Supporting academic writing skills development without “killing the golden goose”

Paul Horrocks


Our graduates must be able to employ a range of communication styles, including academic writing. This writing style is typically characterised by a coherent and structured format, with content often delivered to address a question or hypothesis, that demonstrates knowledge of a subject area, provides data, opinions and arguments and is referenced accurately. These are challenging documents for the students to prepare and for staff (metaphorically here the “golden goose”) to assess.

The recent introduction of a revised Keele MBChB phase I curriculum provides support for our students to develop a range of communication styles; lay, reflective, audio-visual and academic. However, with the changes in the curriculum, increasing undergraduate numbers and a shift in focus of staff-student meetings to support individual feedback aligned with a programme of continuous assessment, how we could continue to deliver training in academic writing needed to be revised.

To meet this challenge we developed an Academic MiniReview (AMR) in year 1 of the MBChB - a summative written report assessed for style, content and referencing standards. Delivery of AMR includes workshops that have been developed to provide tiered support (noting we have graduates in our intake) for writing and evidence-searching skills, with structured written feedback provided for a draft AMR with assessment mapped against the same domains. AMR topics are diverse, exploring contemporary issues in medicine, medical humanities, ethics and law, sustainability, social inclusion and global health with the AMR allocation process developed to promote the individual student’s interests but also to effectively manage the workload allocation to staff.

Adaptations of the AMR for other level 4 programmes may offer opportunities across our Institute to introduce more sustainable models of delivery for a core learning outcome for our graduates.