Supporting the development of postgraduate academic writing skills in South African universities

Salome Schulze, Eleanor Lemmer

Abstract


The ability to write according to the conventions and forms of disciplinary academic writing is essential to success at university. Meeting the demands of quality academic writing is a challenge to the increasing number of English Second Language (ESL) students worldwide, from undergraduate to postgraduate level, who choose to study and publish in English. In particular, postgraduate students in South African universities struggle with the rigours of dissertation writing.  Drawing on Lave and Wenger’s (1991) theory of collaborative learning in a community of practice (CoP), an exploratory, qualitative inquiry was undertaken to examine the support given by six selected South African higher education institutions (HEIs) to promote the development of academic writing skills among master’s and doctoral students. Data were gathered from a purposeful sample of 10 expert informants through interviews, email communication, and scrutiny of institutional websites. Findings deal with academic writing skills as the core competence necessary for full participation in the academic CoP; the nature of postgraduate student engagement with core members of the CoP, such as supervisors and language experts; and the availability and efficacy of a range of intra-organisational resources, including informal and formal peer interaction with those who have more expertise in writing, books, manuals, visual representations, and technological tools, to develop academic writing among postgraduate students. Based on the findings, recommendations are made for ways in which institutions can strengthen, enrich, and extend the CoP to support academic writing skills of ESL postgraduate students. 


Keywords


Academic writing; community of practice; English second language; masters and doctoral students; South African universities.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5785/33-1-702

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ISSN 2224-0012 (online); ISSN 0259-2312 (print)

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