Academic Writing in a Second or Foreign Language

Ramona Tang (ed.)
Continuum International Publishing group, 2012, 250pp

Reviewed by Colin Toms
The Petroleum Institute, Abu Dhabi

It is axiomatic that students attending universities in English-dominant countries will need to be proficient in English. Increasingly, however, that linguistic prerequisite also applies to those who choose to study in their own home country. Formal study of any kind is, of course, predicated upon writing, and it is in order to examine “a number of issues which are central to the field of academic writing” that Ramona Tang has created this volume.

Academic Writing….is intended for anyone researching, studying or, indeed, writing in English as a second or foreign language. Broken into three broad sections, it encompasses learning, learner discourse and writer identity in ESL academic writing. There are 11 articles by a total of 16 contributors, representing a broad spectrum of Asian and European contexts and perspectives.

The articles which follow address issues such as identity and empowerment, the challenges and opportunities which face the E2L academic writer. More concretely, specific genres of academic text – and the language which characterizes the likes of research articles and dissertations – are examined. Contributors hail from both ‘center’ countries such as the UK and US and ‘periphery’ countries such as Poland and China (terminology borrowed from Tang, Challenges and Opportunities for Scholars from EFL Backgrounds, this volume). A variety of research methodologies are represented, ranging from a quantitative assessment of questionnaire data on the one hand to contributor as research subject on the other.

Academic Writing….encompasses both the theoretical and the practical and is thus of value to anyone with an interest in issues pertaining to E2L writing. The volume as a whole is bound together by the rationale articulated by editor Ramona Tang in her introductory article: a departure from what she terms the ‘deficit’ model:
“…I firmly believe that our discussions in this area need to be supplemented by a more positive discourse that also appreciates and foregrounds the cultural and linguistic capital that ESL/EFL scholars have.” (p10)
So how does Academic Writing….attempt to achieve this? Its stated objectives are threefold: first, the volume provides a platform for voices from a variety of backgrounds, not merely those for whom English is L1. Secondly, those voices encompass a variety of perspectives: undergraduates, postgraduates, researchers and academic professionals. Finally, a plurality of methodological approaches is represented, ranging from quantitative analysis on the one hand to personal reflection on the other. Academic Writing….is therefore both extensive and comprehensive all at once. Constrained by its overall brief yet aiming for the broadest possible scope, it serves the reader in like fashion. No matter what one’s interest, something of interest is to be found within these pages.
One small caveat, should one be needed: this is not a book for the neophyte nor, indeed, for the ordinary ‘composition’ teacher. It is not a ‘how to’ manual or an introduction to academic writing qua genre. Yet to those whose research interests cover the territory outlined above, Academic Writing….will prove an indispensable addition to the canon.