Writing in English as an additional language: challenges encountered by doctoral students

Lai Ping Florence Ma*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Research writing is an important part of doctoral study. Previous studies suggest that students who speak English as an additional language (EAL) may experience difficulties in writing a thesis in English. This study investigated the nature of the writing challenges experienced by EAL doctoral students. Drawing on data collected from individual semi-structured interviews with 27 EAL doctoral students in various disciplines at an Australian university, this study found that while many participants encountered linguistic challenges and socio-cultural challenges, some participants thought that native speakers also faced challenges in academic writing. Major linguistic challenges reported were over-reliance on translation and L1–L2 rhetorical differences. Additional challenges included lacking local learning experiences, difference in learning expectations, and social isolation. This study has practical implications for curriculum design of language support services for doctoral students and training programs for supervisors. It concludes with recommendations for students, supervisors, and academic literacy professionals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1176-1190
Number of pages15
JournalHigher Education Research & Development
Issue number6
Early online date25 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2021


  • English academic writing
  • second language writing
  • research writing
  • English as an additional language


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