What we talk about when we talk about writing: exploring how English for Academic Purposes teachers and learning developers conceptualise academic writing

Sharon McCulloch, Tania Horak


Two main groups of staff currently provide writing support to students in British universities. These staff typically enter their roles from a range of professional backgrounds and, consequently, may hold different professional identities and understandings of what academic writing is. Although there is a body of research on teacher identity and on lecturers’ conceptualisations of writing, few studies have compared the views and identities of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) teachers and learning developers. The current study set out to investigate whether these two groups perceive academic writing in similar or different ways, and why. 

We undertook a small-scale study, interviewing eight participants at two universities, half from a post-1992 institution and the others from a research-intensive, high-ranking university. While participants varied in their definitions of writing, common themes emerged, lying on a spectrum from an autonomous, text-based, to an academic literacies perspective on writing. To establish the influences on these perspectives, we investigated the participants’ sense of identity as an academic writer, how they learned writing themselves and any influences on them from theory. Neither the EAP teachers nor the learning developers identified strongly as academic writers, despite all holding postgraduate qualifications and some having published their writing. Most reported little to no training in how to write academically themselves, and few mentioned any theoretical stance in their approach to helping students. Although some clustering around particular conceptualisations of writing was observed, we did not find strong evidence that the participants belong to two different ‘tribes’.


English for Academic Purposes; learning developers; academic writing; identity; academic literacies

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ISSN: 1759-667X