A proposal to establish an international academic writing buddy system for mentoring and being mentored, with a view to getting published.
Comments from teachers and educationalists would be greatly appreciated on the following proposal.
This proposal has grown out of the realization that many English teachers who work in an EFL context do not feel confident enough to write academically, which means that even if they have carried out quality research, they are unlikely to follow through and write up their research project to a standard required in academia.
However, struggling with writing is not the monopoly of non-native speaker scholars. Novice L1 writers also find it difficult to learn the conventions of the genre. Therefore, the assumption that the real divide is not between native and non-native authors, but between experienced, senior authors and junior, less experienced writers, has led some of us non-native English teachers working in Ecuador to look for a solution that would alleviate some of the multi-layered problems involved.
We suggest the setting up of an “academic writing buddy system”, whereby more experienced writers would offer to mentor less experienced authors. While signing up for mentoring, the very same writers could be mentored by even more experienced ones. ELT authors who have been in the profession for decades could mentor those who have been teaching and practising academic writing, but who are perhaps not such prolific writers of books and articles. The latter, in turn, could mentor English teacher colleagues who are just starting their academic careers.
The three-tier system
Let us give you an example from our own Ecuadorian context. Some of us do a lot of mentoring as both formal and informal “thesis directors” at Master’s level. However, we would be honoured to be mentored by someone whose approach, experience and published output we hold in high esteem. This implies that we could be mentees and mentors at the same time. Our intention is that the buddy system would cut across the gender and the native / non-native divide. It would simply mean that more experienced scholars would mentor less experienced, novice authors.
The buddy system should be open to anyone who is interested in improving their ELT colleagues’ academic writing, as well as developing their own. Even though scholars of subjects other than English may wish to be included in the group, the idea is not to provide a free editing / proof-reading service in all areas of arts and sciences. The buddy pairs would work specifically on texts related to ELT, but within that there could be some specialization, according to the topic that is being dealt with and the specialist knowledge of the person offering the mentoring.
The buddy system could be set up as a Facebook group (much like Women in ELT), with administrators who take it upon themselves to manage the pairing up. The project itself could be advertised on ELT-related websites, journals and periodicals like EL Gazette, EFL Magazine, etc. EFL Magazine could spearhead the project by including a template / registration form for mentors and mentees alike. IATEFL could also provide information for their 6,000 members and its ESP SIG could be duly involved.
It could happen that too many mentees apply with not enough mentors signing up. We believe that this project can only work if there is a fair and equitable division of labour. This is why it is important that mentees provide mentoring to others, even though there might come a point when the mentors that are at the very top of the pyramid are unlikely to want or need any mentoring and, the mentees at the bottom of the pile have no confidence in offering further language and editorial advice.
In order to keep the workload manageable, the suggestion is that academic writing buddies work in trios: one senior mentor advising a middle-ranking mentor, who is both being mentored by the senior mentor and is mentoring a junior scholar.
Language proficiency issues
While it may be true that academic writing is difficult both for native and non-native scholars, we should acknowledge that being proficient in your own mother tongue implies that writing is probably faster and less of an agonizing experience. Non-native speakers often complain that they find it hard to get their message across in an eloquent and succinct manner, or they struggle to find the right tone, due to a lack of awareness of the pragmatic force of their writing.
Only a few scholars are able to write in a style that is both academic and deeply engaging, and the expectation is not to find the new Arundhati Roy of EAP. However, there are certain conventions of the genre that might be followed and a certain standard that one should aim to achieve. Academic writing is, by definition, not creative writing, and how to follow the well-established rules of the genre can be taught and learnt.
This proposal requires a high degree of collaboration and the best way for that to start is to introduce this proposal to those involved in English for Professional Academic Purposes in ELT. Once this initial proposal has gone through public scrutiny, a revised proposal could be put to the ELT community and the buddy system could be set up in a way that serves best those involved. We look forward to all comments, including the managing of the system, too, bearing in mind that a number of junior scholars may work in isolated environments and, therefore, the system needs to be both simple and widely attainable.
The workings of the trios could be documented and, with academic writing journals kept, the experience could be shared and written up collaboratively. This could lead to scholarly publications on the project itself. Since the ultimate goal of the exercise is to encourage novice writers to enter the competitive world of publishing, it is hoped that as a result of the buddy system, more polished products will land on editors’ desks, and the chances of getting published will increase. More publishing will bring about more self-confidence and that, in turn, will help more writing as apprenticeship flourishes and growing into the profession ensues.