Transitions and overcoming barriers through the development of writing skills in science and technology postgraduate research candidature: an investigation of pedagogical approaches

Pauline Ross, Shelly Burgin, Claire Aitchison, Janice Catterall


This investigative project aimed to better understand the nature of the writing experiences of science
postgraduate research students in health, science and technology disciplines in an Australian tertiary institute; with a particular focus on the writing needs of higher degree research students for the completion of their PhD and associated text productions. A mixed method approach was used; quantitative data was collected from 69 supervisors and students in an online questionnaire and qualitative data was collected in a series of seven follow-up focus group, specific groups of faculty in maths, computing, engineering, nursing and science and 9 individual student interviews. This study highlights the strong emotions and associated challenges around research writing. Students and supervisors reported on the challenges particularly during the transitions and barriers which need to be which need to be overcome in the development of scientific writing skills from undergraduate to honours, honours to research Masters and PhD programs. As novice researchers had to learn to the particular scholarly discourse of their discipline. While there is considerable diversity, the majority of supervisors and students saw supervisors as playing a key role in supporting the development of doctoral writing. Feedback on student writing was universally regarded as the primary pedagogical tool for teaching and learning research writing. Some supervisors employed 'writing for publication' as a complimentary tool. Both groups, but especially students, reported positively about the value of participating in social writing and critiquing environments such as ongoing writing groups, writing retreats, or writing for peer feedback. There would be benefit in tertiary institutions pursuing a more systematic approach to the support of writing , both as a learning tool for research students and for the promotion of a vibrant, scholarly, research community.