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Linguistic Pleasure: HSE University’s Academic Writing Centre

Founded in 2011, the Academic Writing Centre strives to help HSE University faculty improve their academic and research-writing skills in English. HSE University bulletin Okna spoke to several teachers and researchers who have used the AWC’s services over the decade.

Over the last decade, the Centre’s teachers have organised 21 continuing education courses. The Centre offers approximately ten courses annually, including on-site, online and mixed-format courses. Each is targeted at a certain level of language proficiency and has different purposes, such as the language aspects of academic texts, the sociocultural norms of correspondence, the preparation of presentations and lectures in English, and writing working papers or draft papers.

Madina Kalimullina

Madina Kalimullina, Senior Research Fellow at the HSE—Skolkovo Institute for Law and Development and a frequent guest of the Centre

First, as a beginner at writing academic papers in English, I had a chance to gradually and very comfortably immerse myself in the world of academic writing and its various specifics and dimensions. This includes not only working with the text and developing an academic writing style, but also getting to know the key databases for searching journals, understanding the rules of interaction with the editorial office and reviewers, paper construction techniques, citation skills, and learning about various online assistants for authors.

When I attend the Centre’s events, I understand that I will not only learn something interesting, but will also find out more about the most relevant, expert-verified practices and opinions on a given topic.

For those who already publish their papers in English, the Centre is a great opportunity to keep up with the latest developments in academic writing and get tips from the best lecturers and professionals. For those who have had a break in publications, AWC courses are a superb chance to update their skills, get back into writing quickly, and prepare material for publication at the same time. For those who have never published a paper, AWC courses are vital, and their consultation sessions are an opportunity to learn how to state your thoughts and ideas more effectively.

AWC Services: Workshops, Consultations, Self-Study Books, and More

Every two weeks, the Centre conducts seminars and workshops on an impressive variety of topics. Invited lecturers range from experts in academic writing, textbook authors, journal editors, and HSE University peers who have successfully published their papers in English. The topics of the seminars are chosen based on the requests and needs of the university’s researchers and teachers. AWC employees collect and analyse such requests annually.

‘Thank you very much for organising such amazingly useful seminars with the speakers. They are really handy and relevant!’

Irina Strelnikova

‘I really liked the exercises and the statistics, it helped me understand the perspective of Russian learners of English and be aware of the mistakes I might make as a researcher when writing my own article/thesis.’

Valentina Ozolina

‘The seminar was well-structured and helpful even for those with many years of experience of teaching/using English. Every single assignment made sense within the overall framework of what we were supposed to learn. The speaker maintained a positive tone throughout and handled questions well.’

Natalia Morozova

‘Before enrolling in this course, I had a very basic understanding of the structure of the article in international journals. This course helped me a lot to better understand what an article is, what parts it has, and how to organize the argumentation within each section. I feel confident now.’

Liudmila Lyagushkina

‘Teamwork and group engagement were valuable. Each class was a great pleasure – thank you!’

Anastasiia Makareva

‘I could see how the article I was working on improved.’

Nataliya Chesnokova

© HSE University Academic Writing Centre

Individual consultation sessions are the most popular activity offered by the Centre. The main goal of a consultation is to help the employee improve their English academic writing skills using their own papers as case studies. A consultation session is an interactive process that may include discussing a journal’s requirements, the logic of how content is arranged, reading aloud, working on pronunciation, searching for repeated errors in the texts, explaining rules, and giving advice. The Centre’s consultants offer recommendations on how to improve the text, but the final decision on whether to make any changes is always up to the author.

‘I am grateful to the Academic Writing Centre. Thanks to the help from the Centre’s consultants, I have prepared two papers in English this year. It is always thrilling to work with you—a real linguistic pleasure! I am happy that HSE University staff members have such an amazing opportunity, and I hope we will have it again in the future.’

Ekaterina Kodja

‘Individual consultations help me publish in top journals and hone my writing skills. They also improve my self-editing skills. I notice systematic mistakes and correct them without external assistance.’

Vera Rebiazina

‘At the moment I’m working on a text for one of the leading journals in my field.  If there had been no Center, I wouldn’t even dare think about it!’

Tatyana Zhuravleva

The AWC offers 34 consultations a week, and over 350 employees a year work on their texts with the Centre’s consultants. Since the pandemic, the Centre’s services have expanded beyond Moscow to provide assistance to employees of HSE University’s campuses in St Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, and Perm.

From AWC clients’ feedback
© HSE University Academic Writing Centre

In addition to its key services, the Centre regularly implements various projects. These include Writer’s Retreat, AWC Day, the Finding Your Route to Research Writing diagnostic module, and various competitions.

A few years ago, participants of an AWC diagnostic module for the staff development programme were asked to draw a metaphor of their relationship with the English language and then describe it. It turned out that English can be compared a sports activity, a perspective, a water reservoir, a tool, a friend, and more.

Evgeny Ivanov, Lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Junior Research Fellow at the Laboratory for Monitoring the Risks of Socio-Political Destabilization

‘Learning English means discovering new worlds. As English has spread across the planet, it has given the world new words and meanings while absorbing the wealth of other languages and cultures. Via English, Russian has also received words from around the world: boomerang and kangaroo from Indigenous Australian languages; hamburger from German; beef from French; ketchup from Malay; pyjamas and bungalow from Hindi; and zero from Arabic.

The worlds of English are not limited to the blue sphere of Planet Earth. I learned the language when I was at university and rushed to catch up with the things I had missed. I read Kipling and Orwell in the original. Having devoured The Jungle Book, I was shocked to find out that Bagheera was not a female character, as in the Soviet cartoon, but a male one. Reading books and watching films in the original is a special kind of pleasure. Literature and film lovers get more keys to understanding the work. When you understand that Professor Dumbledore from Harry Potter actually means ‘Professor Bumblebee’, it adds some traits to his personality. The characters in Game of Thrones speak in a dozen different dialects, which emphasises the diverse geography of Westeros.

English is so rich and varied that I can’t describe my relations with it in one metaphor. For me as a researcher, English is nothing less than a working language. For five centuries now, political science has developed in the language of Hobbes and Locke, Dahl and Huntington. That’s why I still actively pursue my English. The desire to think in the same language as giants of research pushes me forward. Learning a language is like scrambling through fog to an old estate, lost in the heathland of Yorkshire. At first, you drive slowly, weaving through numerous unexpected turns, but at the end of the path, an award awaits: a moss-covered mansion with the world’s largest library…’

In 2019–2020, the Academic Writing Centre hosted the School of Trainers, a project aimed at preparing tutors who work with researchers. This unique continuing education course helped expand the team of trainers. The outcomes of the School included academic writing seminars and self-study workbooks designed for researchers.

© HSE University Academic Writing Centre

Visitors to the Centre can get self-study exercise books with keys and recommendations, or work with books while drinking a cup of tea or coffee at the resource centre. A hearty welcome is guaranteed. AWC staff also regularly update the collection of useful resources on the website, which even draw interest from colleagues from other universities.

‘Thank you for this fantastic list of resources. I didn’t even know about some of them.’

Julia Reed, writer and blogger at Custom-Writing

‘I was doing a bit of research about video editing tools for possible collaboration and stumbled upon your page. Really great stuff there!’

Cris Mark Baroro, VEED PR Outreach Specialist

Over its ten-year history, the HSE University Academic Writing Centre has accumulated valuable experience that it is happy to share with peers from other cities and countries. The Centre offers internships and roundtable discussions.

International Conference

In October 2021, the Centre organised an international online conference ‘Supporting Faculty in Writing for Publication: Best Practices’, which attracted the staff of writing centres, teachers of academic writing and English for academic purposes, and editors of international journals. The conference brought together a total of 109 participants from nine countries (Russia, the UK, USA, Canada, Kazakhstan, Croatia, Poland, the UAE, and Vietnam).

© HSE University Academic Writing Centre

The conference was aimed at exchanging experience and best practices in English academic writing with university lecturers and researchers. The participants learned how linguistic support for staff at various Russian and international universities is organised, what problems non-English-speaking authors face, and what practices are effective. A total of 70 presentations were features, including plenary sessions, workshops, methodical presentations, poster sessions, and a roundtable discussion.

The key speakers included colleagues from the UK and the US: Karen Ottewell, PhD, Director of Academic Development & Training for International Students, University of Cambridge; Carolyn Westbrook, PhD, Researcher at the British Council, Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Authority, UK; and Ron Martinez, PhD, Director of the International Language Centre, University of Arkansas.

The Editors’ Panel, a discussion by leading international journals’ editors on academic writing, attracted a lot of interest, as did the Networking Sessions open discussion platforms.

The discussions were organised in three tracks.

© HSE University Academic Writing Centre

In addition to traditional formats, the conference also offered some original events, such as 'WoS Help Desk’ (a mini-group session with a consultant from Clarivate Analytics), ‘Paper Feedback Station’ (individual consultations by AWC), and 'Research Partners’ Date’ (an online platform for exchanging contacts and finding a partner for research), which was attended by over 30 colleagues. The events resulted in 23 new ideas for joint projects.

‘The conference was amazing: interesting speakers, a great variety of topics covered in two days, and a warm and friendly atmosphere. Thank you!!!’

Irina Khoutyz, KubSU

‘Thank you very much. This is so inspiring and motivating for me as I'm starting my journey to create a writing center at Warsaw University.  I truly hope we will be able to begin some form of cooperation with the HSE Academic Writing Center.’

Marta Novak, University of Warsaw, Poland

Thank you ever so much for organizing such an exciting professional event and all the materials made available to conference participants. I wish you every success with your Centre’s further activities.’

Liudmila Kuznetsova, SPbU

‘Most inspiring, productive, thought-provoking, and insightful!’

Olga Tolstykh, SUSU

‘It was a great pleasure and a special privilege for me to speak at the conference. I wish the AWC every success and lots of luck in your undertakings, and health, inspiration, and strength to your wonderful team!’

Tatiana Skopintseva, NES

‘The conference was very well done. The speakers and the presentations were well chosen and grouped effectively, and the tech support was responsive and efficient in addressing questions to keep things going smoothly. The break-out sessions and Research Partner form were excellent additions, too. These brought something very special to the conference: international opportunities for research collaboration.’

John Baker, Tôn Đức Thắng University, Vietnam

Svetlana Suchkova

Svetlana Suchkova, Director of the HSE University Academic Writing Centre

‘As usual, we have plenty of plans going forward. We get tired of the routine and always try to come up with something new. Following the Academic Writing Centre Conference, we organised a roundtable discussion on ‘The Role of Academic Writing in Curricula at Various Russian Universities’ on February 17. About 100 participants from different universities took part in it.

We are also looking forward to launching a new project called “Five O’clock Tea at the AWC”, which will offer informal meetings over a cup of tea. The topics of these tea parties will vary from discussing films in English to presenting academic writing textbooks. We decided to dedicate our first meetings to working with the voice—a teacher’s main tool. Together with theatre teacher Valeria Ustinova, we will learn to manage our voice and breathing in order to alleviate the stress caused by increased throat strain.

We are also going to continue our project to provide useful resources to our students, including self-study books, podcasts, and video lectures. We are thinking about introducing new educational formats, such as one-day training sessions. So, you see, we have a lot of plans. I believe that as long as we have new creative ideas, the Centre is developing. I am grateful to all our colleagues for participating in our events. Come, take part, and enjoy!’

‘The Academic Writing Centre is one of the key HSE University departments for all (early-career) researchers who work at the university. It is unique not only in Russia, but also among all non-English-speaking universities that I know (with rare exceptions). Without you, our academic career would have been much less successful’.

Alexander Golovlev, PhD, Austrian Academy of Sciences JESH Fellow, HSE International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences, Ludwig-Boltzmann Institut für Kriegsfolgenforschung

Follow the events by the HSE Academic Writing Centre:

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