programs, they may assist professors with technical reports and publishable articles, while individually writing their thesis or dissertation. Written English has many conventions intended to impose order on the chaotic English language. While the graduate student may eventually encounter a “style manual” at his employer, international graduate students who are still learning to write technical English require a more active, rather than passive, learning method. This paper presents a case study of one approach to teaching English academic writing skills to international engineering graduate students.

Faculty and scholars alike have recognized the field of second language writing as being an increasingly critical part of the higher education system within the United States. The high percentage of writing courses offered to students from non-English-speaking backgrounds at institutions of higher education serves as evidence of this growing interest. Yet, once these second language students reach the graduate level, many faculty still face the profound—and time consuming—challenge of not only correcting the writing of their international students, but also elevating their written language to a level acceptable in graduate studies. As is argued in this paper, the origin of the previously mentioned pedagogical challenge faced by graduate faculty is three-fold: the majority of second language writing curricula at higher education institutions does not emphasize the advanced, technical, and discipline-specific composition skills nor the elevated vocabulary indispensable to international graduate students to successfully navigate the academic and scholarly research environment; many English proficiency exams presently used for admission to graduate programs do not directly test for academic writing skills; furthermore, graduate student development programs at institutions, such as graduate writing centers, are seldom staffed with specialists trained in the field of second language writing (and pedagogy).  

This paper examines the creation of a discipline-specific academic writing course for international graduate students in engineering programs through the collaboration of a college of engineering and an Intensive English Program (IEP) faculty member specializing in international student composition at the graduate level. The course is designed to assist international students in graduate engineering programs with the navigation of academic writing at the graduate level. Students take on the role of researchers as they explore articles in their field and identify lexical, syntactic, structural, and rhetorical practices. Students also identify and analyze conventions of publications in their field through text analysis, observations, interviews, and other verbal exchanges. Finally, students will learn how to approach academic writing at the graduate level, with emphasis being placed on how to organize and produce texts which meet local conventions while creating a space for themselves.

Batson, K. C. (2018, June), An Approach to Teaching Academic Writing to International Graduate Students in Colleges of Engineering Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--29773

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