Wednesday, 9 November 2011

English in the global academy

Here's (what I thought was) a perfectly good English sentence that I included in a paper that I submitted to a certain educational technology journal:

The role of teachers who have little or no face-to-face contact with their students, and their use of available online resources to support such engagement, is the focus of this paper.

One referee objected to it, and to several others like it, and advised me to...

 "consider using a concise subject to start a sentence, not a long prep phrase or modifying clause".

Here's another of the modifying-clause offenders:

Evidence of ways in which these tutors perceive their students to be increasingly challenged by the conventions of academic writing was provided by a survey carried out in 2008.

Now, whilst I'm satisfied there is nothing grammatically wrong with these sentences I was taken aback to read that the same referee found them 'confusing' and 'difficult to understand'. Aside from the embarrassment that this causes me, as a English-speaking academic writing about the teaching of academic writing, I'm quite deflated by this. It suggests that my academic literacy skills are not as they should be.

In a world where English is being adopted and adapted by readers and writers from a huge diversity of educational and linguistic backgrounds, I may have to learn to modify not just my sentences but my whole approach to writing in English. Out with 'left-branching' rhetoric (politically suspect too)! In with the 'concise subject' as theme. I stand corrected.

Still, I vaguely yearn for readers like those the Capital Community College Foundation advises:

" if, as reader, you let yourself go a bit, there's a well earned delight in finding yourself at the end of such a sentence, having successfully navigated its shoals."

1 comment:

  1. Now refreshing and reflective - I'm somewhat relieved to know that while my grammar and sentence use is regularly subject to your microscopic (but nonetheless helpful) inspection this is a process you are subjected too. Rather than being embarrassed maybe this is just another example of how subjective and contextualised academic writing really is, also suggesting how fluid the notion of 'academic literacy skills' really is.