I Know It When I See It

Uncovering Student and Educator Expectations about Academic Writing in Higher Education


  • Susan Behrens Marymount Manhattan College
  • Alexa Johnson Marymount Manhattan College
  • Megan Allard Marymount Manhattan College
  • Alexandra Caroli Marymount Manhattan College




Academic English, Meta-awareness, Metalinguistics, Metadiscourse, Academic writing


A series of focus groups was conducted to obtain and compare attitudes held by undergraduate university students and educators about the nature of academic writing. Analysis of comments found misalignment of assumptions about the linguistic demands on students. Such misalignments were evident not only between groups but also within each population. A follow-up study involved two students recording impressions in journals about their own awareness of language use and demands, to trace any metalinguistic gains from participating in the focus groups. Data from this qualitative study are discussed in terms of the benefits of metalinguistic awareness and the need to uncover assumptions about what academic writing is in order to yield more informed teaching and deeper learning.

Author Biographies

Susan Behrens, Marymount Manhattan College

Susan J. Behrens is Professor of Communication Sciences and disorders at Marymount Manhattan college. At Marymount Manhattan, she is one of the directors of the Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence. Her recent publications are Language in the Real World: An Introduction to Linguistics (Routledge, 2010), Grammar: A Pocket Guide (Routledge, 2010), and Understanding Language Use in the Classroom: A Linguistic Guide for College Educators (Multilingual Matters, 2014).

Alexa Johnson, Marymount Manhattan College

Alexa Johnson holds a BA in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Marymount Manhattan College. She works with children who exhibit ‘global delays’, such as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), delays in expressive language, and low muscle tone in fine-motor skills and core strength.

Megan Allard, Marymount Manhattan College

Megan Allard holds a BA in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Marymount Manhattan College. She is a graduate student in Speech Language Pathology at Nova Southeastern University. Her main area of interest is communication in school-aged children.

Alexandra Caroli, Marymount Manhattan College

Alexandra Caroli holds a BA in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Marymount Manhattan College. She also earned an MA in Speech Language Pathology from Hofstra University, NY. Her main interests are in adult language and cognition. She also works with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and a variety of other disabilities and development delays.


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How to Cite

Behrens, S., Johnson, A., Allard, M., & Caroli, A. (2016). I Know It When I See It: Uncovering Student and Educator Expectations about Academic Writing in Higher Education. Writing and Pedagogy, 8(2), 309–332. https://doi.org/10.1558/wap.24108



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