Friday, 19 October 2018

Polishing Academic Writing

From time to time we can all benefit from revisiting the rules of writing. Some time ago, an academic mentor of mine suggested that I would benefit from taking a professional writing course. Once I got over my slapped ego, I found a couple of free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and enrolled on them.

One was a two part course through Reading University on the FutureLearn platform at, and the other was through the University of California on the edX platform, at These two courses were chosen simply because they 'turned up' at the right time: my enrolment was fortuitous. However, each course taught me something unexpected.

The Reading Uni course through the FutureLearn platform put me in touch with a lot of people from Korea and Africa. I learned more about where I came from, and where they came from, because we discussed our various backgrounds and experience. The discussion boards on FutureLearn are very interactive and enjoyable to use. This conversation 'richness' made the course material much more alive to us all. While the online facilitators weren't often present (in my view, they should have probably been more visible) the participants jointly set the tone and made the course interactive and fun. It was collegial. The course itself was very structured, and covered lots of things that I had never thought about, as a native English speaker. I learned small things around the edges of language which improved my writing.

The Stanford Uni course through the edX platform was more focused on writing well, so there were elements of an English major in it. As this was not an area I had been exposed to before, I found the material interesting: and challenging at times (which was not a bad thing). Many of the programming choices seemed odd to me, probably because it was an area of study I was not familiar with. The Stanford course felt somewhat formulaic, and - like the Reading Uni MOOC - lacked a guiding hand on the tiller for pretty much the whole time I interacted. The edX message boards were hideously clunky to use, so there was little collegiality. Further, as we cross-marked each other, it also felt like there was no-one we could complain to if we were treated (in our view) unjustly by other student markers. However, the course helped me to plan all pieces of writing, and supplied a number of very useful tools which I have written blog posts about since.

For two free courses, both were thoroughly worth attending. If you are ever thinking about attending a professional writing course, I suggest you consider adding both of these to your list.

While I didn't want a qualification from these, both courses would allow you a couple of weeks to decide if you wanted to pay a fee to get a certificate of completion, and lifetime access to the course materials. Just be aware that a number of MOOCs close off your access once the course is over. Remember that rather than paying, you can always write good course notes and screenshot everything that you might want to revisit later. 

I downloaded what I thought I would reuse, wrote blog posts, and made many notes. I didn't need the certification: it was the learning that drew me. 


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