Academic Writing Development; Strange Lands

Academic Writing Development; Strange Lands


AcademicWriting Development Strange Lands

Themastery of a new language is very complex. According to McCarthy,academic writing development is contextual. This means thatindividuals learn how to write within an academic community discourseby learning the principles and rules that guide communication. Thus,transiting from one academic discourse to another is like moving intoa strange land. This paper supports McCarthy argument that entering anew academic discourse community and perfecting its written languageis like learning a language in a foreign country.

McCarthyargues languages processes and speaking are largely influenced by thesocial and cultural contexts in which they occur. The use of languageoccurs within a speech community and aims at achieving a meaningfulsocial function. As a result, people within the same social contexthave similar ‘ways of speaking’. This is because the social andcultural context defines the acceptable linguistic and intellectualprinciples that govern speaking and social communications. Theability to perfectly use these rules, largely unconsciously, resultsinto communication competence. In a similar way, communicationthrough writing happens within a particular community discourse.Effective writers put into consideration the details that areimportant by the members of a specific community discourse. Based onthis understanding, McCarthy argues that when a student enters aparticular academic discourse community, he learns the rules andprinciples of communication in the similar way an individual learnswhen entering a foreign country (McCarthy, 234). Cultural factorshave a huge impact on communication. For example, cultures define howan individual addresses an elder or a senior person. Culture alsoinfluences other essentials of communication such as eye contacts andfacial expressions. These principles that guide communication withina particular community discourse are learned progressively over aperiod of time.

Aslearners advance from one level of study to the next, the master theprinciples and rules of communication that are acceptable within theacademic discourse. The mastery of the principles and thus thewriting competence is evaluated based on the standards within thecommunity discourse. It is important to note that even in nonacademic writing there are complex norms and principles that must belearned, both tacit and explicit, for a writer to be successfulwithin that discourse. Learning how to write within a particularacademic discourse can be compared to learning a new language withina new cultural and linguistic background. Writing in the academicdiscourse involves the teacher and the learner as well as otheressentials such as the subject matter sequence of actions andlearning activities and the structure of the task. Additionally, theacademic discourse is not viewed from the school context, but ratherfrom the professional convections in the discipline and intellectualnorms. As learners progress in their academic and professional life,the overlapping principles of academic writing influences the waystudents think, writer and interact with their teachers and otherstudent ((McCarthy, 235). Progressively, this build the notion ofwhat it means to be a nurse, a literary critic, a psychologists, ascientist or a member of any other profession.

Inconclusion, in the same way learning how to speak takes place in aparticular context and is influence by communication norms andprinciples, academic writing also occurs within a context. Learningthe communication norms in a foreign country can be used tounderstand how individuals learn how to write effectively in a newacademic discourse. In the same way individuals perfect a newlanguage in the cultural context progressively, learners learn how towriter in an academic context progressively.


McCarthy,Lucille Parkinson. “A Stranger in Strange Lands: A College StudentWriting across the Curriculum”, Researchin the Teaching of English,21(3) (Oct., 1987), p 233-265.