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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The academic writing of Chinese graduate students in sciences and engineering : processes and challenges Hu, Jumin

Abstract

This dissertation reports on a multi-case study of 15 Mainland Chinese graduate students in sciences and engineering at a major Canadian university as they wrote disciplinary course assignments and research proposals during their first two years at the university. Using data collected through multiple in-depth interviews with the individual students, supplemented by their writing samples and follow-up interviews with faculty, the study explores the writing processes and challenges of the students in completing their written assignments.. The study finds that the faculty differed considerably across and within disciplines in their expectations of the students' work. The Chinese students preferred to receive both positive and corrective feedback; however, interactive feedback-based conferences could be more effective. Imitating model journal articles was a common approach for the students to learn to write. One method for writing source-based assignments was modified copying as the students tried to learn to write professionally. While planning and writing the paper, the students varied along a continuum from thinking entirely in Chinese to thinking entirely in English, depending on their English proficiency and other factors. The students often found challenge in technical terms, varied vocabulary and sentence structures, appropriate style, thought transcription, and language flow. Even more challenging sometimes were managing information, organizing the paper, and writing the research rationale and discussion with original sentences and strong arguments. Since the students had more difficulty making sentences flow than determining the overall paper structure, I distinguish micro- and macro-level formal schemas. Further, I challenge the traditional notion of plagiarism, arguing that language reuse can be reconceptualized as a textual strategy in the development of ESL students learning and using disciplinary language and content. Finally, I discuss the implications of my study for policy and practice in terms of institutional development, such as faculty development and curriculum development. In particular, I recommend that the university offer credit writing courses designed for graduate ESL students.

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