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My Approach to Teaching Academic Writing

Since 2003, it seems that in one way or another–formally or informally–I’ve been tutoring and/or teaching academic communication (oral and written), to friends, fellow church members, peers, professors, and medical professionals. My background is in English Composition (B.A. 2008), Linguistics (M.A. 2011), and Theology (M.Div., in progress). Having taught English as a Second language (at several Chicago schools) and College Composition (at Trinity University), I have developed an approach that focuses on the writer, the linguistic situation of the writing, and the priority of the writing process over the written product.

The act of academic writing is simply participating in a form of discourse that has been sanctioned as “the way to talk” by a particular academic community. My love of teaching academic writing stems from my fascination with the dynamics of such linguistic communities and how they maintain themselves via notions of “correctness” and “convention.” I help students “get in” these communities by guiding them in “talking the talk.” What is fascinating about academic writing is that it grows out of a very particular (Western) cultural pattern of argument (classical rhetoric, etc.). I enjoy helping students internalize “mental dialogue,” showing them that when they can mentally/verbally argue (often with imaginary interlocutors) on an academic/theological topic, the next step is simple: write down what you just said!

To be sure, writing does not come easy even for the most astute theologians or students. Van Til, like many others, struggled with writing (Olphint, 2008, viii). The “writing apprehension” students typically face is a culmination of bad previous teachers, experiences, and outcomes of writing. Mostly, however, writers struggle because of their obsession with the finished written product, and a minimization ofthe ongoing writing process that creates the finished product.

Therefore, in teaching/consulting on academic writing, I firmly believe in “process over product.” My approach examines a client’s 1) planning, 2) outlining, 3) freewriting, 4) drafting, 5) reviewing, and 6) revising. Only after several iterations from step 4 to 5 do we see a step 7: a finished product. However, and this highlights the already/not yet tension, there are no true “finished products” on this side of the consummation inasmuch as no writer is a “finished work.”

This is probably the core of my approach: a prioritization of developing the writer along with the written work. Then, through guiding the writer through the progression of the writing process,  leading the writer ultimately to a “deadline-ready” written product. Therefore, I’ve offered my services to peers, professors, and anyone else who wants to sharpen themselves as a writer, invigorate their writing process, and confidently submit deadline-ready (un)finished written products.

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