Review of Ian Bruce’s talk by CELC’s Nina Venkataraman

CELC Speaker Series 08: Expressing Critical Thinking Through Academic Writing  

If we step back from the talk “Expressing Critical Thinking Through Academic Writing” and understand what Ian Bruce gave us as EAP facilitators, it can be encompassed into two concepts: Meaning and Methodology. Let me explain this.

In the first part of the talk Ian Bruce lays out the meaning of critical thinking (2020), which he developed in his book: Critical thinking in academic and professional writing: Insights from five genre studies. He enumerates ways by which successful discourse competence in an academic setting requires a meaningful relationship between content specific knowledge and genre knowledge. Content specific knowledge is discipline specific and is mostly taken care of by “communities of practice” (Lave &Wenger 1996).

Our role as EAP facilitators is essential as we impress upon students that demonstrating specific coherence relationships and evidencing metadiscoursal elements is just as important as constructing the thesis and evaluative judgements appropriately in academic texts. Thus, the meaning of critical thinking is not limited to understanding the form of a premise, opinion or even evidence, instead it requires a rhetorical positioning of certain markers. This combination simply reframes our attention to the meaning making activity that is now inclusive of rhetorical signposts.

In the second part of the talk, Ian Bruce implicitly proposes a methodology by which we facilitators can include critical thinking in a meaningful way to teach EAP courses. Through examples that were sourced from his extensive work with students, he gave us cues to observe three elements operating at different levels of the text. At the macro-level, there is content structuring where students put forward their thesis and arguments with evaluative judgements. Then, comes the specific coherence markers signaling, for example, causality, concession or contrast relationships. He draws quite deeply from Crombie (1985) for an elaborate list of coherence relationships that are binary statements linking two propositions. Finally, he explains how critical thinking is displayed when students use attitude markers or even hedging (Hyland, 2005) to project their stance on the content. Ian does not forget to reiterate these three elements are textual resources operating at different levels of the text, yet they complement each other in strategic ways.

What Ian suggests then is not a disembodied way of looking at critical thinking. Instead within the situated context of academic writing at the University he shows us how to contextualize and operationalise critical thinking skills. Suggestions include a top-down analysis of the genre to controlled joint construction of the texts to a final independent construction of texts by students. I do not miss the appeal of this methodology, yet I am left with questions of how to translate these instances of teaching situated critical thinking skills in embedded classes. How can these instances of teaching critical thinking transform society through critical action (Davies & Barnett, 2015)?

The central implication of his talk is that critical thinking needs to be examined in situated learning of disciplinary communities. Successful membership by the students within these communities is facilitated by us when we impress upon them to draw the integral connections between discourse competence and critical thinking.

They say talks that create lasting impressions are not the ones that give you all the answers, but ones that leave you with questions.  I am left with one: How do I create instances of self -reflexive critical thinking where students can examine their own value propositions in an academic text by distilling their primary claims  and differentiating them from interpretative moves that need to be functionally signalled by rhetorical markers?


Bruce, I. (2020). Critical thinking in academic and professional writing: Insights from five genre studies. London, Bloomsbury.

Crombie, W. (1985). Process and relation in discourse and language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Davies, M., & Barnett, R. (Eds.). (2015). The Palgrave handbook of critical thinking in higher education. Springer

Hyland, K. (2005). Stance and engagement: A model of interaction in academic discourse. Discourse studies, 7(2), 173-192.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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