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Ways with writing: An ethnographically oriented study of student writing support in higher education in the UK

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis explores student writing support in higher education in the UK. It aims to investigate what can be learnt from institutional writing support provision and from students’ ways of engaging with academic writing. The thesis is set against the discourse of deficit as associated with student-writers and the critique of current writing support portrayed as insufficient in preparing students for discipline specific demands of written assessment. The study is informed by the Academic Literacies approach and considers student writing as social practice rather than as being defined solely in terms of textual and linguistic features. The study adopts an ethnographic perspective and draws on multiple sources of data: observations of writing support classes, interviews with writing tutors, academic staff and student writers, as well as samples of student writing accompanied with tutor feedback. The data are examined employing a variety of concepts from spoken and written discourse analysis, and the analysis focuses on the understanding of emic perspectives of research participants.

Based on the findings, the thesis argues that the current writing provision should be viewed as offering foundational writing support which could be positioned as part of broader institutional network. It also emphasises the importance of extending writing support from being focused on textual development to the inclusion of reflection, reading and discussion as central to engagement with disciplinary writing. The thesis further suggests that academic staff should be more involved in the writing support. With their situated knowledge of writing conventions, academic staff could add to the development of a social practice approach to support provision which could handle specificity of writing requirements and interdisciplinarity of academic programmes. Finally, the thesis argues that the notion of deficit should be reconceptualised as related to institutional shortfalls in provision rather than to student-writers. Overall, the study presented in this thesis contributes to an understanding of what is involved in the teaching and learning of academic writing, expanding the Academic Literacies scholarship in that area with the hope to inspire a re-thinking and a re-design of institutional writing support in UK academia.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2016


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