Thesis writing in English as a foreign language: learner characteristics, genre knowledge, and learning processes

Wei Wang

PhD thesis, conferred 2015

This study investigated how a group of Chinese university students of English as a foreign language (EFL) learned an academic genre (thesis) in an English for academic purposes (EAP) writing course. Investigation focused on the students’ genre learning process, learner characteristics, and genre knowledge development. The study was informed by a multifaceted theoretical framework that integrated sociocultural, second language (L2) writing, and genre theories, and adopted a qualitative case study approach. Data were collected from interviews, participants’ process logs, their written texts, and curriculum documents.

The study found that participants’ genre learning process comprised five recurrent modes of mediated learning in and outside the writing classroom, including: responding to explicit instructions, interacting with the course instructor, engaging in writing practice, responding to pedagogical tasks, and drawing on discipline-specific content courses. Analysis of learner characteristics revealed five salient individual factors that influenced participants’ genre learning: language proficiency, learner autonomy, previous L2 writing experiences, critical awareness of generic conventions, and perception of discoursal identity. Examination of participants’ genre knowledge showed that they obtained macro-level formal knowledge, but their micro-level formal knowledge, rhetorical knowledge, process knowledge, and subject-matter knowledge was still in development. Learners’ genre knowledge development was found to be influenced by the learning process and learner characteristics.

On the basis of these findings, an instruction-based genre learning model for Chinese EFL students has been proposed. The study contributes to knowledge construction of genre learning in L2 writing research by offering context-sensitive and learner-focused insights. The study also has implications for genre teaching in EAP in Chinese universities and similar educational contexts.

Supervisors: Associate Professor Huizhong Shen and Dr Lindy Woodrow