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"It's more than just a technique": International graduate students' difficulties with analytical writing

Helen Fox, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Do graduate students from non-Western backgrounds have difficulties with analytical writing, or does the Western university have difficulty interpreting their ways of understanding the world? Both, according to the findings of this exploratory study at the Center for International Education at the University of Massachusetts. Based on interviews with seven professors who work extensively with international students and on interviews and writing samples of sixteen graduate students from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, as well as on the author's observations as a teacher-researcher, this ethnographic study looks at what happens to mid-career professionals, some of them published writers in their own countries, when they try to modify their writing and thinking styles to produce "analytical" papers in the Western context. From the interviews and writing samples the author identifies ten issues that affect these students' writing. Educational and societal influences--the students' previous education, their knowledge of American language and culture, the communicative style taught by their own societies and their gender and status in their home countries--all may have been internalized since childhood, making them difficult for students to change in order to meet the demands of the American university. Writing and thinking strategies, on the other hand--their idea of how to discover the nature of truth, their treatment of authorities, their voice, and their sense of audience--are easier for students to work on. But as students change these writing and thinking strategies, they may find they need to abandon the ways their culture taught them to communicate. These changes often cause resistance, either to writing itself, or to feedback from professors, or to the university's assumption of the superiority of the Western world view. Just as resistance inhibits students from changing their writing style, students' writing "ability," or their need to express themselves and their willingness to work over and over a draft, tends to facilitate some students' struggles with "analysis." Students and researcher conclude that while international students need more support in understanding Western writing styles and world view, American professors also need to appreciate other styles of writing, thinking and communicating.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Higher education|Language arts

Recommended Citation

Fox, Helen, ""It's more than just a technique": International graduate students' difficulties with analytical writing" (1991). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9132850.