[Boon, Andy. Tokyo: Macmillan Languagehouse, 2015. pp. 103. ¥2,500. ISBN: 978-4-7773-6516-6.]
Research & Write: Essential Skills for Academic Writing is a content-based EFL textbook that guides students through basic research and writing skills for paragraph and short-essay compositions. It is designed for Japanese university students of low-intermediate to intermediate levels.
Based on my experience, there is a need for a textbook such as this in Japan universities for a variety of reasons. It has been noted (Canning, 2009) that when we ask our students to do research, they often return with a quotation from Wikipedia copied and pasted onto the page. Rarely are research skills attempted for courses with English learners in the 400-500 TOEIC score range, and yet these skills have been found effective even with low-intermediate learners. Blackstone, Spiri, Hoskins, and Johnson (2006) note that research projects not only develop language skills but also relevant academic skills involving critical thinking. In addition, research allows students to “synthesize and apply information within their own writing and speaking activities” (Blackstone et al., 2006, p. 604). The content-and-integrated-learning (CLIL) course for which I used and assigned this textbook was delivered to low-intermediate and intermediate-level freshmen and sophomores, and focused on both writing and speaking skills. Course aims included learning and practicing basic research while progressing from paragraph-practice to a longer research essay. My own students, with TOEIC scores as low as 500, had no difficulty at all understanding the material presented in the textbook.
Research & Write’s units have simple and clear methods of instruction that progress from content-knowledge into student-centered practice. They are further scaffolded through each unit’s three-step approach of first collecting data, then analyzing it, and finally writing it up. Also helpful is that most of the suggested lessons can progress quickly from teacher-fronted to student-centered activities. In addition, each of the chosen research and writing topics builds upon the previous ones. This point is underlined by each chapter’s checklist of points that encourages students to ensure that they have incorporated each new skill into their latest composition. Because of the simple design of these units, teachers should have no difficulty adapting or altering the suggested activities to suit their own classroom needs. Several of the data-collection and writing task activities can be assigned for homework.
Research & Write’s topics are highly appropriate—indeed, targeted—for university students in Japan. Topics include smartphones, train behavior in Tokyo, and first-period university classes. Some of the suggested activities lend themselves to pair work or to a series of one-to-one interactions in individual interviews. Research & Write makes suggested use of the Internet and other technologies. It gives key suggestions for data gathering—especially for primary data—using free social media tools such as Survey Monkey and Facebook. Voice recorders and video cameras are suggested for interviewing and, later, for transcribing interview data. The textbook also briefly addresses the issue of Internet-based data gathering. For example, it warns students of the risks of using Wikipedia’s main texts as research sources and instead suggests using its End Reference lists and recommended secondary data sources.
Research & Write, in itself, is not particularly generative, and is unlikely to stimulate intense discussion and debate or to inspire ambitious research topics. It is a standalone text, not supported by a Teacher’s manual or other materials [Editor's correction: A teacher's manual is in fact available and can be downloaded through this link]. Only the “Dear Student” letter of introduction is translated into Japanese. There is no glossary, but the book itself uses simple language. When an unfamiliar term does appear (e.g., secondary data, direct quotations) its meaning is defined. However, supplementary materials are probably required if an instructor is intent on providing a broad range of writing approaches and topics, as in a more standard introductory writing course. I used about 75% of the units in the textbook, including all those relating specifically to research, whereas I considered the basic writing-content chapters (Topic Sentences, Supporting Sentences, Concluding Sentences, The Argumentative Essay) as supplements to the more detailed information that I supplied, sometimes via other textual resources, to students. Nevertheless, this textbook distinguishes itself in that its main purpose is to allow low-intermediate level students a foothold into conducting research in English, and in this it succeeds admirably. In short, Research & Write is a very plainly and clearly presented classroom-research tool, but should not be confused for a broader process writing textbook.
Research & Write allows teachers of low-intermediate level students to incorporate research skills into the classroom. In so doing, the textbook contributes greatly to the Japan-based range of EFL writing textbooks.
Blackstone, B., Spiri, J., Hoskins, C. & Johnson, I. (2006). Student-generated research in the university EAP classroom. In K. Bradford-Watts, C. Ikeguchi, & M. Swanson (Eds.), JALT2005 Conference Proceedings. Tokyo: JALT.
Canning, C. (2009). Basic research skills for EFL students. The Language Teacher, 33(6), 19–20.