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Scholarship is a Journey

Narratives of scholarship

Milada Walková, Language Centre, University of Leeds

This narrative recounts my work on a particular scholarship project within the field of English for Academic Purposes (EAP). The project resulted in two publications (Walková, 2020; in press), and the narrative aims to depict the decisions I made in order to make it a success, informed by my previous scholarship experience. The narrative therefore includes many detours to that previous experience and learning from failure. The text is thus necessarily non-linear, and I hope this non-linearity will illustrate the complexity typical of a scholarship journey. I will be using my individual, personal experience to draw more general implications applicable to other scholarship projects and hopefully useful to other practitioners. As I do so, I will offer recommendations to language teachers relatively new to scholarship. 

Before I embark on recounting my scholarship project, however, I would like to ponder on reasons for conducting scholarship. The most important reason, I believe, is improving one’s pedagogical practice (Davis, 2019). Scholarship enhances teaching in manifold ways: firstly, good scholarship needs to be grounded in systematic engagement with literature on the topic. While I would expect all language teachers to read professional literature as part of Continuous Professional Development (CPD), reading scholarly works is particularly important for EAP practitioners, as it provides us with numerous authentic, recent examples of academic discourse – the discourse we teach. These examples will typically be varied and complex, and thus very different from the over-simplified models of academic writing presented in some published EAP textbooks (e.g. Phillips and Phillips, 2013). Intimate knowledge of authentic academic discourse can help us avoid the pitfalls of perpetuating myths about academic writing, such as good academic texts never use phrasal verbs (cf. Alangari et al., 2020) or the pronoun I (cf. e.g. Hyland, 2001). Moreover, reading for scholarship rather than for CPD makes reading more focused and more purposeful, as we learn about a particular topic in greater depth, and thus build our knowledge base of EAP more systematically. Secondly, when inspiration for scholarship comes from teaching practice, it makes one’s own teaching more informed and more reflective (see e.g. Bond, 2017). In this way, and given that such activities are institutionally supported, scholarship can help us avoid stagnation and burnout (Davis, 2019). Finally, by engaging in scholarship, we experience public academic speaking, practise the doing of (rather than just the teaching of) academic writing, step out of our comfort zone by facing peer review, and expose our work to public scrutiny. All this experience is paramount to EAP practitioners, as it shows us the difficulties of putting into practice what we teach about academic discourse in our classes and helps us develop greater empathy for our students. In sum, I believe that scholarship can make teaching practice research-informed, reflective and experiential. 

Another reason for doing scholarship concerns the EAP community and discipline at large. Within EAP community, scholarship can create impact on the teaching practice of our colleagues and on the learning of their students (Ding et al., 2018). Within academia, scholarship can put EAP on a par with other academic disciplines (Ding and Bruce, 2017; Davis, 2019). In order for scholarship to accomplish these goals, it has to be public and open to discussion (Ding et al., 2018). I believe, therefore, that we have a responsibility to undertake and disseminate our own scholarship as well as to implement and critique the scholarship of others. 

Davis (2019) suggests yet another reason for conducting scholarship – career development by raising one’s profile. Scholarship can certainly increase one’s visibility and be a source of professional and personal satisfaction; I would be careful, however, not to interpret career development in the sense that conducting scholarship will shield an individual EAP practitioner from precarity. As Bond (2021) notes, there is no guaranteed way to secure a permanent position in EAP. Job security, therefore, while a potential and very welcome by-product of scholarship, should not be the sole motivation for doing scholarship. In other words, motivation for scholarship is an essential part of our professional development which, although it requires support, cannot be driven purely by external pressures and/or awards. 

This narrative will incorporate the points just made: I will show how my scholarship project was inspired by my teaching practice, directed by my knowledge of academic discourse, and re-defined by reading literature. I will also briefly mention the role precarity has played in my scholarship journey and the impact my project has achieved. 

Working alongside colleagues new to scholarship, I sometimes see them struggling with scholarship for not knowing where to start. My advice is to find a topic of interest, ideally an issue that arises from one’s teaching practice. The scholarship project described in this narrative started as such. 

Back in 2018, I was teaching on a pre-sessional EAP course for postgraduate students and I noticed excessive use of linking words1  (e.g. howeverin addition) in student writing, to the extent that almost every sentence started with one. The tendency struck me because of its stark contrast to expert writing in published journal articles that I was used to reading. I wondered where students’ tendency to overuse linking words came from – perhaps it was a result of IELTS2  training? With this question in mind, I started noticing how colleagues taught linking words and I realised that IELTS was not necessarily to blame: I heard colleagues encouraging students to use more, rather than fewer, linking words. I saw teaching materials illustrating linking words in non-authentic texts suffering from the exact same issue I saw in student writing – virtually every sentence starting with a linking word. I became curious as to how teaching practice can be enhanced to help students use linking words appropriately. 

At this point I knew I wanted to do a scholarship project on linking words. I was considering using a corpus linguistic approach as I had done for previous scholarship projects: I would collect a sample of student assignments, analyse the frequency of linking words in them and compare it to the frequency of linking words in expert writing, a sample of published journal articles. 

Before I could collect and analyse my data, I turned to literature. For me, reading previous research is an essential part of conducting scholarship – without it, we risk unwittingly re-inventing the wheel, or worse, arriving at conclusions distorted by a lack of information. During my career I have seen colleagues skip this step – or postpone it until after they have analysed their data – whether due to time constraints, impatience to start a scholarship project, or even a desire to be surprised by one’s results. Such an approach often leads to duplication, rather than verification or extension, of scholarship that has been published previously. The problem with duplicating is that we are not advancing the field: it is only when we attempt to extend existing knowledge, even on a small scale, that our scholarship becomes meaningful and our field scholarly. I would therefore urge colleagues eager to embark on a scholarship project to inform their project with relevant literature. 

When reviewing literature on linking words, I found many studies confirming my intuitions about student overuse of linking words compared to expert use. This was in a way disappointing, as I felt that there was no need to conduct yet another study arriving at the same conclusion – one replicating existing knowledge. I thus lost a rationale for my project. The realisation that an idea I was forming had already been published by other scholars was not new to me. The first time it happened was during my PhD study: I made an exciting observation about lexical aspect, the topic of my dissertation, but when I shared it with my supervisor, she kindly smiled at me and told me I was ready to read a paper by Henriette de Swart (1998) which made the exact same argument. Upon seeing my despair, my supervisor told me I should be proud of myself – and this is how I try to view such situations ever since; if anything, it shows that I am on the right track in my thinking. 

I was thus facing a dilemma as to whether I should abandon the project on linking words completely. I had done this in the past before, when I found a paper that addressed the issue I was going to address, and did it even better than I had envisaged for my project. This time (as during my PhD study), however, I decided to try to go beyond the existing literature and, more importantly, beyond my original idea. Challenging as this is, I find that the projects which result from a decision to re-think my original plans are my best ones. In the case of my linking words project, I returned to my observation that the way we as EAP practitioners teach linking words probably contributes to students’ overuse and I decided to turn my attention from student use to teaching, and from student texts to textbooks.  

The first stage of my re-designed project involved looking at practical recommendations for teaching linking words, which I presented at the BALEAP 2019 conference. I wrote up the paper for the conference proceedings and although, after some revisions, the paper has been accepted for publication (Walková, in press), I am not entirely happy with it. The reason is that I feel the paper lacks substance. While it does point out problems in teaching practice and it does suggest solutions, it does so in a very cursory and uninventive manner, restricted by a tight word limit which did not allow me to explore the issue in great depth. A degree of dissatisfaction with my own previous work is not unique to this project; looking at my list of publications, there are a few papers which I feel have contributed important new knowledge, but also a few papers that are far removed from any pedagogical application. The majority of my publications are somewhere in between, offering new data and conclusions, yet circumscribed by methodological limitations or not being particularly moving. Nevertheless, all of my papers served a particular purpose at a given time, whether it was to present and publish my first paper, to learn about or share knowledge of a particular topic, to participate within a particular research community, or to contribute to a collaborative project. And all of my papers taught me a valuable lesson about conducting scholarship, writing, and the publication process. I would therefore encourage colleagues who feel inhibited to start scholarship for fear of failure to allow themselves imperfection and to view scholarship as a journey of learning. 

The second stage of investigating the practice of teaching linking words involved analysing EAP textbooks and evaluating them against the principles of good practice for teaching linking words from existing literature. This meant going beyond the comfort zone of my usual methods. While the approach I chose is not innovative, as others have used a similar approach before me (e.g. Paltridge, 2002; Deroey, 2018), it is not one of the central approaches of EAP research, namely corpus analysis, genre analysis and the Systemic Functional Linguistics approaches, which, as Bruce (2021) puts it, have become research orthodoxies. As Bruce points out, overreliance on these orthodoxies limits both EAP research and teaching practice. What enabled me to try an approach that is a bit unorthodox was actually my position on the job market at the time. Previously I had felt compelled to use central methods in order to secure publication in a high impact journal (e.g. Walková, 2019) as a means of improving my publication record, hoping this would increase my chances to land a job fitting my long-term career goals. I am not sure what role my publication record played, but it was during my project on linking words that I obtained an ongoing contract at a university, and at a language centre that wholeheartedly supports scholarship by building scholarship time into teachers’ workloads, allocating a budget for conference participation, recognising scholarly activity in promotion criteria, organising scholarly events and encouraging collaborative as well as individual projects. This freed me from the hamster wheel of constantly trying to prove myself and to play it safe and enabled me instead to experiment, and take risks, in scholarship. I would probably never have written my paper on linking words in EAP textbooks without a permanent contract. A similar point has been raised by Allison (2021) who suggests that there is so very little socio-political scholarship in EAP – as found by Riazi et al. (2020) – because many EAP practitioners do not have a secure position to be able to carry out such research. I would argue, therefore, that job security advances the field of EAP. Precarity is a barrier to knowledge. 

Stepping out of my scholarly comfort zone paid off. My paper was published as Walková (2020). The reviewers praised it for its very practical orientation. Colleagues have used it to inform their teaching. Others have cited it in their work (e.g. Han and Gardner, 2021). Not all of my scholarship projects went so smoothly, however. Many of my papers were rejected by the first journal to which I submitted and they only became accepted, after reworking, in a second or third journal. Most decisions to accept were preceded by major revisions of my manuscripts involving re-coding the data and rewriting large proportions of the text. Such revisions, although demanding and laborious, considerably improved the manuscript in question and taught me valuable lessons for future scholarship projects. My final piece of advice for novice language scholars is therefore the following: expect being asked to revise your paper (perhaps substantially) before publication, and when you are asked, do the revisions. When your paper is rejected, revise it anyway and submit elsewhere. 

This narrative has depicted scholarship as a journey that starts with a pedagogical issue to be explored and informed by reading relevant literature, and that ends with becoming public and achieving impact. I have suggested that difficulties of finding a research niche, overcoming fear of failure, and undertaking revisions actually stimulate and improve scholarly work. I have pointed out  that scholarship advances the field of EAP, especially when it is not limited by mere duplication or barred by precarity. 

Over the years, I have found satisfaction from scholarship in its different aspects. At the beginning of my scholarship journey, it was really rewarding to simply see my papers published. As it happens, the novelty wore off after a certain number of papers, but the fulfilment came when colleagues told me they read and enjoyed a paper of mine, or when my paper was cited by other scholars. With growing experience, I find that I get most satisfaction from informal mentoring of colleagues less experienced in scholarship – whether through collaboration, through feedback on work in progress, or through sharing experience and encouragement. This piece has been an attempt to do just that. 

Address for correspondence:  


Alangari, M., Jaworska, S. and Laws, J. 2020. Who's afraid of phrasal verbs? The use of phrasal verbs in expert academic writing in the discipline of linguistics. Journal of English for Academic Purposes. 43article no: 100814 [no pagination] 

Allison, N. 2021. Ask questions of power, but not if you’re looking for a job. [Online]. [Accessed 8 May 2021]. Available from:  

Bond, B. 2017. The E(A)P of spelling: using exploratory practice to (re)engage teachers and students. In: Kemp, J. ed. EAP in a rapidly changing landscape: issues, challenges and solutions – Proceedings of the 2015 BALEAP conference, 17-19 April 2015, Leicester. Reading: Garnet Education, pp.65-70. 

Bond, B. 2021. Conference panel. 2021 BALEAP Conference: Exploring Pedagogical Approaches in EAP Teaching, 6-10 April, Glasgow/online. 

British Council. 2021. IELTS. [Online]. [Accessed 8 May 2021]. Available from: 

Bruce, I. 2021. Towards an EAP without borders: developing knowledge, practitioners, and communities. International Journal of English for Academic Purposes: Research and Practice2021(Spring), pp.23-37. 

Davis, M. 2019. Publishing research as an EAP practitioner: opportunities and threats. Journal of English for Academic Purposes. 39, pp.72-86. 

De Swart, H. 1998. Aspect shift and coercion. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory. 16(2), pp.347-385. 

Deroey, K.L. 2018. The representativeness of lecture listening coursebooks: language, lecture authenticity, research-informedness. Journal of English for Academic Purposes. 34, pp.57-67. 

Ding, A. and Bruce, I. 2017. The English for academic purposes practitioner: operating on the edge of academia. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Ding, A., Bodin-Galvez, J., Bond, B., Morimoto, K., Ragni, V., Rust, N., Soliman, R. 2018. Manifesto for the scholarship of language teaching and learning. The Language Scholar. 3, pp.58-60. 

Han, C. and Gardner, S. 2021. However and other transitions in the Han CH-EN corpus. Journal of English for Academic Purposes. 51, article no: 100984 [no pagination]  

Hyland, K. 2001. Humble servants of the discipline? Self-mention in research articles. English for Specific Purposes.20(3), pp.207-226. 

Paltridge, B. 2002. Thesis and dissertation writing: an examination of published advice and actual practice. English for Specific Purposes.21(2), pp.125-143. 

Phillips, T. and Phillips, A. 2013. Progressive skills in English: level 4. Reading: Garnet Education. 

Riazi, A.M., Ghanbar, H. and Fazel, I. 2020. The contexts, theoretical and methodological orientation of EAP research: evidence from empirical articles published in the Journal of English for Academic Purposes. Journal of English for Academic Purposes. 48, article no: 100925 [no pagination] 

Walková, M. 2019. A three-dimensional model of personal self-mention in research papers. English for Specific Purposes. 53(1), pp.60-73. 

Walková, M. 2020. Transition markers in EAP textbooks. Journal of English for Academic Purposes. 46, article no: 100874 [no pagination] 

Walková, M. In press. Exploring transition markers in class. In: Bond, B., Ding, A. and Evans, M. eds. Innovation, exploration and transformation – Proceedings of the 2019 BALEAP conference, 12-14 April 2019, Leeds.