My work as a Learning Development Lecturer over the past three years has brought me into daily contact with students from level 4 to postgraduate. At all levels it is apparent that many students struggle with academic writing. Much of the academic literacy support on offer at my university focuses on practical ways to improve writing. However, the difficulties with writing are often not simply structural or even intellectual; they seem to stem from a lack of understanding of the writing process and the nature of academic writing itself as well as deeper issues to do with confidence and identity. Yet, academic writing lies at the heart of university assessment and therefore all students must get to grips with it early in their university journey so as to avoid the risk of academic failure (a common cause of attrition).
The literature on academic writing acknowledges that acts of writing are inextricably linked to the self and the need to create an academic identity (Hyland 2002, Antoniou & Moriarty 2008, Hathaway 2015), yet very few studies have focused on the potential of creative writing to develop this sense of self. Creative writing, in contrast to academic writing, is considered to be a more flexible and potentially imaginative form of writing. It takes many forms including stories, poems, autobiographical writing and journal writing as well as writing in response to photographs, images or objects. However, academic and creative writing are often viewed as occupying opposing positions on a spectrum, with academic writing being seen as “straightforward, intellectually-driven and logically-ordered” (Antoniou & Moriarty 2008 p.158) and creative writing as “poetic and creative” (ibid). Although it is apparent that these types of writing differ enormously in terms of context, audience, purpose and style and they are clearly distinct as textual products, the writing process itself is potentially very similar.
Research demonstrates that the implications of using creative writing to develop academic writing include the potential to develop authorial identity, improve confidence, reduce cases of plagiarism, facilitate personal, academic and vocational development, develop critical thinking and enable students to engage more fully with the changes in identity which accompany the transition to university. Creative writing in all its forms enables students to disengage their critical, editorial “voice” and to view writing as pleasurable and non-stressful. This type of writing means students are allowed to bring aspects of themselves to the writing which they cannot otherwise do in most academic writing. Furthermore, the studies that do exist seem to point to the reality that the act of writing in itself develops thinking and is not just the exposition of knowledge.
Researcher: Laura Minogue