Academic Writing vs Creative Writing

Obviously, there is a clear distinction between academic writing and creative writing.  How do we teach our kids to see it?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the way that I teach writing recently, and what I am expecting of my students in each situation.  I’ve come to the realisation that I am squashing a lot of opportunities for creative writing at the expense of well crafted, grammatically correct pieces of work.  The reason why we write, after all, is to send a message to an audience.  If I spend all of my writing conferences with my students correcting their grammar and ‘fixing’ their writing, how will they begin to understand that their message has been received by the audience (me).


I have realised, that while I think I am allowing my students creativity, what I am really doing is teaching academic writing – how to write what the teacher/lecturer wants to read. I do this by setting certain expectations or success criteria before each writing lesson.  As I send my students to their desks, I can be heard saying: “Make sure you use interesting adjectives. Don’t forget I want to see capital letters and full stops.” I realise that I am probably destroying any creativity in saying these things before my students even put pencil to paper. My new focus will be to ensure that students know their message has been received by the audience BEFORE working through any grammatical features that need attention. It is vital they can see this in order to maintain their enthusiasm for writing beyond the classroom.


I now realise the importance of enjoying creative writing based on my own experience.  The last piece of creative writing I engaged with was titled ‘A Day in the Life of my Foot’.  I wrote it in year 7 (1998) and since I have not written creatively.  This is not to say I haven’t written anything, I just haven’t written creatively.  Since 1998 I have been deeply entrenched in the world of academic writing, i.e. writing what the teacher or lecturer wants to read.  It is for this reason that I am finding my current assignment very challenging.  I am required to keep a writing journal in order to understand how students might feel when we ask them to write.  I am using this blog as  my journal of thoughts, and I know that while my thoughts might be very disjointed and scattered I am gaining a deep understanding of what I expect my students to do.


If I gain nothing else from the experience, I will have the ability to empathise with my students.


7 thoughts on “Academic Writing vs Creative Writing

  1. Great thoughts Sarah. I completely agree with your new approach to creative writing. I have always advocated that students need to be writing a stream of consciousness when writing creatively. It’s not like writing a Information Report, exposition/discussion or recount. With those the conventions are more laid out and set in stone. While creative writing has conventions the flow of the story and the ability to connect with your audience is paramount. If you can’t do this as your main purpose then all other ‘rules’ are pointless. Get the creativity right and the students can come back and make the changes after they need afterwards.

    This of course conflicts with what we expect our students to do in NAPLAN. Here they are required to write a first draft that displays all the grammatical conventions expected, with great spelling and using the conventions and rules expected of the genre. So how do we manage to the different and quite conflicted approaches to writing?

  2. Hi Sarah
    Interesting conundrum! Question though… does every piece of writing need to be corrected for spelling and punctuation? Does every piece of writing need to be subjected to that level of analysis or can we mark for different things on different occasions and tell the students that today we are not focusing on spelling but we are focusing on imagination and scene building so try to attack words that you don’t quite know how to spell… and look for examples of those sorts of words but don’t write them down for them – just let them have a go… and get them to read their story out aloud at the end (because chances are you won’t be able to read all the words they form anyway!).
    I know you are dealing with the young crowd… but further up in years, kids can be used as editors as well and it is a really valuable learning experience for them to be given the task of ‘proof reader’. This way they can learn from each other and start to build their skills of analysis of mistakes, and learn about the common errors that their peers make in writing – loads of fun too if you give them examples and make it a competition to find all the errors in a set piece of writing.
    I’ve probably not addressed your focus specifically… sorry… but then some of us just naturally head off on tangents!
    Regards, Deb

  3. I have always been a great advocate of creative writing, whilst still incorporating a study of ‘academic writing’ such as scientific explanations, information reports, formal discussions etc. in my classroom. I have found that the students I am working with lack an extensive vocabulary to express their creative thoughts and Imagination, and the best way to develop this is through extensive reading of quality and authentic texts, and a wide range of these too.
    Regarding your point about purpose and making meaning for your audience, I agree, but the conventions of writing (spelling, grammar and punctuation) cannot be lost in the pursuit of creativity, I see them as working hand in hand, side by side, rather than one before the other. I have found it useful to point out to students and examine the way real authors may have what can be called ‘errors’ in their published works and discuss why they may have done that and what impact it has, if any, on the audience.
    As Michael noted, NAPLAN is a thorn in the side of good writing process. It demands published quality work from a first draft in a very narrow timeframe with a very narrow stimulus. Students come to school with a wide range of experiences and asking them to write a persuasive text (cor example) on a topic they have no personal interest in or ownership of can be counter productive. Students need to have personal input into their writing, whether it is creative or academic. Without such ownership, they become writers instead of authors.

  4. Hmmm. Interesting thought, and one I’m dealing with at high school too!! Sometimes I wonder if what I’m doing in my efforts to ensure that my classes can tick all the text-type boxes, and sit for the exam successfully, is counterproductive. It’s a dilemma … especially as I love writing creatively myself, and often break all the rules that I expect my students to be able to follow. It’s a balancing act, isn’t it? Some days I feel like I need more hours in the day – well, MOST days I feel that way!

  5. Why don’t you ask the students to “tape” their stories first to capture the creativity and then work on the presentation bits. Use one of those new fangled tape recorders 😛

  6. In my classroom I encourage the ‘creative’ writing by having a daily exercise that isn’t marked for grammar or spelling or puncutation…. it is for reading aloud to the class.

    Initally i stood in front of the room and told a story.. basic and boring… then I started again but adding the detail creating that picture in your head that we all find interesting. I told the children that writing is about creating a picture but with words. I would give them an opening paragraph they had to continue or I gave them a picture of a location where I would write on the board the who, where, when etc and have the kids give me words that came to them. They then wrote their stories.

    The next part of the process was me writing a piece of writing in front of the class. thinking out loud about what I was writing, If i left things out i went back wrote above it, or drew lines to show where that bit was meant to go… i would spend 10 to 15 mins… thinking out loud while writing. To show them it wasn’t about the spelling or fullstops, that I was only interested in getting my ideas down in a story.

    At the end of the sessions i would offer the chance for anyone who wanted to share what they wrote…. it was funny, the kids were very critical of each other, offering up GREAT advice… ‘sounded like a great story shame we couldn’t hear it all’ another child was half way through his piece and stopped and looked at everyone and said ‘that doesn’t make sense, i need to rewrite’ and went and sat down… they told each other if it was exciting or if it lacked descriptions. If they wanted to publish it they were given the chance to do it, as we made a class story book of the stories or segments that they wanted to share with the class.

    I treated it like a private journal… if they wanted me to read it they would give it to me to read… i told them that if they didn’t like their story they didn’t have to finish it, as writers start many pieces before they come across a great story.

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