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Academic Literacies Study of Personal Statements for Higher Education: Students’ and academics’ interpretations and assumptions across institutional contexts

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

My thesis explores the Personal Statements (PSs) written by student applicants and goes beyond merely identifying textual features of the PS itself. I have drawn on an academic literacies perspective (Lea & Street, 1998; Street, 2004) that considers issues of meaning-making, writer identity that students bring to the act of writing, and writing and evaluation practices within a particular institutional and epistemological context. Specifically, I investigate students’ PSs for PhD applications at one UK-based and one US-based university, with the focus on the interpretations and assumptions of students and academics regarding this type of text; students’ identities as presented in their PS writing; and also practices and conventions in relation to the PS across institutional contexts.
My data comprises PS texts and in-depth semi-structured interviews with 22 students and 19 academics at two focal universities. My key findings reveal that despite there being similarities between the expectations of students and academics concerning what should be included in the PS, contrasting views tend to occur when academics read and commented on students’ PSs. Such discrepancies are associated with what Street (2009) refers to as the ‘hidden features’ of academic writing, which are often not made explicit to student writers. I have also found that the ways in which students approach their PSs are closely associated with their writer identity that they bring to the act of writing as well as an awareness of their readers and the context for this act of writing. For academics, their interpretations of PSs tend to vary across institutional contexts and even vary amongst individuals within the same department. Such variations may be associated with their consideration of the ideology and epistemology in their disciplinary discourse community. This study contributes to an understanding of the PS and its associated writing and evaluation practices from ideological and epistemological perspectives. It also complements and extends the traditional genre-based move-step approach in relation to this type of text.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Feb 2013

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