The Graduate School Context

This page addresses some challenges specific to graduate-level writing and offers suggestions for advisors on mentoring multilingual graduate writers.

As graduate faculty, you play an important role in mentoring advisees–native- and non-native English speakers alike– in the writing conventions of your discipline, and this page is designed to help you build on your experiences writing in your field when advising graduate student writers.

The NC State Graduate Wolfpack hails from 120 countries and students may have various levels of familiarity with academic English and the writing conventions of specific disciplines. For example, some may have completed degrees in the US where they wrote research papers, while others may have experience using English in the workplace but have not written academic papers. 

Challenges Unique to Graduate-Level Writers

  • Writers must convey original research suitable for publication that extends the knowledge in their fields, while also showing that they have mastered the field’s general, existing body of knowledge.
  • Some of the genres that students are asked to produce are public facing (e.g. grant proposals, publications, conference papers or proceedings, reports for government or industry clients).
  • The amount and frequency of writing that graduate students do for their programs is generally greater than the writing done in their undergraduate programs.
  • Some crucial genres in graduate careers, such as comprehensive exam papers, dissertation proposals, grant applications, conference abstracts/proposals, and journal reviewers’ comments, are often genres that are not publicly available or widely-circulating even within a discipline’s discourse community (“occluded genres”). 
  • In addition to context and discipline-dependent features of academic writing outlined here, journals and scholarly organizations often have their own preferred genre and style conventions.
  • Learning the specificity and nuances of communicating in a specific discipline takes time, practice, exposure to sample texts, and sustained conversations with expert members of the discourse community.

Suggestions

  1. Acknowledge that writing takes time for multilingual students writing in English; allow advisees extra time to work on dissertations and schedule extra time to meet with these advisees to discuss their writing;
  2. Help students to break up larger writing projects, such as a research article or dissertation, into manageable tasks with clear deadlines (“SMART” goals);
  3. Give international graduate advisees opportunities to write early in their graduate careers, before they begin working on their dissertations, through genres such as lit review papers, research papers for coursework, and conference presentations;
  4. Involve international graduate advisees in collaborative writing projects outside their dissertations to help them see how their work relates to the rest of the discipline;
  5. When giving feedback on a first draft, focus your feedback on the higher-level features of writing, such as organization and structure rather than sentence-level features; 
  6. When giving feedback on subsequent drafts, comment only those sentence-level features of writing (such as grammar) that impede meaning rather than trying to correct every type of sentence-level error;
  7. Use articles, book chapters, and other texts from your field to model discipline-specific conventions and stylistic features;
  8. Encourage multilingual graduate advisees to communicate their research to broader audiences in English, for example, via blog posts, professional social media, and 3-Minute-Thesis research talks;
  9. Reach out to our team at the Graduate School with questions or concerns about students’ writing or check out these resources to learn more about working with graduate international student writers.

Learning the discourses of one's field is also a process of socialization into the discourse community and its ways of knowing