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English Language Teaching

Vol. 5, No. 3; March 2012

Difficulties in Academic Writing: From the Perspective of King Saud University Postgraduate Students
Hind Al Fadda
King Saud University, Saudi Arabia
E-mail: [email protected]
Received: October 5, 2011

Accepted: November 4, 2011

Published: March 1, 2012



The purpose of this study was to determine what difficulties King Saud University students encounter when learning to write academic English and to differentiate between students’ learning needs and objectives. The sample consisted of 50 postgraduate students enrolled in King Saud University during the academic year 2009-2010. Analysis of the data showed that English as a second language (ESL) students face many difficulties and stresses in their academic writing, such as difficulty distinguishing between spoken and written English, making an outline before writing a draft, identifying the skills needed for successful writing, and avoiding plague words and phrases. Keywords: Academic writing, Difficulty, ESL, Postgraduate

1. Introduction
Academic writing in English at advanced levels is a challenge even for most native English speakers. However, it is particularly difficult for English as a second language (ESL) graduate students, who come from non-Anglicized linguistic and cultural backgrounds, particularly Asian graduate students. 2. Statement of the Problem

For many adult ESL learners, learning to write in academic English is a difficult and challenging task. Few adult ESL learners have had much experience writing in academic English. Not only must these ESL students gain proficiency in grammar, mechanics, vocabulary, and other surface-level aspects of English composition, they must master American and/or British rhetorical styles and writing genres. The ESL learner’s ability to write in academic English may be influenced by factors such as writing style, motivation, anxiety over expression, writer’s block, and other emotional factors. ESL students’ native language literacy backgrounds and experiences are also very important in the development of their academic writing.

3. Purpose of the Study
The goal of this study is to determine what difficulties King Saudi University (KSU) students encounter when learning to write academic English and differentiate between what students need in order to learn and what their objectives are in learning.

4. Significance of the Study
In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the English language curriculum is one of the Ministry of Education’s major concerns. Consequently, it is important to consider academic writing at the university level and identify the difficulties students face in this area.

5. Research Questions
This research is guided by three major questions:
1. From the ESL students’ perspective, what stresses, if any, are experienced in learning to write in academic English?
2. From the students’ perspective, what teaching approaches to academic writing either facilitate or impede success?
3. From the students’ perspective, what role, if any, does interaction with native English speakers have in improving academic writing?
6. Literature Review
Recent studies have researched the difficulties of academic writing. This study sheds light on previous studies and Published by Canadian Center of Science and Education


English Language Teaching

Vol. 5, No. 3; March 2012

reviews relevant literature according to the following categories: 6.1 Definition of academic writing
6.2 Basics of academic writing
6.3 Characteristics of good academic writing
6.4 Challenges of teaching academic writing to postgraduate students 6.1 Definition of Academic Writing
Academic writing is a mental and cognitive activity, since it is a product of the mind. The image of an individual working alone in a quiet environment has furthered the view of writing as a mental and cognitive activity. However, as has been pointed out, “writing can be understood only from the perspective of a society rather than a single individual” (Burke, 2010, p. 40-41).

6.2 Basics of Academic Writing
Academic writing is expected to address an intellectual community in which the students engage in active learning. Some basics or rules must be established. Using information to one’s advantage is a key part of learning. Success at the postgraduate level depends on the students’ ability to access, evaluate, and synthesize the words, ideas, and opinions of others in order to develop their own academic voice. When presenting what they have learned, it is therefore vitally important that students are able to show clearly what they have drawn from others and what is their own (Bristol Business School, 2006, p. 3).

A student must be honest about how much ownership he/she can claim over the ideas formed, the answers found, and the opinions expressed (Bristol Business School, 2006, p. 3). The student must follow certain rules to ensure good academic writing, including punctuation guidelines.

6.2.1 Punctuation
The essential punctuation marks (excluding usage in reference systems) are the period, comma, semicolon, and colon. These include the following:

The period primarily marks the end of a sentence. A period is also used after an abbreviation where the final letter of the word is not the final word of the abbreviation, e.g., in enc. for enclosure, although Mr. for Mister is an exception...

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