Academic English Workshops

Programme Content

The prime purpose of the academic English programme at Clare Hall is to promote excellence in the use of the English Language, for both native English-speaking and non-native English-speaking postgraduates, in the Arts, Humanities and Sciences. The programme consists of workshops (some itemised below) and a limited number of individual supervisions, specifically tailored to student needs, covering written and oral communication skills. Style, clarity, coherence, flow, and rhetorical strategies are underlined. The ability to choose the right words and arrange them into flowing prose and persuasive argument is a skill that gives students the edge, especially when it comes to being ranked in course work essays, examinations, and dissertations. Indeed, this is the case with any kind of academic exercise be it a grant proposal or a research paper. Writing is an art, and, like any other discipline, requires considerable effort to achieve effect. However, students are in Cambridge for only a very short time (nine months with some MPhils), and thus need to ‘hit the ground running’ with respect to developing their communication skills.

In order that Clare Hall students are given a head start, Dr Rosie Luff has set up an intensive and stimulating workshop programme, which addresses the main issues encountered in student writing and also oral presentation. The workshops are unique because they highlight the errors commonly made by Cambridge postgraduates in essays and theses, spanning the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Sciences, and Technological Sciences. Since 2003, a huge corpus of information has been gathered by Dr Luff and her colleagues.

Some of the more important workshops include:

  1. How to avoid the main pitfalls in postgraduate writing
  2. Writing persuasive texts: mastering the essay
  3. Structuring and streamlining text: how to write the exemplary dissertation
  4. Confidence, connection, and authenticity: the art of the oral presentation

In the writing workshops, students work through a considerable number of tasks (consisting of sentences of increasing complexity and extracts of text) in order to identify errors, fill in blanks with appropriate words, or comment on text. This material is authentic academic material taken and modified from unpublished essays and theses (permission gained), and academic publications. On successful completion, the task sheets together with the carefully compiled handouts provide a valuable source of reference for each student, because they include copious examples of common student errors. While the first workshop deals with grammar and punctuation, the second and third workshops mainly concern how to structure larger pieces of text with reference to the essay and dissertation; here the focus is on the process of critical evaluation especially with regard to tackling literature reviews. These workshops are also task orientated with extensive handouts. The oral presentation workshop highlights the importance of voice and body language in making a successful presentation of research and/or personal interests, whether in a formal or informal setting.

Do I need help?

 Test your academic English skills by identifying the errors in the following four sentences:

  • Productivity actually depends on certain factors that basically involve psychology more than any particular technology.
  • The individual member of the social community often receives information via visual, symbolic channels. 
  • Without going into too much detail, during recent excavations an eighteenth-dynasty mummy was discovered using advanced geophysical survey techniques, which brings up the likely possibility that a nearby cemetery is close at hand.
  • The cause of the degenerative change is unknown but possibly one cause may be infection by a presumed parasite.

Booking Workshop Places

At the beginning of each academic term, the tutorial office ( ) will send out an email advertising the date, time, and venue of the workshops, and how to book places.  

For any queries, please contact Dr Rosie Luff.

Please note the workshops get booked up very quickly, so it is important that you check your cam email address for information.