Research writing in the sciences: Liminal territory and high emotion

Pauline Ross, Shelley Burgin, Claire Aitchison, Janice Catterall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Academic and scientific literacy experts agree that becoming literate in an academic discipline involves coordinating language learning, and thinking in increasingly sophisticated ways to enable participation in discipline practices of knowledge construction. Despite this knowledge, understanding of writing pedagogies in tertiary science are in their infancy, and in the absence of universal methodologies of support there are potential consequences for research students as they progress from novice to expert in their discipline. We investigated the writing experiences of Science research students in an Australian university, with a focus on the writing needs of these students. Using a mixed method approach, quantitative and qualitative data were collected from 65 individuals (29 supervisors and 36 students) in an online questionnaire and in seven follow-up focus groups and interviews with 28 supervisors and nine students. The key themes which emerged from the data were the key role of supervisors, the relative importance and degree of difficulty of doctoral writing tasks and the anxiety, stress, struggle and high emotion, associated with “learning to write”, experienced by both students and supervisors. Despite considerable diversity, many supervisors were focussed on the product and outcome of writing, while many students struggled with the process of writing. Such struggles centred around the scatter gun of idiosyncratic, and sometimes good ideas which supervisors and students used to transition through liminal space to emerge with new writing skills and discipline understandings. There was a clear sense that the final product was the responsibility of the supervisor. Even to the extent of writing the thesis for the student. This indicates the time and publication pressures that students and supervisors are under with the rise of the enterprise university.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-27
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Learning Design
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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