Anna Plechatá Krausová: Essay writing is the art of persuasion!

Alongside her work as NEWTON University’s Vice Chancellor, Anna Plechatá Krausová also teaches on the English language programme. She’s currently preparing a summer term course on academic writing, alongside continuing to teach classes at Oxford in the UK. Here she explains why essay writing is really the art of persuasion, and why she thinks the study of business has a lot to learn from the social sciences…

Tell me about the classes you’re teaching this year. 

At NEWTON, I’m currently only teaching some of the Introduction to Study course, but I’m also about to launch an Academic Writing in English course, which will be available for students on both the Czech and the English programmes during the summer term. I’m also teaching some classes at Oxford this term, and might bring some elements of those into some NEWTON classes for next year. 

Well let’s begin by talking about the academic writing course – what exactly will students learn?

Well, it’s really a course on the art of essay writing… because writing a good essay is about so much more than sitting down with a pen and paper and getting some words on the page. The real task begins before that, in considering the evidence, and different positions, and constructing an argument — and then writing it up is the easy bit! 

So we’ll begin by having discussions, giving presentations, and holding debates. We’ll consider how to construct arguments, and challenge other people’s positions, and how to play the devil’s advocate. For lots of NEWTON students this approach might be entirely new, as it isn’t something that’s really covered in the Czech education system. 

Is essay writing something you saw more of during your experience with the British education system?

Yes, definitely. Beginning in high school, right up to completing my doctorate, I was forever writing essays! And I think there’s a lot of value to learning to write a good essay. One benefit is obviously that it improves your writing, and in this case, it will also be really good for developing students’ written English. But it goes beyond that — writing an essay is not about rephrasing what you’ve read in a book, or listing facts. To write an essay, you have to consider and reconcile conflicting views, and then bring them together into a coherent position and argue for that. Ultimately, it’s the art of persuasion.

And what is the value of that to business students?

First, it will really improve their written English — even if their English is already good, the kind of vocabulary and grammar you need for academic writing is a little different than standard English, so all students will benefit from that. 

And then it depends on their plans both during and after their studies. If they want to go on an exchange to the US or the UK, then they’ll definitely need to know how to write essays, and the same if they go on to master’s level study or beyond. And even if they don’t, it’ll really help them with putting together presentations for seminars, and in writing their bachelor’s thesis. 

But, more broadly, I think these skills are vital to everyone, and can be used in lots of settings — in presentations, meetings, and chats down the pub. In the world of work, there will come a time when they’ll need to convince their boss or their team that something is a good idea, and then they’ll need to know how to assemble their facts, think of the possible counter positions, and put together and defend an argument  – and these are the skills that they’ll learn in this class. 

And you mentioned that you’re also teaching at Oxford this term. What are you teaching, and is that something you might bring to NEWTON in the future?

My focus at Oxford is on social sciences, and this is something we want to bring more of to NEWTON. We’re going to keep adding optional courses that students can take advantage of, especially in their third year.

One of things I’m teaching at Oxford this year is an undergraduate course called Social Theory – it’s a really interesting subject that brings together sociology, political science and even psychology, and asks foundational questions about human behaviour. For example, we evaluate the usefulness of things like rational choice theory, evolutionary psychology, and other topics, like social norms and collective violence, and consider whether and how they can be theoretically understood as parts of human behaviour. 

I think a lot of these ideas and concepts would be really useful for business students. Even if you’re mainly interested in very traditional business topics, the social psychology of human behaviour — that is, how humans behave in a group, how they behave in a hierarchy, etc… — are actually really crucial. Often these foundational theories are absent from business and management studies, but I want to start bringing them in, as I think there’s a lot of value in them.