Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Teaching Students to Write With a Voice of Authority

academic writing final
Academic Writing (Photo: CTJ Online)
by Dr Bruce Johnson

As an educator, reviewing students' papers can be rewarding, interesting, and frustrating all at the same time.

What makes the process enjoyable are the papers that demonstrate critical thinking and the use of higher order thinking, with statements that are supported by solid research.

What makes the feedback process challenging is when students have not gone far enough in their analysis and have a limited perspective, either due to a lack of research or through statements that are made strictly based upon opinions and beliefs.

The only voice that students have at this point is based upon the information they've acquired but not yet processed.

Students that are new to the process of academic writing and research often begin the process of developing a paper by searching online or visiting a library (either on-the-ground or online), collecting information, and reporting what was gathered.

Instead of becoming mini-reporters, other students develop their papers by stating what they believe, think, or have an opinion about. The phrase "I feel" has entered into students' vocabulary to the point that it can disrupt the flow of their thought processes.

To help students develop well-researched and well-informed papers, they need a process that helps them to avoid broad, sweeping generalizations, and instead, to form concrete statements that are written from a position of authority.

What I have developed for students to implement is a three-step process involving research, interaction, and writing.


Students generally begin research by typing keywords or phrases into a search engine. From that point, they will try to sort through a large volume of information. One of the first results often listed is an entry from Wikipedia, a source that is generally discouraged for use by many universities.

My suggestion for students is to use Wikipedia only as a source of general background information rather than as a source that can be documented in their paper, if there are limited options available.

When students find online sources, they must then determine if the website is credible, and if the author is credible. They must also ascertain if the information is reliable, and if it is relevant to their assignment.

One of the most important sources of credible information is the online library databases that are offered by many institutions. There is no guarantee that the information students need can be found through these databases; however, most have an extensive collection of sources.

It is important for students to understand that they still must evaluate the credibility and reliability of each source they find, unless the source is a peer-reviewed journal article.

At first, the library databases can be intimidating to use until students become comfortable using features such as the advanced search function, which allows them to expand upon or narrow the parameters of their topics.


Once students have collected credible and reliable sources, the process of writing the paper does not yet begin. This is a step that is often overlooked by students.

They must interact with that information first by asking questions, comparing the various sources they have found, and analyzing how this base of knowledge compares to what they know and what they are trying to find out.

Students also have to learn to remove their own internal bias that prevents them from collecting any information that may be in conflict with their current beliefs. In other words, students often search for and find sources that support what they know or believe.

The key to critical thinking throughout this process is to collect information that challenges what they know or teaches them something new by allowing them to acquire additional knowledge.

Writing from Authority

Now that students have collected a base of knowledge from sources they have processed, it is possible to start the writing process with the development of thesis statements and assertions that are well-informed.

Writing from a voice of authority means that students can support what they present because they have collected, analyzed, and synthesized information in a manner that allows them to make objective statements from a well-researched perspective.

This minimizes the possibility of subjective statements and broad generalizations, allowing them to create a well-developed, credible academic paper.

Continuous Process

The learning process is not static and what students will likely find is that what they write in one paper may not be current or relevant for the next paper.

Once students learn to write from a position or voice of authority, it will spark their intellectual curiosity and cause them to seek out new sources of information for the next assignment or project.

If they don't continue to utilize the three-step process of research, interaction, and writing, they will continue to write from the same point of view.

Developing a well-informed academic paper not only increases students' capacity for learning, it also provides educators with an opportunity for intellectual discourse as they are evaluating objective and well-researched statements.

Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, career coaching, and life coaching.

Dr. J has completed a master's in Business Administration and a PhD in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, faculty mentor, and professional writer.

Dr. J's first eBook, APPRECIATIVE ANDRAGOGY: TAKING the Distance Out of Distance Learning, is available on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. Learn more by visiting http://www.affordablequalitywriting.com

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