Guidance on Language and Literacy

When you’re writing course documentation, it is vital to consider the impact of the language you use on your students. The guidance on this page is informed by current literature, and provides some underlying principles and with tips for adopting of an inclusive approach to language and literacy.

1 Principle: All uses of language and literacy establish, enforce or reproduce power relations and social identities through discourses. These discourses are often implicit or hidden, especially so to students who are ‘novices’ in these areas.

Tip: Wherever possible, make the operations of language explicit and allow these to be explored or challenged. (Learning Development tutors can help with this!).

2 Principle: ‘correct’, ‘clear’, and ‘appropriate’ are all contested terms in linguistics, and carry particular ideologies of language and power.

Tip: Avoid using these terms in feedback, unless you can reference/show a particular genre (e.g. a type of profession writing) where this is transparently the case (and explain the effect of the language used).

3 Principle: ‘Convention’ is similar to ‘commonsense’: it is useful to understand normalised/ naturalised ways of thinking / being / writing, but we should encourage and reward a critical perspective towards them.

Tip: Teach academic ‘conventions’, but encourage critical engagement with them. (Academics and students both often have good reasons for breaking or challenging conventions)

4 Principle: ‘Conventions’ and commonsense notions of ‘clarity’ and ‘appropriacy’ effectively privilege speakers of what are perceived as powerful ‘standard’ varieties over speakers from different linguistic backgrounds, such as students from a range of socio-cultural, class, economic and ethnic backgrounds. There is no purely linguistic justification for this.

Tip: Language is closely bound up with identity. Allow students to creatively develop linguistic identities that reflect who they are and want to be, rather than enforcing particular historical ‘norms’ in ways of speaking, writing and being.

5 Principle: Social, professional and academic communication is becoming increasingly ‘multimodal’ (i.e. using visual, gestural, embodied elements as well as ‘language’). This should be reflected in our communication practices too.

Tip: Teach and assess ‘multimodally’, using a range of modes to convey meaning, and expect students to do the same. An increased use of visual elements in presentations and lectures for instance benefits all students, particularly dyslexic and international learners.

6 Principle: Reflection, theoretical analysis and critical thinking can be achieved through many modalities of communication apart from through writing (e.g. speech, visual media), or through a mix of these. Historically, writing has been a dominant modality in academia for reasons of its permanence and accessibility which in the light of point 4 above often no longer apply.

Tip: Avoid conflating writing with theory, reflection or critical thinking, especially in assessment. Where writing is a required mode, it should relate to a specific learning aim (e.g. development of a particular written skill or genre that is integral and relevant to the course) and also form part of the taught curriculum.

7 Principle: Students may need to learn particular genres (or ‘styles’) of writing and other modes of communication (e.g. professional types of writing such as artists statements or design brochures). The language/literacy elements of these genres need to be analysed and taught explicitly.

Tip: Learning Development tutors can offer their expertise in this area, both in terms of analysing and teaching linguistic genres.

8 Principle: Academic writing varies within and across disciplines and locations. In many fields, it is increasingly trans-disciplinary and diverse. It is always changing, and responding to changes in society, technology, and the subject written about.

Tip: Encourage diversity and risk-taking in academic writing. Do not present academic writing as a set of rules or conventions to be ‘obeyed’. Academic ‘conventions’ are approximations, and whilst they need to be understood in some contexts, they can also be challenged.

9 Principle: Internationalisation requires that language practices within a university are also internationalised. International and intercultural communication is distinguished by its diversity: successful communication is a matter of strategy rather than a single variety of ‘global English’, and certainly not minority British ‘Native Speaker’ varieties. UCA should aspire towards becoming a multilingual community.

Tip: Avoid working to British ‘Native Speaker’ standards of ‘correctness’.

10 Principle: Bi- and multi-lingual speakers (e.g. most International/EU students)will have a greater knowledge and range of communications strategies than monolingual speakers (e.g. many home students).

Tip: Bi and multilingual students should be seen as a linguistic resource. Move away from ‘deficit’ views of English L2 (second language) speakers: in global terms, they will often be more ‘correct’ than monolingual home students.

11 Principle: Claims for, and about, objectivity and subjectivity are created through language. Good writers consciously position themselves by creating linguistic identities that reflect their orientation towards truth / knowledge.

Tip: Allow and encourage students to experiment with their ‘writing identities’. For instance, ‘1st person’ writing I can be used very effectively by academic writers to indicate a critical orientation towards objectivity.