Literacy & Writing skills

The Dissemination of Speak-Write Research and Materials

The Dissemination of Speak-Write Research and Materials

“The survey found that many recent graduates are unable to articulate or are even unaware of the transferable skills they refined at university which are essential to their professional lives.”


Student writing skills come near the top of the list of worries for many English departments (and, for that matter, for many other departments too). Ways of addressing the problem take many different forms: writing modules bedded within the English degree; institution-wide courses spanning all disciplines; remedial work by Language / Student Support Centres; optional ‘drop-in’ sessions run by English lecturers; the presence of Royal Literary Fund fellows; courses in Creative Writing; optional or compulsory online support and activities. Some departments use a diagnostic exercise in the early weeks of the first year to assess skills levels and support requirements. Others don’t. Lecturers differ in their attitude to student literacy, some worrying about it far more than others. Is this variety of approach a problem in itself? Should we be addressing such an important issue in a more unified way? The responses to a questionnaire sent out as part of a Subject Centre project in 2003 suggested that many English departments lack a systematic approach to literacy and writing skills. According to the project director, ‘ there is often no clear process whereby [writing skills] support is targeted to particular students.’

According to the English Benchmarking Statement, an English degree should equip students with ‘rhetorical skills of effective communication and argument, both oral and written’, ‘command of a broad range of vocabulary and an appropriate critical terminology’ and ‘ competence in the planning and execution of essays and project-work’.

When the Subject Centre invited departments to apply for its very first round of mini-project funding, literacy was the most popular research topic. There are, therefore, currently a stimulating range of completed Subject Centre projects whose main aim is to improve student writing skills and whose reports can be read on this website. Topics covered include electronic grammar tutorials, remedial writing sessions, the relevance of writing skills to employability, the use of peer tutors in the teaching of writing skills and the use of small-scale writing tasks embedded within pre-existent courses.

Some of the difficulties that students have are connected to their transition from school or college to HE, and their acclimatisation to academic forms and conventions. Small scale writing exercises can be a valuable way of managing this transition: you may wish to visit the Assessment section of the website, where a range of different writing tasks are described.

(Image on left courtesy of  Ildar Sagdejev on Flickr)