Murder, mystery and manifesto: using expressive writing to develop academic and professional writing skills

Sally Burgess (Spain)

The British educationalist James Britton (Britton et al. 1975) argued that expressive writing is fundamental to the development of all other kinds of writing, even in academic and professional contexts. Defining expressive writing as “writing closest to the self”, Britton and his colleagues recommended that novice writers should be given the opportunity to write expressively before tackling academic tasks such as essays and reports. In the first part of this presentation I will briefly review the key elements in Britton’s ‘writing to learn’ approach and provide examples of how it has been used in university contexts to train novice academic writers.  The second part of my presentation will focus on how training in creative writing can provide an opportunity to experience ‘writing to learn’ and to hone and develop one’s writing skills. I will explain how I use this approach to develop my own professional and research writing but also look at how others have used creative writing as a means of understanding their own writing processes and those of others (see Kerans 2013; DiGiacomo 2013). I will describe a residential creative writing course I participated in and explain how it represented a watershed in my professional development, helping me emerge from a state of fear and stagnation in relation to my own writing. I will also suggest that the way the course was organized and conducted might provide a useful basis for the design of writing retreats or clinics with author clients and/or fellow professionals.  I will invite participation from others in MET who have conducted similar training courses with clients and from any audience members who have experience of such courses as either instructors or participants.


Britton, J., T. Burgess, N. Martin, A. McLeod, and H. Rosen. 1975. The development
of writing abilities. Schools Council Research Studies. MacMillan, London, UK.
Kerans, M.E. 2013. ‘Writing process research: implications for manuscript support for academic authors’ in Matarese, V. (ed.) pp. 39-53.
DiGiacomo, S.M. 2013. ‘Giving authors a voice in another language through translation’  in Matarese, V. (ed.), pp. 107-119.
Matarese, V. (ed.) (2013) Supporting Research Writing: Roles and Challenges in Multilingual Settings. Oxford: Chandos.

Sally Burgess is a lecturer in English at the University of La Laguna. Her main research interests are in cross-cultural rhetoric, the contribution of language professionals to the preparation of research publications, and the teaching of writing in the university context. She has published on all of these topics. Sally also participates in the University of La Laguna’s Literary Translation Workshop with which she has published a number of translations into Spanish. She occasionally writes short stories shared only with tolerant friends.